A Horse and His Maiden: Changing Background in Photoshop

How to get an eye-popping Photoshop composite image

by Jim Zuckerman

Gypsy Vanner horse with his maiden
Gypsy Vanner horse with his maiden
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
One of the ways I get exciting pictures is to make arrangements with people to photograph them or their possessions at the optimal time of day and/or best location. The photos of the horse show I took in the indoor arena three weeks ago were really impossible to work with and produce professional quality imagery, so I set up a time to shoot the famous Gypsy Vanner horse, Romeo, and his lovely maiden, Jessica in beautiful lighting.

The background, though, wasn't to my liking, and besides, I was looking for something truly special. I worked on this last night, and after a marathon session in Photoshop, I am happy with how it turned out.

I placed the horse and rider into the background, and it took me three hours to make this look good. I wanted very badly to make this as perfect as I possibly could.

How to Do It: Changing Background in Photoshop

I worked in Photoshop at 600%, virtually pixel by pixel, to cut around the hair of the horse. Cutting around hair in Photoshop such that it looks perfect is virtually impossible - the operative word here is "virtually". I went to bed at 1:30am when I was happy with it ...well, 97% happy. All those blond, backlit hairs were a nightmare!

The technique I used was to make a rough selection of the horse and the model with the lasso tool, and then I used Edit > copy and then Edit > paste to place it into the background.

Note the lighting. The low angled sun above the foggy pond would have illuminated the horse with backlighting which is why I chose this background. Itís crucial to match the lighting in the various elements in your composites.

I sized the horse and rider with Edit > transform > scale, and then made a layer mask: Layer > layer mask > reveal all. Then, I used the brush tool to paint away the original background behind the subject. I worked at 300% until I came to the blond hair, and then I enlarged the image to 600%. Even when I made the brush tool small and removed more of the background, there were still dark pixels around the blond hairs that came from the original background. I couldnít paint away those dark pixels because then most of the hair would be eliminated.

When I studied the composite without magnification, it looked good. However, when I looked at it with 100% magnification, those dark edges looked unnatural and unattractive. The composite would not pass the test - not yet.

I thought about this for a while, and finally decided to try using the dodge tool. Since the horse was on a separate layer from the background, I made the tool very small and tried lightening each individual blond hair. It worked. The hair, where was already very light from the backlighting, didnít get much lighter, but the dark edges virtually disappeared. I was thrilled.

Finally, after working into the early hours of the morning until I could hardly focus my eyes any more, I was convinced that this couldnít be improved.

Learn Photoshop from Jim Zuckerman ...

Jim teaches three online Photoshop courses, including Creative Techniques in Photoshop , Advanced Creative Techniques in Photoshop and Photoshop: Thinking Outside the Box.

In addition, BetterPhoto's digital online photography school offers a number of other online classes on Photoshop.

Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.