How To Remove Photo Backgrounds

cup-before-after

A few marks and the background is gone!

A lot of people have asked me if PhotoPrep has a feature to remove photo backgrounds. At this point PhotoPrep doesn’t have such a feature :(

Last year I did some quick tests to see if I could create white backgrounds – either with careful photography or by using an app to remove the backgrounds. I didn’t have much success at either. It seemed like getting a solid white background wasn’t going to happen without special photography skills and/or high-end software.

However after hearing so many requests from users in the past few months I decided to do some research and find out exactly how background removal really works.

The Holy Grail – Product Photos with a 100% Solid White Background

If you sell products on Amazon a 100% solid white background is required. It won’t hurt in an eBay or Google Stores photo either :) Solid colored backgrounds have two key benefits:

  1. They make your shop or listing look more professional – your photos have a consistent look.
  2. They remove visual distractions from the product on offer.

The Problem – It’s Not That Easy to Do

When I asked people ‘isn’t there an app out there that works?‘ what I heard back from users kind of matched my own experiences:

  • I tried several different apps and got poor results‘ Nothing seems to work as advertised.
  • I can’t shoot a photo and get a perfect solid background‘ Even with careful lighting using a white seamless background and lighting I got shadows and color casts.
  • I have a lot of photos to edit‘ I know it’s possible for experts to ‘Photoshop’ out backgrounds – but that takes skills I don’t have and a lot of time.

Looked For A Solution

I looked for an app that has these qualities:

  1. Easy to remove the background and swap in a solid white (or another color) background .
  2. Works well with most ‘product photos’ – By this I mean photos with a main object that has solid edges. Objects that are translucent or have fuzzy edges need further research and perhaps special software.
  3. Works well with photos that are NOT perfectly exposed and don’t have perfectly lit backgrounds.
  4. Automated or semi-automated – to save time working on multiple photos.
  5. Intuitive – it must have a short learning curve and not be too painful to use on a regular basis.
  6. Fast – of course.
  7. Free to try – I am still learning how this all works so no up front commitment.
  8. Free or low cost to use – again we are not talking about a Hollywood production here!

What I Found – White Backgrounds Can Be Easy!

I found 3 browser-based and 2 desktop apps that worked well enough to mention. After a bit of practice I was able to remove the background from most photos in a minute or two.

What’s Different This Time?

With some research into how apps like these work under the hood and about 2 hours of practice I was able to get decent results with all the apps, some trouble spots noted below. If I had been smart enough to look at the docs and videos first I could have saved an hour.


Here’s How It Works

The Process

All these apps work the same way. You make some marks to tell the app what is ‘foreground’ or the main object, and what is background. The software then thinks a bit and shows you the photo with the background removed.

1-glass-1600.JPG - PhotoScissors 1232015 45406 PM

Select Foreground and Background, then Magic Happens!

4 Basic Steps

  1. Mark the ‘foreground’ or object you want to keep. Note that you ‘mark’, not ‘color in’.
  2. Mark the background to be removed.
  3. Process the photo and review the results.
  4. Go back and refine the edges as needed. This is what takes most of the time. Some images don’t need any extra work, but most of the ones I tried did.

Here are some examples and tutorials from the Clipping Magic docs.

Its All About the Edges

This process is fast and easy as long as the software can find a nice clean edge to your foreground object. If not, you have to step in and give it more clues. And that that happens most of the time. This is where the software smarts plus the photo itself make the difference between easy :) and kinda painful. :(


My Tips for Removing Backgounds Without Fuss

Here are some tips on how I got the whole process to work.

It’s worth learning how to use the app

You don’t need training to use most software these days. For these apps you it helps. You will save a lot of time in the long run if you spend a few minutes and do some training. Watch some videos and read the docs. Knowing how the apps work made all the difference for me. Just mark, no need to highlight It’s best to mark the foreground and background with as few strokes as possible at first, see what the software does, then give it more clues if necessary.

Try several apps with different sample photos

Try different apps and see which one works best on a test sampling of your photos. Once you do a few you will get the hang of it. You will find that some apps work better than others with your particular photos.

Consider improving your photos

You will see what works best. If you aren’t getting good results maybe try shooting some test photos and see if you can make it easier for the apps to do their job.

