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There is a technique in photography, called Invisible Black Background. You can find details about it in this blog post Dramatic Portraits with the Invisible Black Background

An example image is this one:

Invisible Black Background

I have just started using Photoshop, so I am not aware of design techniques and terms. But is there any way (or tutorial better) to replicate this effect in a portrait image with a non-black background?

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    Odd terminology "invisible" directly contradicts "background". In any event, you would need to extract the subject then recreate the background in Photoshop. There are a baz-zill-ion tutorials on the web for extractions. – Scott Aug 7 '15 at 20:47
  • @Scott That's how they call it, odd or not according to you. It's a bit more complicated than extracting a subject and adding a black background. That's just the first step (tipsquirrel.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/MinMaxMask-02.jpg). That's not what the OP asked for (glyndewis.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/IBB.jpg) – go-junta Aug 7 '15 at 23:02
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    @Scott - The "background" that's invisible is a seamless/canvas/muslin (or cove) that doesn't exist - in other words, a bit of (seemingly necessary) equipment that isn't there because you can independently control the ambient and flash exposures. – Stan Rogers Aug 8 '15 at 0:42
  • I "get it" @StanRogers I just think it's an oxy-moronic name for the technique. – Scott Aug 8 '15 at 0:51
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    I's say you don't "get it" - it's a phrase an instructor (or someone explaining how a photograph was produced) would use: The environment in which I had to shoot this portrait was butt-ugly, so I pulled out my invisible black background. Every trade has its idioms. – Stan Rogers Aug 8 '15 at 4:57
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You can replicate this in Photoshop, but there's no "automatic" and easy ways to do it. It's close to doing digital painting at this point and you need to have some skills in shadow/highlights.

Basically, what you'll need to do to create this effect is:

  1. Isolate the subject (the man, in this example)
  2. Select a rich black for your background
  3. Apply some shadow on your subject to balance all this. You can use gradients, burn tool and soft brush without any hardness.

In your example, the man has only a soft light in front of him. Depending on the picture you'll use to create this effect, you'll need to add the shadows in the back on his body, and on his shoulders.

You should use the same rich black CMYK recipe for your shadows than the one you used for your background.

For the technique, it depends on your skills and preferences. I think what's hard is not how to do it but how to render properly the shadows and highlights. Personally I like to "paint" details with a soft brush, play with my layers transparency, use layers with different blending, and other lighter parts to amplify the reflection of light. I apply myself the shadows where I want to to add a more dramatic effect.


If this can get you started, here is a very quick example I did. I include the layers so you can see how I would process to modify that kind of images. This only took me a few minutes but if you apply yourself in adding nice contrast on your shadows, and if you also have a nice subject, you'll get nicer results.

Original file:

picture with subject cutout on white background

Modified black background:

Subject layer is using "luminosity" blending mode. All the shadows are in "multiply".

Since the light is in front of the subject, I added more shadow on the back of his ear and neck, more light on his collar, and I amplified a bit the folds of his sleeve. It's really not perfect but it gives you an idea how to proceed.

Modified black background picture

Color subject (layer of subject is not in "luminosity" blending):

As you can see, normal gradients makes the subject looks a bit cartoonish. That's where you'll need some patience to paint the shadows with a smaller brush instead!

Modified black background picture with color subject

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    I really thank you for your answer. The truth is that I am still not able to reproduce it, but you gave me a great start to work with it and reach the results I want! – Tasos Aug 7 '15 at 22:52
  • Glad it helped. It's not that easy to reproduce and I guess the choice of picture is also something that can make things harder or easier. There's the highlights and shadows but also some blurs you can add to soften the picture and merge it better with the background... which I didn't really added to my example. I don't know how photographers achieve the effect; their tutorials on this must be helpful combined with some Photoshop tutorials. Good luck! – go-junta Aug 7 '15 at 23:06

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