How To Change The Background Color In Photoshop

There are a few different ways to change the background color in Photoshop, depending on if you want to add color or create a simple white background. These methods work well for product photos or portraits but can be mixed with any kind of image. Although the process is slightly easier if the image already has a solid colored background, it’s not the only way. In fact, you can still change the background color to white, even if your subject has a busy background.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn a variety of methods for changing the background color in Photoshop. With the tips learned here, you’ll be able to get swap the background in no time for a clean, professional studio look!

Let’s get started!

How To Change The Background Color To White

For this first method, you’ll see how to take a regular image background and replace it with white. This method does require you to select and remove the original image background. However, with some of the new tools introduced in Photoshop CC 2020 and later, this process is simple.

Step 1: Use Select Subject To Create A Selection

Rather than spending the time to cut out the subject in this photo manually, you can use a tool called select subject. Found within your properties panel, it automatically creates a selection based on the edges in your photo.

Making sure that your image layer is unlocked, select it, and open the properties panel.

If you don’t see the properties panel, you can go up to Window > Properties.

At the bottom of the Properties window, you’ll see a quick actions option with two buttons. Click on the “Select Subject” option. This will create a new selection around your subject without actually removing the background.

Step 2: Refine The Active Selection With The Quick Selection Tool

After a bit of thinking, Photoshop will automatically create a general selection around your subject. In most cases, it does a pretty good job. However, if it completely missed the mark, you’ll want to try a different selection method. This will only happen if the edges around your subject are not easily identifiable or blend against a busy background.

In the case of this image, it did a pretty good job. However, it missed a few spots within the chain loop and around the fingers. Rather than starting the selection all over, you can refine the selection that’s already active.

First, select the Quick Selection tool from your toolbar or press W on your keyboard.

Then make sure the selection mode is set to “Subtract From Selection.”

With your image layer selected, paint around the areas you want to remove.

It’s very likely that you’ll accidentally select a part of your image that you don’t want to be removed from your selection. In that case, you can hold the Shift Key or press the “Add To Selection” option to adjust the selection area further.

After going back and forth between adding and subtracting from your selection, you will be left with a perfect selection around your subject.

Step 3: Add Your Selection To A Layer Mask

Now it’s time to remove the background from behind the subject. Since you want to work non-destructively, you can use a layer mask rather than deleting it.

With your image layer selected, simply press the layer mask icon to add the active selection to a layer mask.

At this point, your background should be completely transparent, which is represented by the checkerboard.

However, if your subject has become invisible, just press Command + I (Mac) or Control + I (PC) to invert the mask.

Step 4: Create A New White Color Fill Layer Beneath Your Subject

For the final step, you’ll add a white background behind your subject using a color fill layer. The advantage to these layers is that you can easily change the color after the fact, without any keyboard shortcuts.

To create a new color fill layer go up to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.

Rename the layer to anything you’d like. In this case, I’ll call it “White Background” and click OK.

From the color picker, select white and click OK again. This will be the color of the entire layer.

Placing the new fill layer behind your subject will replace the transparent background with a white background.

If you want to change your background color, later on, all you have to do is double click on the fill layer color. This will open the color picker once again and allow you to select a different color for your background.

Step 5: Now You Have A White Background!

With a few basic selections and layer masking options, you’re able to remove the background and replace it with white in Photoshop. This works great for product images or if you need a plain background for a portrait.

All that’s left is to export your image. By going to File > Save As and setting the File Format to “JPEG,” you can export your image in seconds.

Now that you know how to change the background color to white in Photoshop let’s discuss how to add a gradient to the background.

How To Apply A Gradient To The Background Color In Photoshop

For this next example, we’ll change the background of a portrait image to have a gradient background. There are several ways to do this, but I’ll share the fastest method. This process follows many of the same steps as before, but with a slight variation at the end! Here’s how it’s done.

Step 1: Use “Remove Background” To Cut Out Your Subject

This time around, let’s try something a little different for removing the background from the subject. Rather than creating an active selection, let’s just remove the background all at once.

Once again, with the image layer unlocked and selected, open the Properties Panel. If you don’t see it, go to Window > Properties.

This time, rather than choosing the select subject, click on “Remove Background.” This option will create a selection, apply it to a layer mask, and remove the image’s background all at once.

Talk about a time saver!

Step 2: Refine Your Layer Mask As Needed

With your background removed, it may not look totally perfect. You can easily touch it up by using your Brush Tool and painting on the layer mask. In this example, the selection accidentally included part of the background.

To get rid of it, I’ll select the Brush Tool (B), set my foreground color to black, and adjust the brush size and hardness as needed.

