I’ve received several emails asking how to achieve effects like these:
The goal of extractions is to separate all or part of the subject from the background, which can be accomplished with a variety of tools within your graphics program. This type of work requires practice to achieve the most desirable results, but with so many options you can experiment to see which technique works for you.
If your background is a solid color, the magic wand or similar selector, can remove the background very quickly. However, the utility of auto-selecting areas is completely moot when your background has any variation in tone or color.
In the most straightforward method, you use the eraser or layer masks to manually remove undesired areas. This tutorial for ACDSee Photo Editor illustrates how you ‘paint out’ the background.
The magnetic lasso and manual lasso are the most utilitarian of tools for extraction, but they require a bit of patience. About.com offers a series of lessons on extractions and tips for feathering for the most natural effect.
The pen tool can give your extraction smooth boundaries with no fear of stray pixels. Ronna Penner put together this fantastic, super-helpful video podcast on using the pen tool. One catch, the pen tool does not come standard in Photoshop Elements. PSE users have two low-cost options – use GIMP (free) for extractions or purchase the third-party Essentions plugin for PSE.
To hit the ground running with this technique, consider Jessica Sprague’s “Extraction Secrets Mega Lesson“, a self-paced course at the awesome price of $9.99! If you are serious about learning extraction for fantasy layouts or designing, the price is more than worth it.
Do you do extraction work? Which technique do you use most of the time? What tips do you have for those new to extraction?