So I have an image like this:

enter image description here

I created a layer mask, and painted with a large feathery brush on the mask to remove the background as best as I could, and then ran it through a plugin, result in this:

enter image description here

It is far from the "background removal" effect I was hoping for, more along the lines of this:

enter image description here

My question for this one is fairly narrow. How do I create a sort of pseudo-radial gradient, basically a fade-out "flow map" around the subject of the photo? Sort of like this:

enter image description here

The darker black rays extending from the subject in the center symbolizes the "gaussian gradient" effect I am trying to achieve.

Basically, I know how I can create a linear and a radial gradient. So I would create several masks at different angles using a linear gradient. But that seems like kind of a hack. Is there no way to simply draw around the subject of the photo with some tool, and have it use that lasso as the starting point for a gradient, to which the gradient would flow outwards from each normal vector from the border of the lasso (sort of thing). How can I accomplish something like this? If I am way off base, which direction would be a more suitable one to try?

I tried this to (a) remove the background on one layer, then lower the transparency to 50% on the first layer (of the whole image), then combine the layers. Doing that gave me a janky cutout of the subject, whereas I would prefer a more fadeout approach, so not sure how to do that yet. But the result is slightly better since now the background is more removed.

enter image description here

I tried this only to get a slightly better result:

enter image description here

But I don't know how to get the masking just perfect, nor how to have the background sort of feather-fade out.

Perhaps this is what I want.

I also tried this, but didn't seem to get very good results. Maybe it takes practice, would be good to know. Here's what that looked like:

enter image description here

This is helpful. Here's what it's like with a blurred oval vignette to transparency.

enter image description here

Edit Here's what I did, please let me know how to do it better.

  1. Duplicated background image layer.
  2. In duplicated layer, drew around it with the magic tool. Just enough to roughly cover the subjects.
  3. Select > Modify > Expand, by like 40px, to expand the selection so it was definitely outside of the subject roughly.
  4. Right click, "select and mask", and then feathered the selection a little bit so it didn't form a sharp border.
  5. Copied the second layer into a third layer.
  6. Reselect the 3rd layer's lasso.
  7. Extend it outward by like an inch, so it covered a much more blobby area around the subject.
  8. Feathered that and decreased opacity further. Made sure it blended with the other layers.
  9. Low opacity on the original full background image.

End result was something like this:

enter image description here

Then it turned into this:

enter image description here

Still not that great. I would like for it to have the qualities:

  1. Only really show the main subjects clearly. So maybe I need to better select these out.
  2. Create a curve like an exponential fade-out from the subject to the background, so there is a smooth transition from subject to background. That was the hardest part. I would like for the background to start of relatively faint next to the subjects, then fade out broadly so it forms like a vignette, yet isn't overpowering. The main this is how to do the boundary between the subject and the background initially, so it doesn't chop or form a line. I need a blur curve controller or something, I don't know.

If anyone knows how to improve this please let me know. Thank you.

Still not that great :/

  • I'd probably remove the background with pen tool. Surround the area with a path (not a shape), then right-click the document and select Make selection then press delete. You may have to convert the background layer into a regular layer before that. Rectangular marquee tool would probably do just fine too, but it's not a bad practice to use pen tool when the selection is more than a few clicks since the path created by pen tool is a bit more permanent in a sense and you can make curved paths if you feel like that is needed and the path can be edited after the points have been laid down.
    – Joonas
    Aug 5, 2019 at 7:20
  • 1
    I guess the background removal is your biggest issue, but I thought I'd still say it might also be worth it to look for actions that do similar effects. There's a bunch at Graphicriver. This specific one includes the background and is colored, but you could convert it b&w (if it's not possible to remove color layers) and if you remove the background before or after running the action, it would probably be pretty close to something you want.
    – Joonas
    Aug 5, 2019 at 7:24
  • 2
    The thing about buying these actions is that you don't know how they are built or how your image would look after the action is applied to your image until you buy and try it. Here's a quick example where I removed the background of this bird example and on the right side I used levels to get rid midtones to make it lighter.
    – Joonas
    Aug 5, 2019 at 7:24
  • I don't understand your question at all. People seem to be telling you how to make black lines but you're asking about some radial gradient blur. This makes no sense. And the bird image doesn't seem related at all. Do you have an example of the radial blur flow chat effect thing?
    – Ryan
    Aug 5, 2019 at 19:15
  • 1
    The question is too long and convoluted. It would not hurt to be short, succinct, and remove any images that are not directly related to what you have and what you want.
    – Scott
    Aug 7, 2019 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


I think the main problem with your example is the lack of contrast between the background and subject. Here's one method which could be used to make the subject pop more, like an illustration.

Duplicate the layer, then create layer masks to separate the fox from the background.

Perhaps something like this shown below. Here I masked out the fox, using the Select and Mask functionality. Then on the bottom layer I used a soft edged brush to paint a fuzzy oval as the mask. I also used the same brush to paint on the fox mask at the right side, to give the same effect on that layer.

enter image description here

Next, flatten the image, and run your action.