With the layer mask selected, I’ll paint over the areas of my image I want to make transparent. After a simple brush adjustment, I’ve fixed any glaring problems left over from the automatic selection. If you’re new to using layer masks in Photoshop, I’d highly recommend this post to learn how they work.

In some cases, there will be a bit of fringing leftover around your subject. This can happen when the selection leaves just a little bit leftover from the original image. Luckily you can use select and mask to get rid of it.

– Using Select & Mask

First, double click on your layer mask to open select and mask.

Before you begin, set your view mode to something that makes it easy to see your edges. In this case, I’ll use the “On Black” option since it’s very easy to see edges against a solid color.

Going to the Global Refinements Tab, adjust the Smooth, Feather, and Contrast sliders to refine your edge. There is no perfect answer that works for every image, so you’ll have to play around and see what works for you.

To give you a better idea of what each adjustment does, let’s break it down.

The Smooth slider smooths out any harsh corners and makes the edge of your selection less jagged. Especially with automatic selections like you just used, this slider can make a big difference.

The Feather slider alters the softness of the edge. In most images, it’s good practice to add a slight feather to your edge. That’s because it will help eliminate unwanted fringing or other jagged edges.

Lastly, the Contrast slider changes the sharpness of your edge. After applying a feather, bringing up the contrast will make everything look sharp again. By using all three of these sliders in conjunction, you can refine your edges very easily.

If you end up having any remaining fringing leftover, you can shift the edge of your selection inward by moving the Shift Edge slider to the left.

With everything looking good, click OK to commit to your changes.

Step 3: Create A New Color Fill Layer

Since the image is cut out, all that’s left is to apply a gradient to the background. The easiest way to do this is by adding a color fill layer, then adding a gradient on a separate layer with the Gradient Tool. For now, let’s just create a color fill layer.

Just like before, go up to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. Rename the layer to whatever you’d like and set the background color. In this case, I’ll select a middle grey as my background.

With the new fill layer selected, place it underneath your image layer.

Step 4: Apply A Gradient To A New Layer Using The Gradient Tool

Start by creating a new layer above your solid color fill.

With the new layer selected, access your Gradient Tool (G) and select a foreground to transparent gradient from the Gradient Editor.

Next, set your foreground color to the color you want your gradient to be. In my case, I’ll select a light grey color to go along with the background.

Lastly, choose your gradient type from the upper settings bar. Since I want my gradient to be circular behind my subject, I’ll select the radial gradient option. You can learn more about the different gradient types in this post.

Painting onto the new transparent layer, I’ll click in the center of the canvas and drag outwards to apply the gradient. To add more intensity to your gradient, try doing this multiple times.

Step 5: Now You Have A Gradient Background!

Now you’ve successfully replaced the background in your photo with a gradient. Although there are gradient fill layers, using the Gradient Tool on a new layer has always proved faster in my experience. Since you can easily choose between different gradient types, this method is a lot more intuitive for getting the background you’re looking for.

Using Hue Adjustments To Change The Background Color

If you have a solid colored background behind your subject, you can quickly change its color using the Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer. Although you still have to select around your subject, it doesn’t need to be as precise. This method gives you a bit more wiggle room and makes changing the background color as simple as moving a slider.

Step 1: Create A Selection Around Your Subject

To ensure you don’t change any of the colors on the model/subject, it’s worthwhile to create a selection. That way, the hue saturation adjustments will only be visible in the background.

Like before, the fastest way to create a selection is with the Select Subject option. Once again, with your layer selected, go to the properties panel and click on the Select Subject option.

Now you’ll be left with an active selection that you can refine as needed with the Quick Selection Tool.

Step 2: Apply The Active Selection Onto The Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer Mask

Your selection will be automatically applied to your adjustment layer when it’s created to make life easy. So all you have to do is create the adjustment layer, and Photoshop will do the rest.

Select the Hue Saturation Adjustment from your Adjustments Panel, or access it from the bottom of your Layers Panel.

When your adjustment layer is created, your selection will be applied to its layer mask. The problem is that the layer mask will be set to affect your subject instead of the background. Luckily this is a quick fix by clicking on the layer mask and pressing Command + I (Mac) or Control + I (PC) to invert the layer mask.

Step 3: Colorize The Background

Opening the Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer, check off the “Colorize” option within the Master tab. This will apply a single hue across the entire background, regardless of the color channel it’s in.

To change the color, move the Hue slider left or right as needed. You can make the color appear more saturated or bright by further adjusting the Saturation and Luminance Sliders.

