Correcting a poor background

I’m please to have been asked to provide photographs to illustrate Tim L. Hansen’s soon-to-be-released book New Beginnings: The birth of a design style. The book discusses a rapid change in, particularly furniture, design at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. These styles are often associated with Stickley, but the origins and influences are both deeper and wider than one company.

The photographs had to be taken in a cramped space, with few lighting options available. However, everything seemed to be working fine, except for the sharp shadow of the model on the backdrop, as shown below.

Model in period costume provides a human scale for the furniture, but her shadow is distracting in this as-shot image.
Model in period costume provides a human scale for the furniture, but her shadow is distracting in this as-shot image.

I decided to try to fix this in Photoshop© by applying a simple Gaussian Blur. The background above the model’s hem was selected and the Gaussian Blur filter applied. The result is shown below.

First attempt to remove the  model's shadow - Gaussian Blur of the selected background
First attempt to remove the model’s shadow – Gaussian Blur of the selected background

I think this created a fairly nice effect and this is one of the images I delivered to the client.

However, you may notice a weak, dark halo around the model. Although only the selected area is blurred, the filter averaged-in pixels beyond the selection border to calculate what the blurred pixels should look like. Since the color just outside the selection boundary is close to black, the blurred area inside, but near, the section border is darkened.

What if you don’t want the color of the pixels outside the selection boundary influencing the color inside? The next thing I tried was to copy just the background onto its own layer and place that layer above the original image layer.

Layer containing just the background to be blurred. The remaining areas are transparent.
Layer containing just the background to be blurred. The remaining areas are transparent.

This this layer was blurred with the following result.

Bluring applied to a layer containing only the background, with the foreground transparent.
Blurring applied to a layer containing only the background, with the foreground transparent.

That worked quite well! But suppose you want more control of the color near the selection boundary? The answer is to create a new layer containing only the background, invert the selection boundary and then paint the non-background area with the color of your choice. In the next example, I painted with a color I selected with the eye-dropper tool from a light area next to the model’s face.

Background-only layer with foreground painted with a selected color.
Background-only layer with foreground painted with a selected color.

Invert the selection again, blur the background, invert the selection yet again and delete the painted area.This resulted in the following:

Final image when the portion of the backgrpound layer corresponding to the foreground is painted with the selected color and then blurred.
Final image when the portion of the background layer corresponding to the foreground is painted with the selected color and then blurred.

In this case, the result is only subtly different from the one obtained when the area of the background layer corresponding to the foreground was transparent. Previously there was still a slight, lighter halo around the model’s face, now this is gone. However, there is better separation between the dark skirt and the background between the skirt and the chair.

The choice of color with which to paint is up to you. See what happens if you use red:

Image processed using the same techniques as described for the previous image, only painting with red.
Image processed using the same techniques as described for the previous image, only painting with red.

While this may be wildly inappropriate for this image, it does open up creative possibilities!

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