Photos – what works

Well defined edges – good contrast between object and background, but not too harsh. You don’t need perfect backgrounds or even solid color backgrounds, but it helps to make the object stand out from the background. Ideas to try:

  • Move the object away from the background if possible. The ideal is to light the foreground and background separately.
  • Boost contrast a bit before using the app.
  • Sharpen the photo a bit.
  • Sharp focus on the foreground. Blurry edges confuse the app.

Evenly lit solid backgrounds with diffuse light – diffuse light works well because it minimizes shadows with sharp edges, which the software thinks is part of the object.That’s why gear that diffuses the light, such as light boxes, softboxes or diffusers, are used in product photography. Here is a  long but interesting video about diffusers by a pro photography teacher.

Photos – what doesn’t work

  • Strong shadows – sharp edged shadows confuse the software.
  • Blurry photos – if you have blurry photos either get more light and/or a tripod. But watch the shadows :)
  • Turn off the flash – flash makes strong shadows if you’re not using a diffuser.
  • White background not that important – soft shadows and color tints don’t matter that much.
  • Green screen – is for portraits (or TV news) where you have complex edges and use special ‘chromakey’ software. It’s not necessary with these apps.

Tricky subjects

Objects that have multiple edges or are translucent are going to be hard with this sort of app. I am guessing that this is where you need specialized lighting and/or software.

  • Fuzzy edges: hair, fringes (e.g. on a rug) or beads
  • Translucent edges – glasses, glassware, jewels

Need Perfection?

If you need perfection consider using a ‘valet service’ where you send off your photos and get them back with solid backgrounds. Or check on fiverr for a freelancer.  I didn’t try this but the results are likely to be good, for a price.


Five Good Photo Background Removal Apps

These are the best of the ones I tried. Please note this is a quick overview, not a full review, try them yourselves!

Top 3 Browser-based Apps

These are web apps that run in a browser. No software installation needed.

Clipping Magic – www.clippingmagic.com

  • Pro
    • The best overall – fairly smart about finding the edges.
    • Good at smoothing edges.
    • Fast.
    • Can configure settings.
    • Has special tools for hair and soft edges, which I did not try.
    • Has ‘bulk’ service for large volumes, which I did not try.
    • Good documentation.
  • Con
    • Not automated, you must mark every photo.
  • Tips
    • Look at the docs before you start
    • Learn how to use the eraser
  • Pricing
    • Free to use w/o downloading finished photos.
    • Monthly pricing for a certain number of photos per month.

Background Burner – https://burner.bonanza.com/

  • Pro
    • Fast with lots of tools.
    • Automated preview – pick from best result.
    • Keeps a gallery of your images for re-editing.
    • Good documentation.
  • Con
    • Difficult to edit the mask with a mouse. This makes editing edges almost impossible on some images.
    • Had trouble with translucent glass photo.
  • Tips
    • Has Pro option where you can have someone help set you up, then can choose to have some photos edited by a service. In theory this will be handy if you get stuck on certain photos.
  • Pricing
    • Free to use for one photo at a time.
    • Pro version has monthly pricing for a certain number of photos per month.

ZenPhotomatic – http://www.zenfotomatic.com/

  • Pro
    • One click – works well if your photos are already on a clean background.
    • Workflow oriented, fast to go through a set of photos.
    • Preserves shadows.
  • Con
    • No way to remove shadows.
    • If you need to edit mask, edit tools aren’t very good – no zoom or undo.
    • Minimal documentation
  • Pricing
    • Free to use w/o saving photos.
    • Buy credits – 1 per photo downloaded.

Top 2 Desktop Apps

These are traditional desktop apps for Windows or Mac.

