Tutorial: Create Colorful Backgrounds for Your Portraits

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Today we’ll show you how to get exciting results using a photograph of a textured surface as your starting point. As you can see in the below example, the final background can be quite different from the original texture. The method we’ll use allows you to adapt stock photos to suit your portrait’s mood and color scheme, using non-destructive layers. Let’s get started!

With some simple adjustments in Photoshop, you can turn any interesting texture photograph (left) into a stunning background for a portrait. Texture photo by Kuschelirmel-stock. Ballerina portrait copyright by Chris Pike.

Our portrait is a live-action shot taken during a ballet performance. While the pose is near-perfect, the background is pretty drab. So the first step is to remove the figure from the background. There are many ways to do this, and you probably have your own favorite way of masking out a figure, so I’ll just quickly give the method I used. Rename the main layer from “Background” to “Ballerina.” Then insert a layer below it, filled with white. With a soft eraser brush, carefully paint up to the edges of the figure. Select the remainder of the background and hit Delete. Your figure is now on a transparent layer with no background. 

Separate the figure from the background, so that it is on a transparent layer by itself. Original photo copyright Pike Photography, Hattiesburg, MS.

For our background, I’ll use a stock photograph from DeviantArt member Kuschelirmel-stock. You can see this texture at the top of the article, next to the finished portrait. I’m sure you’ll agree the final background is quite different from the original stock texture. This was achieved by adding a purple color fill layer below the texture layer. By turning down the opacity on the texture layer, the purple color shows through. Above this, two adjustment layers are added. By keeping each alteration on a separate layer like this, you can continue to tweak all the parameters until they work together the way you want. This flexibility allows your creativity to do its thing. Give it a try, and you’ll see! 

Sometimes it helps to think of layers like panes of glass. As we do here with the texture layer, turning down the opacity allows us to “see” some of what’s below it. The Hue/Saturation adjustment layer’s mask is like a pane of glass coated with black, with a clear oval in the middle. This darkens the edges. Finally, the top levels layer darkens the whole “sandwich.” This helps our dancer to really pop.

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