Photography • How-To How to Be a Selection Wiz with Adobe Photoshop

Master six selection tools and techniques.

You can’t always capture the photo of your dreams IRL, but with Adobe Photoshop you can make that ideal image anyway. I’ll show you six selection techniques you can use to enhance part of a photo or isolate an object you copy and paste into another image. (The techy term for blending different images is photo composite.)

Headshot of Lidia Lukianova

Hi, I’m Lidia Lukianova. I’m an artist and designer at Adobe. My favorite projects include illustration, identity, lettering, and animation.

Before You Start

Use these sample images if you’d like, or practice with your own.

Select a (Nearly) Perfect Shape

To select an object that is a distinct shape with clear outlines and high contrast, try the Object Selection tool. Just click and drag a rectangle around the subject, or draw with a lasso for more precision, and Photoshop uses its smart technology to figure out what you’re trying to select. If you hold Shift as you drag, you can select multiple objects at once.

Learn more about the Object Selection tool: Make quick selections

Two grapefruit halves against a pink background; More Tools, Object Selection icon and its options show at the top

Brush an Irregular Selection

The Quick Selection tool is great for selecting irregular shapes with a recognizable texture like the side of this mountain. It works like a brush, so when you choose this tool, paint over the area you want to select. Use the tool settings at the top to adjust the brush size, or add and subtract from the selection as you go. Then you can make changes to the selected area by applying adjustment layers from the Layers panel, such as Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Saturation.

Do more with quick selections: Create a new background in Photoshop

Before/after: snowy mountain; left shows Quick Selection tool; right shows adjustment layer options & darker selected area

Use a Wand to Select Color and Tone

The Magic Wand tool is the one you want when selecting pixels based on tone and color, such as the gray background in this example. Click areas of the background to select them. If you miss any areas at first, like the remaining parts of the background between the leaves, grab them with the Add to Selection mode. When you’re done, invert the selection and add a mask from the Layers panel to isolate the flower for use on other backgrounds.

Make more magical selections: Select separate areas with the Magic Wand tool

Left: Magic Wand, red flower, green leaves & gray background; Right: Select > Inverse menu & mostly transparent background

Make a Straight-Up Selection

The Polygonal Lasso tool is perfect when working with geometric objects and buildings — really any time you need to select objects with straight edges. To use it, click each corner of the object until you complete the selection.

Check out more ways to keep it straight: Try out simple selection tools

, right angle of coral pink building against a blue sky with a cloud on the lower left

Make a Crazy-Complicated Selection

When you need to make complex selections of freeform objects, like the scarf on this pup, the Pen tool does the trick. For the image below, click along the edge of the scarf and click on the starting point to close the path. Then click the Selection button to turn the path into a selection. From here, you can add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the scarf. It may take practice with the Pen tool to feel comfortable with it, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Get more practice making Pen tool selections: Convert between paths and selection borders

Before/after: black dog on yellow background; Pen tool set to Path is upper left; scarf is red on left & purple on right

Select the Finer Details

Complex selections such as hair and grass may seem intimidating. But if there’s a solid-color background in the photo, the Color Range feature does some of the grunt work.

Use the Eyedropper tool to click the background behind the model. Then switch to the Eyedropper with the plus sign and keep clicking the background around the model and between hair strands to select as much of the background as you can. Use the Fuzziness slider until the preview shows the highest contrast between foreground and background. Then invert, making sure the model is selected.

To refine the edges, add a Layer mask and paint on the mask with a soft Brush. Paint with white to reveal the parts that are hidden and use black to hide other areas.

Expand your color range skills: Remove and add objects in Adobe Photoshop

Headshot of model; Color Range dialog shows Select Sampled Colors, Add to Sample Eyedropper, Invert is checked

Photoshop offers you many ways to accomplish something. The trick is to pick the right one for the situation — and the best way to get good at it is to practice. Play around with the sample files. You’ll be a wiz in no time.

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

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