PhotoScissors – https://www.photoscissors.com/

  • Pro
    • The best desktop app.
    • Very fast.
    • Inexpensive.
    • Can create drop shadow.
    • Good set of tutorials.
  • Con
    • Not that polished, have to set up tools (e.g., brush size) on every photo.
    • No live update, have to keep pressing Cut Out button.
    • Minimal documentation.
  • Pricing
    • Free to use w/o saving photos.
    • $19.99

Bling! It – http://www.blingit.us/

  • Pro
    • Edge selection very fast.
    • Can paint in edges.
    • Inexpensive
  • Con
    • Multiple tabs workflow is clunky – editing a lot of photos would get tedious.
    • Not obvious how to get started.
    • Minimal documentation.
  • Pricing
    • 15 day trial
    • $29.95

Conclusion

To sum up the loooong post above: You can remove the backgrounds to most * photos withing a minute or two with an hour or two of practice.

  1. Try some of these apps with a few of your sample photos.
  2. Take the time to watch videos and/or read some docs first.
  3. If necessary experiment with your photo lighting to get well defined edges.
  4. Enhance/edit your photos before removing the backgrounds.
  5. Use a service if you really get stuck.
  • excepting fuzzy or translucent objects

PhotoPrep 1.0 Release

PhotoPrep 1.0 Launch Celebration!

1.0 Is Ready To Go!

Today we are very excited to announce the first official final (not beta) release of PhotoPrep. Its ready to escape from our labs and hit the street…

Thanks To Our Beta Testers 

I just want to say a big Thank You to our beta testers and supporters! For your patience (at times), insights and encouragement. We really appreciate it! Many of your suggestions made it into the product, and all of them have been carefully considered.  

As a way of showing our appreciation we will be emailing beta users a special ‘thank you’. 

1.0 Release?

A 1.0 release sounds scary, but this product has been tested by hundreds of beta testers for many months, with steady improvements in quality and features along the way.

Good Software is Never Done…

Not that we intend to stop improving the product –  so please send feedback, and suggest new features or vote for your favorites. The software industry term for software that’s never ‘done’ is that you are iterating. To iterate means to make steady improvements in a product. In other words it means  ‘OK, get back to work’ and start on the next release, so talk later, gotta run…


Automated Editing with QuickStep

Save Time Editing with QuickStep Automation

PhotoPrep has a feature called QuickStep that can customize and run a set of editing steps with one mouse click. This gives you the speed and consistency of automation plus the ability to review and adjust the photo in the editor. 

 

Editing Product Photos is a Lot of Work :(

We’re not talking about editing photos for sharing with family and friends, or as a hobby. That can be fun! Editing photos for your business is work. You want to do it right but not spend too much time on each photo.

  1. Editing photos is a very repetitive, labor-intensive, time-consuming process!
  2. Every photo needs at least some editing. Unless you are lucky enough to have a photographer who gives you perfectly exposed and composed photos, you will have some ‘post-processing’ work to do.
  3. Every photo must be reviewed carefully to make sure it reflects well on your business.

 

QuickStep Can Help!

 

Before and After example of QuickStep command.

Before and After example of QuickStep in action. The Before photo is right from the camera. The After photo shows Crop plus QuickStep doing: Auto Color Balance, Auto Contrast, Boost Contrast, Resize, Sharpen and Add Text. Click to enlarge

 

Here is an example of running QuickStep. The After image shows the result of running six commands with one click.

 


Editing Manually vs Editing With QuickStep

Editing Manually

 

To edit this photo manually I did the following steps:

  1. Crop
  2. Auto Contrast
  3. Boost Contrast Manually – a bit
  4. Auto Color Balance
  5. Resize – to eBay recommended size
  6. Sharpen – a bit
  7. Add Text – my watermark
Total: 18 mouse clicks and about 60 seconds per image (give or take)

 

Editing with QuickStep

Using QuickStep I only need to do these steps:

  1. Crop
  2. QuickStep (QuickStep does steps 2 through 7 above)
Total :  3 mouse clicks and about 10 seconds per image

Conclusion:  you save almost one minute per photo. Multiply that by the number of photos you need to edit and the savings add up…

 


Setting Up Quickstep – A Step-By-Step Guide

Now lets see how to set it up. It takes few minutes to set up but once that’s done you won’t need to change it very often.  

QuickStep panel

The QuickStep Panel  Click to enlarge

 1) Open the QuickStep Panel

  1. In the PhotoPrep Editor click on Advanced, then Quickstep.
  2. Note the ? icon in the upper right of the panel – that opens a Help screen.

