Have you ever taken a portrait and thought to yourself... "yuck, my background does NOT look great,"? I know I certainly used to, and so I did some research, and after a bit of practice, learned to create great looking studio backdrops in Photoshop, and after reading this brief guide, you should be able to, too!
Step 1 - Open Photoshop
Open your image in Photoshop and do your normal retouching. For this tutorial, I'm going to use a portrait from a shoot I did with my friend, Maggie.
This tutorial is about the background, so for this image I've already done the skin retouching and basic contrast, brightness, etc. It's best if you do these edits before messing with the background.
Now, notice how the backdrop here is a nice gray, but there are wrinkles at the bottom and the colors and lighting aren't very smooth. That's what we're going to fix. First, make a copy of your background layer with Command/Ctrl + J. You want to keep a copy of the original image in case you need to go back to it, but turn that layer's visibility off.
Step 2 - Mask Out Your Foreground
A mask is a tool in Photoshop that allows you to "erase" parts of an image without actually deleting those parts. You basically just turn different parts using on and off using black and white colors as your guidelines (more on that in a moment). Always use masking instead of the eraser tool if you can. It will save you from a lot of headaches. Now then, click on the lasso tool and hold it to select the magnetic lasso tool.
Using this tool, trace the outline of your model. You can also use the regular lasso tool to make finer adjustments. Having a drawing tablet (like the Wacom) helps, but it's not required if you have a steady mouse/trackpad hand.
Once your selection is made, you'll want to create your mask by clicking on the "Select and Mask" button at the top.
This will give you a new dialog with options to define how your selection is masked out, with options like feathering, contrast, etc.
Set your view mode to "On Layers" and as long as your first layer is invisible, your model will now be on a transparent background.
As for the settings, you'll have to play around with it to find out what works best for you, but what generally works for me is Radius 12, Smooth 46, Feather 1.7, Contrast 54%, Shift Edge -6%.
You can check "Remember Settings" to use the same settings for future images. Click OK, and you'll have your new masked layer.
Now, if you like, you can further fine tune your mask by clicking on the mask, and use the brush tool to add or take parts away. Black is to "erase," and white is to bring parts back.
Once you're satisfied with your mask, it's time to work on the background.
Step 3 - Create a Gradient
Now that you have your mask, you can begin work on creating your backdrop. You can create anything you want, but in order to create a realistic backdrop, I try to use the colors and lighting from the original backdrop in a gradient. But first, make sure your color mode is set to RGB and 16 Bits/Channel. RGB is standard, but you'll want to make sure you're working in 16 Bits/Channel mode to ensure the best array of possible colors in your image. 32 Bits/Channel is just overkill and makes your image files too large, so stick to 16.