Since all these adjustments have been restricted to the background via the layer mask, the subject remains untouched as you change the background color.

– The Result

With this method, you can change the hues of the colors that are already in your background. This is best suited for photos that already have a solid colored background and won’t work well in other instances.

However, this technique does apply a very realistic color effect to any solid colored background since it maintains the original exposure values. As you can see, the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones in the background are all still easily distinguishable. Rather than completely blocking everything out with one solid color, changing the background hue offers a more realistic look.

Now let’s discuss an alternative option that will change a white background into a solid color.

Changing A White Background To Color In Photoshop

For this next example, you can change a solid white background into a completely different color. Whether you’re looking for a background without shadows or want to have a more vibrant color, this method is your best bet.

Step 1: Create A Selection Around Your Subject

Similar to all the other techniques you’ve learned so far, we’ll start by creating a selection around your subject. Since the subject is already against a solid white background, it won’t be hard to select.

With your image layer selection, access the properties panel and choose “Select Subject” to create a new selection.

If this technique doesn’t work, try these 5 alternative methods for making selections.

Step 2: Make A New Color Fill Layer

By creating a solid color as your background, it’s a lot easier to alter a white background. Especially so since the Hue Saturation adjustment doesn’t always give you the punchiest colors.

Like before, go up to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.

Pick any color you’d like as your background color, but you can change this later on as well.

Since you had an active selection before creating the fill layer, that selection will be automatically applied to a layer mask. That way, your new fill color will only be visible in the background areas of your photo.

Step 3: Change The Fill Layers Blending Mode To Multiply

When you first apply the solid color, it likely won’t look very realistic. That’s because there aren’t any shadows or highlights within the color; it’s all one hue. To solve this problem, you can use the Multiply layer blending mode. This way, you add color to a white background while maintaining some of the original highlights and shadows.

With your fill layer selected, change the blending mode from Normal to Multiply.

Now your fill color will look far more realistic in your background.

– The Result

Using this method, you can get a far more vibrant and punchy background without endlessly adjusting Hue Saturation sliders. If you’re looking for an easy way to change a white background to color in Photoshop, this is a great technique.

How To Change The Background Layer Color

While we’re on the topic of changing background colors in Photoshop, we can’t forget about background layers! These are the layers automatically created in a new Photoshop document and are typically set to white by default. However, there are a few different ways you can change this.

Option 1: Changing The Background Layer Color From The New Document Window

The first option you have is to change the background color before you even open your project. In the New Document window, you’ll find an option called “Background Contents.”

There are several options to choose from within the drop-down menu, such as white, black, your currently set background color, transparent, or custom.

With the Custom option, you can select any color you’d like via a color picker.

Once you’re happy with your color, click Create to open a new document with the background color you just selected.

Option 2: Changing The Background Layer Color In An Active Document

If you already have a document created, it’d be a pain to go through that entire process again. Instead, you can change the background layer’s color that already exists with an easy keyboard shortcut.

First, click on your foreground color and choose a color you’d like for the background layer.

Next, select the background layer and press Option + Delete (Mac) or Alt + Delete (PC) to fill it with your foreground color. Now your background layer has a completely different color, and you didn’t have to make a new document!

Changing The Background Layer Color To Transparent

In some situations, you may want to get rid of your background layer all together by making it transparent. Once again, there are a few different options you can choose from.

If you’re about to create a new document, simply set the background contents to transparent. That way, once you open your document, it will be transparent from the get-go.

However, if you’ve already created your document, you’ll have to do something slightly different. With the background layer selected, click on the opacity slider and bring it down to a 0% opacity. This will make your entire background layer transparent.

As an alternative option, you can click on the eyeball icon beside the background layer. This toggles the visibility and ultimately makes the layer transparent once again.

It’s worth noting that although your image has a transparent background in Photoshop, that won’t be the case when you export. To preserve transparency in your image, you have to export it as a PNG file.

By going to File > Save As and setting your file format to PNG, you’ll keep the transparent background in your newly exported photo. I discuss this in a previous post on removing the white background from a logo in Photoshop.

Now you know a handful of ways to change the background color in Photoshop. Whether you’re working with a portrait, product photo, or any other type of image, there’s a technique outlined here to get the job done. I love to use the Hue Saturation option since it gives the most realistic look to backgrounds. The trouble is, unless you’re photo already has a solid colored background, it doesn’t really work.

Luckily you can use a new color fill layer to get the job done instead. Photoshop has so many different ways to do things, there’s always a workaround no matter what issue you face!

Happy Editing!

– Brendan 🙂