 

QuickStep Setup Dialog

The QuickStep Setup Dialog Click to Enlarge

 2) Set up Your QuickStep ‘Script’

  1. Click Setup in the panel. That opens the QuickStep Setup dialog.
  2. Click on each command that you want to use. If the command needs setting up, do so and Save the settings.
  3. Two of the commands have no settings, they are just on/off ( Auto Contrast and Auto Color).
  4. Lets see an example of setting up one command: Resize
    1. Click on Resize in the settings dialog. Its just like Resize in the Editor.
    2. Pick the desired size, for example eBay Recommended.
    3. Now Save the settings for Resize
  5. Repeat that process for the rest of the commands you want to run.
  6. Make sure the commands that you want are checked off. The checked commands will be included in the script.
  7. Then Save the QuickStep script. This will close the Setup dialog.

 

3) Run Your Script to Try It Out

  1. We are back at the QuickStep panel.
  2. Click Run to see what happens when your run all the commands.
  3. If you like the results, you are done! Click Apply to save the edits.
  4. If not, click Reset and go back to Setup to adjust your script.

 

A Few Notes About QuickStep
  • QuickStep is just a command like any other. What you are doing is stacking as set of commands to run with one click.
  • The commands run in the order you see in Setup.
  • You can always Cancel if you want or Undo after running it.
  • There is only one Script saved, IE in the current product you cannot have more than one script for different uses.
  • It helps if you have tried the commands in the editor before setting it up so you know what they do.

 

The QuickStep button on the editor toolbar

The QuickStep button on the editor toolbar. Clicking this button runs the current QuickStep command. Click to Enlarge

4) Running QuickStep 

Once it’s set up you can run QuickStep from two places:

  • The QuickStep panel as you just did OR
  • From the editor toolbar (see screenshot).

 


7 Easy Steps to Make Your Product Photos POP

Its no secret that better photos increase sales. One thing I have noticed when editing lots of photos is how often the most dramatic improvements come from a few simple edits. If you follow these basic editing steps ALL your product photos will look better.

 

  1. Rotate to Orient the Photo

    No suprises here – rotate to orient your photo. Then find a horizontal or vertical edge and straighten if necessary.

  2. Set Color Balance For Whiter Whites

    Getting accurate color can be tricky. Try Auto Color Balance first. Check the results – it doesn’t work on all photos depending on lighting and exposure. If the photo still needs adjusting use a manual Color Balance tool (Red, Green, Blue sliders) but be careful not to overdo it.

  3. Add Contrast To Make Your Photos POP

    Boosting contrast will make your photo really stand out (aka POP). Try Auto Contrast first – that often does the trick. If not use do a manual change, but don’t overdo it. TIP: Boosting contrast makes the most dramatic changes to your photo.

  4. Crop to Focus On the Item

    When you’re shooting leave plenty of room around the item. Pick the desired shape (aspect ratio) that frames your item best: square, landscape or portrait. Then Crop to focus on the item. This has two benefits: 1) it cuts out distracting backgrounds and 2) it makes your item larger, so it stands out better.

  5. Size to Fit

    Photos must be resized to specific pixels sizes based on whatever service you use to host your images. A few things to note: scaling DOWN works well, but scaling UP loses image quality, so avoid that if possible.TIP: If you are uploading to a service like eBay or Facebook resize to the largest size they allow to maximize quality.

  6. Sharpen the Edges

    Sharpen changes the edges of objects in the photo. Sharpen lightly as the final editing step. Don’t overdo it though, a little bit goes a long way. TIP: Zoom the photo in to 100% so you can see all the details while you are sharpening – look for the edges. Then check again at normal zoom.

  7. Save As JPEG

    When you are done editing save the results to a file in JPEG format (.jpg, .jpeg). TIP: Start at compression level 85. If you are uploading to a service that processes your photo further (like eBay or Facebook) leave compression at 90 or greater – your photos will often be resized and re-compressed anyway. Super Squish TIP: If you need the smallest possible files you should PREVIEW the results at 100% zoom to check results. Images that are over-compressed look blocky and lose color quality.


7 Basic Editing Steps - Large Photo Before Editing

Before


7 Basic Editing Steps - Large Photo After Editing

After