2007 SLP Curriculum Guide #17 Fix Light Backgrounds
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Often an area of a photograph may have light backgrounds which detract from the photograph which one would like to have in their album. There are various ways to fix light backgrounds such as using the 'Retouch Tool Burn or Darken'. However as shown in this illustration, the sky being darkened would leave a grey dull background. Thus, another way is to substitute another background of more interest or contrast.

In examining this photograph in addition to the light sky background I found also the light wooded area behind my wife and I on the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Mountains to also be somewhat light.

Also, the faces are a bit pinkish and the camera date is distracting. Thus, some additional enhancements would be necessary in addition to changing the background sky.

The 'Background Eraser' is a very interesting and useful tool to fixing up or removing backgrounds. The tool has a number of options which one can use to safely remove a background. A key is that the background to be removed should be, generally speaking, of a similar color through out the background.

The tool works on the principal that the tip of the brush picks up the color from that pixel and then when activated (clicked) all similar colors are erased (dependent upon the settings of the options). Thus, if their is good contrast between the area(s) to be erased and those to be saved, the background tool works wonders (particularly if their are other areas in the background one wants to be saved).

It is often useful to zoom the picture so one can be quite accurate in the areas to be removed, again dependent upon the options settings.

  • Brush Size: Sometimes when contrast between the area to be erased from that to be saved one can use a large brush size. Of course, smaller areas to be erased should be fitted to the brush size.
  • Hardness: The higher the value the sharper the erasing. The lower the value the more the edges of the area erased will become semi-transparent. Often using a mid-range value is a good place to start.
  • Thickness: Use when wanting to shape the brush to fit an area. In my illustration I used a thickness value of around 40 to get a rectangular shape.
  • Rotation: Used when using Thickness to rotate the brush shape to fit the area to be erased. I used 90 degrees to capture the majority of the sky area.
  • Opacity: Often I set opacity to around 80 - 90 and if necessary will double click on an area to remove more of the background. However, experimentation is useful with this setting.
  • Sharpness: Generally I use a mid-value for this setting. Again, some experimentation will help to determine what value to use. Different backgrounds will work differently when this value is used in regard to how the background erases.
  • Sampling: I found leaving the value set to Continuous is the one I mostly use.
  • Limits: When set to contiguous then only the areas within the selection get erased. When set to discontiguous then all areas of similar value get erased regardless of the selected area used.
  • Auto tolerance: Normally I leave this option checked unless I want very precise erasing of colors.
  • Use All Layers: I only check this option when I definitely want to have lower layer areas used.
The finished photograph shows the various steps I took to create a better looking photograph. In addition to erasing the background sky and then using a different background sky photograph, I changed the color of the faces a bit, darkened the new sky and background area of woods and grass, removed the photo date with cloning, sharpened the stone wall and sharpened the faces some.
  • I selected a photograph of the same size as the original that had a background sky I wanted to use. I first erased the sky area and then set the other photograph on a layer lower than the erased photograph. The process of erasing the background took time, often zooming the photograph and often after trying out other enhancements finding areas I still needed to erase to produce a decent background sky.
  • Then, I both fixed the face colors (removing the pinkish cast), sharpened them as well as sharpened somewhat the foreground parts using the Color Balance and then the Auto Photo Fix just slightly tweaking options.
  • I used the Clone tool to clone out the camera date and fix some of the tree edges that still showed some light areas.
  • I then darkened the sky background using the Brightness/Contrast setting brightness to a minus value and contrast to a plus value.
  • I used the Retouch Tool of 'Burn' to darken the wooded area behind the figures.
  • Finally, I used the Retouch Tool of 'Sharpen' to slightly sharpen the rock wall for a bit more contrast.
This illustration shows how to use the background eraser and another photograph to replace a very light sky background. There are various ways one can fix light backgrounds as also illustrated by this photograph when one uses the Retouch and Clone Tools.

Also, one could use a border, or other techniques such as blurring other than the figures by using masks and selections. Also, I did crop the final photograph for my album but did not display it in this guide in order to show you the full photograph as it was fixed.


  1. When completing a tutorial or series of tutorials, and having placed them upon your web page, post in the SLP Forum your completed work using this layout:
    • Name or Screen Name.
    • Web Site URL.
    • Version of PSP using.
    • List of Tutorials completed.
  2. Post your Work:
    • List what you did, feature, options used, values.
    • Indicate steps taken and results.
    • Indicate things you found interesting, worthwhile and any other comments.
  3. Comment on any particular techniques you used or discovered, any particular results you found perhaps by accident and any ideas you have for creating a particular result.
  4. Post any questions and comments in the SLP Forum.

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