You could if you want use this free Engraving Action for Photoshop. Note: I have no affiliation with the website or developer.

The results will not be as good as a hand drawn engraving. Anway here's an example of the output. Note that I also had to resample the image to 300ppi to make it big enough. Then I simply ran the action.

enter image description here

  • 1
    This is basically what I would have answered. I think the contrast could be even more exagerated (maybe using grey instead of white in the background mask, depending on how the action is built) and could use maybe even more levels of masking depending on the picture. Seems like the most that can be done in terms of automation.
    – curious
    Aug 5, 2019 at 16:12

Take the pen (=a Photoshop tool) to your better hand and draw a clipping path. It's a hefty job for one who hasn't practiced it.

With the path make a selection and copy the foreground to the top layer. The bottom layer can be the whole image. Let the top layer get filtering (see NOTE1) which leaves rich details. Let the bottom layer get filtering which removes nearly everything.

An example:

enter image description here

As you can see, the background has got manual painting to make the white fur areas of the beast visible without inserting a stroke. There's a stroke around the legs and ears.

For more focus you can insert a vignette. It cannot be blurred, because grey will look dirty.

enter image description here

If it must be gradual, it must be inserted before filterings so that it appears as sparsening blacks, not making greys.

The PSD can be got from here for inspecting https://www.dropbox.com/s/wk4h1c59eb9qiyo/Beast.psd?dl=0. Filterings have all been destructive.

NOTE1 There's a comment which asks what does "layer get filtering" mean? Here's some explanations:

Your bird example resembles an old book illustration which is created by an engraver before the era of printed photos. As well it can be a drawing which is made onto paper in a style which resembles engravings. Such drawings were common as book illustrations a long time after printed photos appeared, because clear enough photos were too rare.

The subject how to convert photos to resemble engravings has been discussed before and if you had asked it again, the question probably would today be closed.

There's no automatic method which makes the conversion properly. If you watch the lines in the bird image, you see they follow the curvatures of the surfaces. In addition their density variations create greyshades and some lines are drawn as outlines. A photo hasn't the needed 3D information. All fake engraving filters fail in following the curvatures of the surfaces. They success better in creating greyshades or outlines if the photo happens to have properly separated main subject and the background.

Your photo hasn't such separation. The background is fuzzy due the intentionally limited depth of the field. Pro photographers use that trick to create the separation, but as you have already seen, it vanishes as soon as one converts the image to black and white lines which are big enough to be seen.

The only way to avoid it is to separate the main subject (=the foreground) to a new layer and convert it to lines there separately. I did the separation by duplicating the image layer and deleting the background from the top layer. I drew a clipping path for the removal - no color and contrast based methods can be used, because the differences are too small.

Both layers got complex filterings, but different ones to make the background sparse enough. I didn't try to make them fake engravings, because the beast has a fur which already contains lines and the plants under the beast also have lines. I decided to save them.

At first I applied Image > Adjustments > Curves and > Black&White to the separated foreground to stretch its contrast but still showing that there are clearly white, grey and dark areas in beast's fur. Filter Brush Strokes > Ink Outlines with shortest possible stroke length turned the fur and plants to lines. Some quite large areas of the fur turned full white which was treated later.

The background was intentionally unsharp in the photo. I added 9,5% of noise to it to create for the forthcoming filter a possiblity to catch something. The actual filtering for the background was

  • desaturate
  • Filters > Angled strokes with max stroke length and sharpness, direction balance =0

In addition the background got a painted layer which made it lighter at the edges and an adjustment layer "Treshold" to make it black and white. You can see them in the linked PSD

The treshold was adjusted to make the white edge areas of the fur visible. The lightening painting was tweaked for good balance between that visibility and keeping the background generally sparse.

The feet and the ears of the beast needed stronger outline than filter Inked Outlines made. I duplicated the foreground layer and inserted to the duplicate layer style "Stroke". One pixel wide black stroke appeared just where my clipping path was. As well I could have stroked it, but the layer style was a few second faster way.

To fix the stroke to editable I merged the duplicate with an empty layer. Then I erased the stoke except around the ears and the feet.

  • What does layer get filtering mean
    – Lance
    Aug 6, 2019 at 0:45
  • @LancePollard The answer has got some explanations.
    – user82991
    Aug 6, 2019 at 7:54

I'm not sure what you're using to do the drawing, your package might be more or less sensitive to contrast, though basically I think its contrast detection is too harsh. This was a quick go using Photoshop & Studio Artist...

First, use 'Select Subject' to roughly isolate the main target.
I didn't worry about accuracy, i don't think it was necessary.

enter image description here

I then dropped a white layer behind & airbrushed a mask over the area outside our subject, leaving it reasonably rough, as a vignette.

enter image description here

Saved that as a jpg & gave it to Studio Artist, which made this...

enter image description here

or this...

enter image description here

.. or a million other alternatives. Canvas background optional.

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