Mastering the Select Subject Tool in Photoshop

Are you tired of spending hours manually selecting objects or people in your photos? Look no further! Photoshop’s Select Subject tool is here to save the day. Powered by AI, this handy tool allows you to make automatic selections with just a few clicks. It’s perfect for removing unwanted elements from your images and creating a seamless background. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the Select Subject tool in Photoshop, including how to use it for both simple and complex background removals.

What is the Select Subject tool?

The Select Subject tool in Photoshop is an AI-powered feature that is primarily used to select objects or people in an image. Once the subject is selected, a background removal mask is created. This allows you to easily place the subject on different backgrounds or save the selection for future use, such as applying it as a mask on a new layer in Photoshop.

When should you use the Select Subject tool?

While Photoshop offers various selection tools, each designed for specific types of selections, the Select Subject tool is best suited for situations where you have a clear and distinct subject in your composition that you want to separate. With just a few seconds of processing time, Photoshop can accurately make the selection, making it a breeze to move on to your next editing steps.

How does the Select Subject tool work for simple backgrounds?

Portraits with simple backgrounds are the perfect candidates for the Select Subject tool. In most cases, you’ll get a perfect selection right off the bat. If it’s not perfect, a few adjustments with the sliders or brushes will easily fix the issue. Let’s take a look at an easy selection that only requires a few minor adjustments. If you want to follow along, you can download the example image from Pexels here.

  1. With the image loaded into Photoshop, duplicate the Background layer by pressing Ctrl + J. You can disable this layer at any time, but it’s always good to have a copy to create additional layers using the original pixels.

    Duplicate Background layer
    Duplicate Background layer

  2. There are several ways to access the Select Subject tool. If you have been working with any of the selection tools like Object Selection or Quick Selection, Select Subject will appear on the top menu bar by default. If not, with Layer 1 active, go to Select > Subject.

    Access Select Subject tool
    Access Select Subject tool

  3. The subject in the image will be selected. Click on the mask icon in the bottom toolbar on the right.

    Click on mask icon
    Click on mask icon

  4. A mask will be created for the subject in Layer 1. If you disable the Background layer, you’ll see the selection area containing the woman’s image.

    Selection area containing woman's image
    Selection area containing woman’s image

Photoshop has done a fantastic job of cutting out the woman from the background. However, always double-check your image to identify any areas that may require additional attention. In this image, there is a noticeable black patch next to the woman’s shoulder, but it can easily be fixed using the Brush tool.

How does the Select Subject tool work for complex backgrounds?

For most Photoshop users, fur, hair, and particularly fine details like wispy strands can be challenging to handle. In such cases, we’ll use a different technique to make the selection.

First, create a selection as you did before. Duplicate the layer and make some adjustments with the sliders. Then, with the help of a layer mask, you can remove any unwanted pixels. If you’d like to follow along, you can download the example image from Pexels here.

  1. Repeat steps 1 to 4 from the previous section. Make sure you disable the Background layer as shown below:

    Disable Background layer
    Disable Background layer

  2. With Layer 1 active, press Ctrl + J to duplicate the layer.

    Duplicate layer
    Duplicate layer

  3. Double-click on the mask of Layer 1 to open the Properties panel.

    Open Properties panel
    Open Properties panel

  4. In the View Mode menu, select “On Layers” and check the “Real-Time Refinement” box.

    Select View Mode and enable Real-Time Refinement
    Select View Mode and enable Real-Time Refinement

  5. In Edge Detection, adjust the Radius slider to 250. Check the “Smart Radius” box.

    Check Smart Radius
    Check Smart Radius

  6. Change the Shift Edge slider to 15. Press OK to apply the changes.

    Adjust Shift Edge to 15
    Adjust Shift Edge to 15

  7. Create a Solid Color adjustment layer through the bottom-right menu.

    Create a Solid Color adjustment layer
    Create a Solid Color adjustment layer

  8. In the Color Picker menu, choose any bright color and press OK.

    Choose a bright color
    Choose a bright color

  9. Select the Color Fill 1 layer and drag it just below Layer 1 Copy in the layer stack as shown below:

    Drag Color Fill 1 layer below Layer 1 Copy
    Drag Color Fill 1 layer below Layer 1 Copy

  10. Use the Brush tool (press B) to remove any unwanted pixels in Layer 1 and Layer 1 Copy. You can undo any mistakes by pressing Ctrl + Z.

    Use Brush tool to remove unwanted pixels
    Use Brush tool to remove unwanted pixels

There are no hard and fast rules for selecting and masking hair; each image will require different combinations of slider adjustments. However, we’ll briefly discuss some other useful tools below.

Additional Features of Select Subject

Additional Features of Select Subject

Whenever you select “Select and Mask” or double-click on any layer mask, you’ll be taken to a menu screen with three different toolbars.

Selection Tools

Selection Tools

On the left-hand sidebar, you’ll find the following: Quick Selection, Refine Edge Brush, Brush, Object Selection, Hand, and Zoom. All of these can assist in your selection process if needed.

At the top, Select Subject and Refine Hair can also be used to create new selections.

View Mode

View Mode

The article used a View Mode in Select Subject, but there are several other options that can be useful in different situations. The Black and White view mode is particularly helpful when you have a bright or complex background and just need a simple mask view to work without distractions.

Refine Mode

Refine Mode

In the Refine Mode submenu, there are two modes you can use to assist in making additional selections: Color Aware and Object Aware. When either mode is selected, you’ll be notified through a pop-up alert. Both options can be helpful for complex selections.

Edge Detection

Edge Detection

The Edge Detection menu features two functionalities: the Radius slider and the Smart Radius checkbox, which can be toggled on and off to produce different results. The Radius slider is especially useful for complex selections like hair and fur.

Global Refinements

Global Refinements

The Global Refinements sliders are a set of different options that help shape the overall selection related to the subject. These sliders include Smooth, Feather, Contrast, and Shift Edge. There are two additional checkboxes below the sliders for extra adjustment options: Clear Selection and Invert.

There is no fixed sequence for using these tools. Typically, you’ll need to experiment and find the best slider values for your image.

Output Settings

Output Settings

Don’t overlook the Output Settings, as they play a crucial role in determining how your selection will be applied to the layer when you’re done. There is also a Decontaminate Colors checkbox. In the Output To dropdown menu, you can choose the best option for your selection.

Mastering the Select Subject tool in Photoshop opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your editing workflow. With its AI-powered abilities and a range of additional features, you’ll be able to create precise selections in no time. So, why spend hours manually selecting objects when you can let Photoshop do the work for you? Give the Select Subject tool a try and see the magic unfold!