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Image Editing
I have received a number of questions about how to remove a photograph's background from people wanting to process and contribute photographs for TwistyPuzzles. I'm not a Photoshop expert, so my methods are probably not the best, but they do work. If you want to get truly good at this task, try reading these tutorials which provide numerous methods for removing the background of images using various software solutions.

I'll keep it simple here, because really, that's often all we need. I've been using Photoshop 6. If you're using something else, I'm sure it has similar functions to what I've describe below, but I have no idea what they are called. You'll have to dig around yourself.

STEP 1. The original in JPG format. This picture is both a good and bad example. Bad because it's essentially black and white. Good because the background isn't easily selected and removed. It was the best example I had on hand that was ready to be added to the site! (When I wrote this text months and months ago, that is.)

STEP 2. Cropped to a square shape. Sometimes this requires adding white space either to top and bottom or to the left and right, depending on the picture. I do this first because images are all square and this gives me a good idea what the finished photograph will look like before it's finished.

STEP 3. I adjust the Brightness/Contrast of the image (Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast). In this case, I increased the brightness by +13 and the contrast by +36. These numbers are arbitrary, as I simply moved the sliders around until the picture looked more like the puzzle actually looks like when in decent light. This process often really brings out the colours.

STEP 4. An example of what the above step can do with a picture with bad colours. The original compared with the finished product... the IBM 4331 Cube.

STEP 5. Next, I separate the puzzle from the background. This is done in one of two ways. The method shown here is the most difficult, and is only required for removing more complicated backgrounds. Using a paintbrush, I have drawn a perimeter around the puzzle in pure white. The paintbrush should always have anti-aliasing turned on so that the white "bleeds" into the puzzle a little, leaving a visually pleasing gradient from the puzzle to the white background. This happens on such a small scale, that it can't really be noticed... until it's not there.

STEP 6. The rest of the background is removed using a simple Polygonal Lasso to select and delete it.

NOTE: In some cases, steps 5 & 6 can be very simply boiled down into one step. When the background is easily distinguished from the puzzle, the Magic Wand tool (anti-aliasing ON) can often select the entire background without accidentally selecting any of the puzzle. When this is possible, simply delete the background once you select it. Many of the top-down pictures I take of puzzle faces can be edited this way. See pictures 3-8 in the IBM 4331 Cube entry for examples of this type of shot. Notice how the black plastic forms a perfect border between the puzzle and the background. If the background is light enough, it can be selected with one click of the Magic Wand. It's most often the case that the Magic Wand gets it pretty close, but not perfect. Simply manually touchup the imperfections with the paintbrush.

STEP 7. Speaking of touchups... I used a crude method (six straight lines) to draw the perimeter around the puzzle, and the background wasn't completely removed in some places. I used a smaller paintbrush to touch it up.

STEP 8. The completed picture.

Always work with and submit the full size original image. I've programmed a few Photoshop scripts that take an edited photograph like this and pump out the three different sizes/formats required for the site, as well as save the full size version for potential future versions of the site which might contain much larger versions of the puzzle images.

Hope that helps!


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