Hula dancer cutout

Have you ever wanted to take a person from one digital photo and put them into another? Or wanted to remove the background to create a cutout of a person or other object?

I find that many beginners would love to create photo compositions such as these, but are not sure where to begin. This article was written as a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to select various objects in photos and transfer them to another image.

My goal with this article was to simplify the process and make at as easy to learn as possible. If you are willing to commit the time to follow along, you will be rewarded with the skills necessary for creating a wide variety of fun photo projects.

Tip: If you are new to this topic, get the most out of this tutorial by reading all pages in sequence; please do not skip ahead.

In This Article

Selecting an object is one of the more complex photo editing tasks. This article teaches the basics by walking you through the following exercises:

  • Select image of a person walking the dog (easy) - page 2
  • Select image of a person holding a kite string (easy) - page 3
  • Select image of a hula dancer (more difficult) - page 4
  • Transfer selection to a solid colored background - page 5
  • Create multiple copies of selection on a single 4x6" print - page 5
  • Put selection of a person into another photo - page 5

The tutorial steps work with Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, as well as the older 3.0 and 2.0 versions. Most steps are the same in all versions of Photoshop Elements (PSE); they are marked as v2, v3 or v4 where they differ.

Magic Wand and Other Selection Tools

As the title suggests, the star of this tutorial is the Magic Wand Tool. But, magic has its limits and we will need to use a few other selection tools. Here is a brief introduction to each selection tool used in this article:

Magic Wand Tool

Magic Wand Tool

Having the word magic in the name must have great marketing value, but I think a better name for this tool would be Select by Color Tool or Color Selection Tool. I point this out so that you remember that the Magic Wand Tool selects similarly colored pixels near the one you clicked.

The magic of this tool is in its ability to detect the edges of colored regions with varying degrees of subtlety, as controlled by the Tolerance setting.

Elliptical Marquee Tool

Elliptical Marquee Tool

The Elliptical Marquee Tool selects everything inside the ellipse drawn manually by dragging the mouse.

This tool may be hidden by the Rectangular Marquee Tool tool. Hold your mouse down on the visible tool to reveal the other tools.

Lasso Tool

Lasso Tool

The Lasso Tool is one of the most manual among the selection tools—it allows you to hand draw a line around the area to be selected.

This tool may be hidden by the Magnetic Lasso Tool or Polygonal Lasso Tool tools. Hold your mouse down on the visible tool to reveal the other tools.

Magnetic Lasso Tool

Magnetic Lasso Tool

This tool is similar to the Lasso Tool in that it allows you to manually draw a line around the area to be selected. However, as you draw, this tool detects nearby edges created by color contrast and it snaps the selection line to the edge.

This tool may be hidden by the Lasso Tool or Polygonal Lasso Tool tools. Hold your mouse down on the visible tool to reveal the other tools.

What about the Magic Extractor?

PSE 4 has a new tool called the Magic Extractor. In this tool Adobe has done a great job simplifying the selection of objects. As with any automation, this tool has its limits. It tends to work well on objects set against a highly contrasted background, but not so great when the object is in a more complex setting. The Magic Extractor did a superb job on the first two photos provided with this article, but did not fare so well on the more complex hula dancer photo.

I do not cover the Magic Extractor in this article, but you should try it if you have PSE 4. Start the tool with the Image > Magic Extractor menu selection.

So then, why bother with this article? Because the tools and techniques covered in this article enable you to select objects even in complex photos. As it turns out, easy-to-select photos are not the norm; complex ones are. If you doubt this, look through your most recent snapshots and see how many have nice, clear backgrounds and how many are set against complex textures like trees, grass, etc.

Preparation Steps

We are almost ready for the tutorial, except for two preparation steps:

X and Y Coordinates

Some of the steps provide X and Y coordinates to help you click the same location on the image as I did (and therefore get the same results). To see the coordinates, make sure that the Info palette in Photoshop Elements is visible. The command to show or hide it is Window > Info.

Download High Resolution Images

On the following three pages you have the opportunity to download the high resolution images used in this tutorial. It may be easier if you download all three now. Click on an image for download instructions and return to this page after each download.

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