Creating a Black Background using Photoshop

Above is the final result of this tutorial.

Here is a photo of a brown bear that I took at the Bronx Zoo. I think he came out interesting, but I think that the rocks in the background are a little distracting. I could blur them, or I could turn the background black. In this case I’ll make the background black and see how it comes out.

The first thing I do is drop the image into Photoshop:

The next thing I do is create a new layer. Hit CTRL-J on the keyboard. You’ll see in the layer palette Layer 1. I’m going to double-click on the word (Layer 1) and rename it to “Bear”. It’s always a good idea to name your layers even though in this case I’ll be using only one:

The next thing I’ll do is start painting the background black. For this I’m going to use the paint brush from the tools palette. Make sure the color black is selected and is in the foreground of the color box:

Don’t worry about making a sloppy selection. Just try to get out as much background as you can. In my selection I even chopped off the bear’s ears. No big deal. The next step will fix this problem.

The next thing you’ll do is create a mask. Just click on the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette and you’ll see the mask box appear in the top layer labeled “Bear”:

Before you start painting back parts of the bear, it’s important to see what you’re doing. In the layers palette go to the Opacity and bring it down enough to see through the image. For this image, 60% looks good.

Next, make sure the mask is selected on the bear layer and start painting. Zoom in close to the object and take your time. Black reveals and white conceals. You have to switch back and forth by clicking on the double arrow, and you’ll see the boxes switching back and forth between white and black. Test it with the paintbrush back and forth between black and white to see the results:


  • When you’re painting back the main subject, lower the opacity of the brush itself around the edges, especially if the subject has fur.
  • Use a soft paint brush, it will allow you to make seamless brush strokes. A hard brush will give the appearance of harsh brush strokes and you don’t want that.
  • Keep going back and forth with the opacity from the layers palette to see how you’re doing.
  • Remember: Anything worth your time is worth doing right, so take your time and listen to music while you’re working. Rushing through a project will look rushed through. A project like this might seem tedious. If you get tired, take a break. And always remember, as long as you’re happy with your work then life is good.

Here’s the finished image:


29 thoughts on “Creating a Black Background using Photoshop”

  1. I was just trying to figure this out, and you never mention the tool to use to paint the bear back… I am a beginner, but the rest of the steps were very helpful to me.

  2. Hi, Jane. In the tips section above, I mention to use the soft paint brush. Any soft brush would work fine here. Remember that throughout this tutorial you should use the paint brush from the tools palette.


  3. I am having an issue. When I go back to paint in the parts that were covered in black it doesn’t work…

  4. Anonymous,

    Send me your email address so that I can help you through this tutorial.

  5. I wondered how you had black background in the flower pics (daisy ones for example), they made the flowers stand out. This does it, THANKS! I take it that I can change the color to whatever solid background color I want to, if the original background seems distracting or unattractive?

  6. thanks for the tips. Im going to try this for some flower pictures Ive done. Just one question: Should I do my picture enhancements before or after making the background black?

  7. I was just wondering if i should edit (enhance) the pictures qualities before or after making the background black.

  8. Hi Marc,

    I would do any enhancing and fixing of the picture before creating the black background, otherwise, you could impact the black background.


  9. I am facing problem just like Jane. Till reducing Opacity to 60% it works fine but after that nothing happens while painting image back. I do select that brush but no use. Please help.

  10. Hi, Gaurav,

    I added a section right before the tips, which I believe should help clarify the final steps.


  11. Hi Chelsey,

    I used CS3 to do this tutorial. I don’t know about Elements because I don’t have that program. I know that Elements is a subset of Photoshop, so I don’t know.


  12. Hi Sarah,

    I did this with CS3. As far as I know, this should work with any version since Photoshop 7 and higher. Have you tried it?


  13. Thank you so much for this article. It is wonderful when professional photographers take the time to help, particularly for free. :o)

  14. Hello,

    I’m just learning photoshop (CS5) and this is great information to have. I am so in love with CS5 right now. I take a lot of pictures for my own use and learning different tricks and techniques is really making a difference in my pictures.

    Thank you for posting this information because I have always wanted to do this trick on some of my pictures. Thank you.

  15. Following your steps, I got this brief and simple on.
    1. Import the image
    2. Pick the quick selection tool
    3. Select the image
    4. Set background color (as u stated)
    5. Hit the delete key
    Gbam!! Here is your background
    While doing this, do not unlock the layer
    Tnx for yours, it really helped me in getting this

  16. This is one of the best sites I’ve seen for utilizing these tools. Your instructions are clear and precise. Thank you so much.

  17. Dear friend,
    Eleven years ago I learned how to do this trick, thanks to you. Today I found your site again because I have not used this step for a while and I forgot, but I did have great results.
    So I thank you again hoping you are well.

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