Learn To Isolate Images Using Photoshop’s Path Tool
Do you have a spare couple of hours? Using the paths tool in Photoshop can be quite time consuming, but if you are doing intricate work and want some funky effects for your images, this is one example of how the paths tool in Photoshop works.
I took the image for this tutorial, with an idea in mind, although you may have many images taken already which you would like to enhance using this method.
Designers that buy stock images often like objects or subjects that are completely “isolated”. This means a pure and plain background, normally white, so that they can “work around it”!
If you do not have a studio set up with plain backdrops, you can cheat the effect using the paths tool in Photoshop.
First of all, we need to crop the image as much as possible, giving us less pixels to work on as in Fig.1. Select the crop tool and close in as much as you can to begin the isolation.
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.1
Next, it is good practice to straighten the image and make it as symmetrical as possible, assuming the image needs it, for this image it does.
So we Select – All which will place the “running ants” around the image. Next we need to start to straighten; in this case I used the “Distort” tool by;
EDIT – TRANSFORM – DISTORT (See Fig.2)
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.2
It is also a good idea to bring up the grid tool to assist you in your accuracy;
VIEW – SHOW – GRID
Once you have got to this stage, your image may still need the usual adjustments to make it look clean and well exposed etc. Do the normal adjustments such as levels, curves, and colour correction but leave the sharpening until last. (See fig.3).
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.3
Now comes the fun bit. I would suggest you get the kettle on and make yourself comfortable, especially if your image is as detailed as this. I purposely chose the image for this tutorial for its difficulty factor. If you can get this right using the paths tool and have the patience, anything else will seem like a breeze.
Ok. The only way to do this effectively is by zooming in as close as possible without losing too much detail. Once you are zoomed in on the area you wish to isolate, select the pen tool (P) and make sure that you click the path icon as in fig. 4.
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.4
Now start to make a path by selecting a starting point and clicking, then move slowly in small increments clicking the area as you go (see lines and points in fig.4). Once you have completed a section you must click on the first point you made to make the path “whole”. When you do so you are left with a single line outlining the path area.
We now need to select this area and remove it from the image. Right click inside the path area and click “make a selection” (fig. 5). A new box will appear as in fig. 6 where you can adjust the radius of the selection. As this is very detailed work, I normally leave it set to 1.
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.5
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.6
This is just enough to feather the selection so that it blends in and doesn’t look “unnatural”. Each image is different so I suggest you play with this a bit and see the differences that larger radius’s make.
To get rid of the selection, you must ensure that the background colour is white as in fig.6, and then simply hit the delete key. This should erase the background or selection to white! (See fig.7).
By changing the colour in this step, you can make the background any colour you wish.
It is best to do a few selections or paths at a time and then delete them all rather than one at a time. I wasn’t feeling particularly brave for this shot as my PC had been crashing lately so I did a bit at a time and saved as a PSD as I went (fig.8).
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.8
Once all the paths are done and deleted, you can fine tune the image, brighten it and sharpen leaving a fantastic isolated image as in fig.9, and that is one way of using the paths tool in Photoshop.
Using the Paths Tool in Photoshop Fig.9
Finally, here is the same image as used in the Times newspaper in November 2007…worth all that effort I would say!