Sometimes you want your digital camera to slavishly record exactly what you see through its viewfinder. But there’s no reason to be satisfied with ordinary reality when your imagination is so much more interesting. Digital tools let you replace the background in any photo. Here’s how to do it using a standard photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements.
To put your face on any backdrop, all you need is a photo editing program that has a selection tool–ideally, a selection tool that “magnetically” snaps itself to the edges of an object as you trace it. This way, you can cut around your subject, copy it to the clipboard, and paste it into another photo.
In Photoshop Elements, for example, select the Magnetic Lasso Tool (it shares the same cubby with the Lasso Tool and the Polygonal Lasso Tool). For a more realistic effect, you’ll want to use some feathering to give your edges a more natural appearance, so set that to about 10 pixels in the Options palette at the top of the screen.
Use the Lasso Tool to carefully click on the edge of your subject and slowly move the mouse around, letting the tool automatically “snap” to the edges. If things go badly awry, press the Delete key to remove snap points until you’ve removed the unwanted selections, then continue. When you get all the way around your desired area, double-click to finish the selection and choose Edit, Copy from the menu.
When you’re done, click OK and you’ll have a nicely separated subject, even including hair and other subtle edges.
Want even better results? You can try a stand-alone extraction utility like Digital Film Tools EZ Mask. It works with both Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. But while the interface is quite similar to Elements’ Magic Extractor, it is dramatically more accurate, able to differentiate even fine hairs on someone’s head from a noisy background–and to do so with very little effort on your part.