I have a pretty decent knowledge of Photoshop, and have used masks and levels etc to remove backgrounds a fair bit (as well as the edge refinement tools they have now). I am having a tricky time getting black background off of light colored hair.

Is there something I can do to drain out all this black smoothly or another path to take earlier on? The decontaminate color option on the refine edge dialog isn't coming close.

Right now I've used the lasso tool to make a rough selection and then the smart edge detection with a radius of about 30px... (tried using channels and levels earlier with about the same result) enter image description here enter image description here

  • You say "I am having a tricky time getting black background off of light colored hair" but your example shows dark hair which will be significantly more difficult....
    – e100
    May 16, 2012 at 11:53

3 Answers 3


I would try using the image itself as a layer mask, since the lightness of the hair against the background is roughly a mask already. e.g.:

  1. Select all, copy
  2. Add a layer mask to the colour layer
  3. Alt/option-click (mac) the layer mask to edit it directly
  4. Paste

Then, brightness/contrast this mask, and paint in the mask of the main part of the face by hand.

This, in combination with other techniques might work!


Things like this actually require the user to the use a brush on the mask and paint in the hair.

You won't get decent results with black edges against a black background using any automated method.

  • Yes I know. Masking alone is not effective though because much of the edge hair is quite dark. I am trying to think of how best to specifically lighten those areas or something like that
    – Damon
    May 12, 2012 at 22:08

There's many, many ways to mask in Photoshop. All vary in quality and time required. For creating a mask for hair, I highly recommend spending some time with the Masks panel. There's other ways to do it, but the Masks panel is probably the quickest and often yields great results (and more specifically, Refine Mask).

The best explanation I've seen for it is Russell Brown's Adobe TV video:

In this episode, Russell Brown demonstrates how beginning and advanced users can quickly and easily create professional quality masks using Photoshop CS5's Refine Mask panel.

There's other tutorials on hair masking with the Masks panel. Tip Squirrel's Michael Hoffman goes into more detail here:

If nothing else, that should give you a great start. From there you can edit by hand with the brush tools, or use other methods to get the mask into the exact form you need.

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