Nature,  Software,  Wildlife

How to Clean up the Backgrounds of your Nature Photographs – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part blog series on techniques to clean up the backgrounds of your nature photographs.  In part 1, I discussed darkening and blurring the background to hide the distractions in your photos.  Part 2 of the blog posts will cover how to remove distracting elements from the background and replacing the background.

Trillium Bud

Trillium Wildflower Background Replaced

In order to create appealing photographs, the background of a nature photograph needs to be clean and free of distractions that can lead the viewer’s eye away from the subject.  This technique will help with all types of nature photographs including birds, wildlife, and wildflower photography

If you haven't done so, make sure you visit part 1 of this blog series to learn additional techniques on cleaning up the backgrounds of your photos.

Remove the Distracting Elements from the Background

Photoshop has two useful tools to remove distracting options from your photos.

Content Aware Fill

The Content Aware Fill tool in Photoshop attempts to fill in a selected area of the photo automatically by sampling the adjacent areas of the selection.  Surprisingly, Content Aware Fill works well a lot of the time.

To use content aware fill, select the area that you’d like replaced and press Shift + f5 on your computer and the fill menu will appear.  Select Content-Aware and press OK.

Clone Stamp Tool

The Clone Stamp lets you manually replace a portion of the image by manually selecting an area of the photo to be the replacement and painting away the area you would like to replace. The replacement area is selected by pressing the Option key and clicking on the replacement area.

I’d recommend using a Wacom Tablet with a stylus when working with the clone stamp.  The tablet allows you to work like you are using a real paint brush and is much easier than a mouse once you get used to it.

When using the clone stamp, you may need to adjust the opacity to get the right look.  Also make sure that it is not noticeable that you copied another area of the image.  You may need to work in smaller sections to ensure the duplication isn’t obvious.  I always make a duplicate layer to work on when using the clone stamp tool.

These two techniques can be combined by first allowing Content Aware Fill to attempt to remove the object, and then cleaning up any results that you don’t like with the Clone Stamp tool.

American Kestrel at the Top of the Tree

American Kestrel Branches Cleaned Up with Content Aware Fill and Clone Stamp Tool

Replace the Background

Sometimes there is so much work to fix a background in a nature photo that it is just easier to replace the background. 

When I’m out photographing nature, I try to take a few photos of out of focus backgrounds by manually focusing on a background.  I keep these backgrounds in my Lightroom library keyworded as "backgrounds" so I can easily find one when needed.

Here are a couple of approaches to replace the background.  Warning, these approaches can also time intensive.  But, the end result can make it worth the effort.

Paint the Background Away using a Layer Mask

By copying a new background as a separate layer, the old background can be painted away using a layer mask.  Visit this blog post for a step by step approach for this technique.

Using the Quick Selection Tool

The subject of the image can be selected in Photoshop and moved to another image containing the new background.  Depending on the subject of the photo, this approach may also take some time to get the selection correct.  Check out this blog post for step by step instructions for this technique.

Background Clean Up Example 

In this blog post, we continue on with our example of cleaning up the background on the Grapes on the Vine photograph.  In part 1 of the blog, processed the photo by blurring and darkening the background of the photo to reduce the visibility of the distracting elements.  The before image shown below is how we left the photo after part 1.

After darkening and blurring the background of the photograph, there were still some distracting elements in the background of the photograph.  I used the clone stamp tool to select the dark ares of the photo and clone out the bright and colorful distracting elements in the background.  I also used the Blacks slider in Lightroom 5 to further darken the background.

The finished Grapes on the Vine Photo is shown below.  Click on the photo to see a larger image.

Autumn Grapes on the Vine After Clean Up

Autumn Grapes on the Vine After Blurring and Darkening the Background

Autumn Grapes on the Vine - Finished Photo

Autumn Grapes on the Vine after using the Clone Stamp to Clean up the Background

Written by Martin Belan

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