How To Delete A Selection In Photoshop

Deleting the contents of a selection in Photoshop is basically a necessity these days. Whether you’re replacing a sky, making a meme, or creating new marketing materials, every savvy internet user will need to learn how to select a background and delete it eventually. Luckily, It’s pretty easy to do! 

To delete a selections contents, first create a selection around the object you want to delete. With the selection active, select the desired image layer and press the Delete key. Alternatively, click the layer mask icon to delete the contents non-destructively. 

These are the two options you have when deleting the contents of a selection in Photoshop, but there are some important steps to make this process even easier. So let’s get into how to delete the contents of a selection more in-depth, remove backgrounds, deselect selections, and more.

How to Delete A Selections Contents in Photoshop

In this example, I will remove the black background from this rose. First, you will learn how to select the rose itself, and then you will learn two different ways to remove the background of the image.

Step 1: Selecting The Object

In the toolbar to the left of your screen, select the Object Selection Tool (W) . If you don’t see the Object Selection Tool, select and hold the Magic Wand Tool or Quick Selection Tool to reveal it.

Before we select the rose, let’s go over some of the settings.

Don’t let all these options overwhelm you! I will only cover the options that matter for this task.

All you need to do is click on Select Subject, and Photoshop will do the rest.

Photoshop’s AI will automatically select the object in the foreground. This works best when there is a simple background.

You know your object has been selected when you see the “marching ants” moving around your selection. This is the one time ants are a good thing!

Step 2: Refine The Selection If Needed

The first thing you might notice is that the selection is not perfect. Photoshop’s AI is excellent, but you may have to adjust and tweak the selection a bit. For my rose, I need to add the leaf.

To correct this, I will select the Object Selection Tool (W) again.

In the Options Bar, select the Add to Selection option or hold down the Shift key to activate it.

This setting will allow you to expand your selection. Then open the Mode Menu and choose either Rectangle or Lasso.

The Rectangle is a quick way to add to your selection with a simple click-and-drag motion. The Lasso Option is a bit slower, but gives you full control when expanding your selection.

Select the Lasso Option and draw around the part of the object that you want to add.

Now the selection includes what you just added and feels more complete.

Photoshop’s AI will also miss little spots here and there. For example:

With you’re Lasso Tool still selected, simply draw around the trouble spots.

Sometimes the AI will select something you don’t want in your final selection. Like this little awkward piece of the rose here.

Click the Subtract from Selection icon or hold down Alt (Win) or Option key (Mac).

With the Lasso Tool, draw around what you want to be subtracted from the selection, and viola!

I also don’t like this stem, so I will repeat the step above to remove it from the selection.

Once you’re done adding and subtracting, your selection is now complete.

Step 3: Delete the Background

There are two ways for you to delete the background. The destructive way and the non-destructive way.

First, let’s discuss the destructive way. Before you start, ensure that the layer you’re working with is not locked. If the layer has a little lock on it, click it to unlock the layer. 

Now click on the image layer, then select Inverse under the Select Menu or press Control + Shift + I (Win) or Command + Shift + I (Mac).

This will select everything except the object you originally selected.

Then, simply hit the delete key to remove the background. You will know it worked when the background becomes a checkerboard pattern.

However, this is a destructive way that will destroy the pixels that were selected. Making it very hard to redefine your selection. That’s because the selected pixels are permanently removed and cannot be recovered unless you undo.

So instead, let’s remove the background non-destructively. With the image layer selected, click on the Layer Mask icon.

It may seem the same as the destructive way, but it’s not. The pixels that disappear are not destroyed but hidden. That’s because the selection is applied to a layer mask, therefore “hiding” the selected pixels rather than deleting them permanently. 

Step 4: Refine the Edges

If you look closely at the outline of the rose so far, you’ll notice that some of the black background is still showing on parts of the perimeter of the selection. Let’s touch that up now.

Click on the Mask itself in the Layers Panel.

Then select the Brush Tool (B) and set your foreground color to black. Painting with black will hide pixels you don’t want to be shown. Painting with white will reveal the pixels that were hidden.

There’s no set brush size for this task; it all depends on the size of the project you’re working with. I’m going to choose a small-sized brush, and adjust it up and down as I need to using the [ or ] bracket keys.

The same thing goes with the settings of the brush itself. Don’t let the number of options overwhelm you. Just tweak each setting here or there and experiment while you are painting. Mainly focus on tweaking the Opacity, Flow, and Smoothing.

  • Adjust the opacity to bring the transparency of your brush strokes up or down
  • Adjust the flow to gradually build up the thickness of your overlapping strokes
  • Adjust the smoothing to create a smoother or rougher stroke

Take your time and paint over all the trouble spots. If you mess up, remember that you can bring pixels back by painting over them with white.

Under the Select Menu, click on Deselect or press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to deselect your selection and you’re done!

With those four steps, you have removed the background from your image, and you can now use your transparent background as you need. It may have taken longer than you thought this first time, but keep doing the process and you’ll be able to remove backgrounds in your sleep!

How To Delete The Outside Of A Selection In Photoshop

To delete the contents outside of a selection in Photoshop, you need to invert the active selection. To do this, press Shift + Command + I (Mac) or Shift + Control + I (Win) or go to Select > Inverse. Now press Delete or add the selection to a layer mask to remove the contents.

Sometimes you want to select something not to delete it, but to preserve it so you can delete everything else around it. Here’s how to select an object, invert the selection and hide the pixels you don’t want to be seen.

Step 1: Create A Selection

Let’s select these birds sitting on a bowl:

First, add a new layer with the New Layer Button.

Drag the New Layer below the original layer.

Now select the Object Selection Tool (W).

With the Object Selection Tool selected, click on one of the birds. Make sure that the Add To Selection option is selected or hold down the Shift Key to activate it.

Click on the second bird and the bowl.

Step 2: Invert The Selection

Your subjects are now selected, but your job is not over yet. If you were to delete the pixels now, the birds would be deleted and not the background. It would look like this:

That’s not what we want. Instead, let’s invert the selection.

To do this, go to Select > Inverse or press Shift + Command + I (Mac) or Shift + Control + I (Win). Now the background is selected instead of the birds.

Step 3: Delete The Selection Contents

From here, there are two ways to delete this selection. The easiest way is to press the Delete Key while the image layer is selected. All the pixels selected will be destroyed in this case. The keyword here being “destroyed”, as you can’t bring those pixels back later.

Let’s do this the non-destructive way. With the original layer selected, click on the Mask icon in the Layers Panel.

Step 4: Touch Up The Layer Mask If Needed

Now the pixels are hidden with the mask instead of being permanently deleted. This is essential for when the selection isn’t quite perfect, as you can easily touch it up.

If you need to refine your mask, select the Brush Tool (B) and make sure the background color is white and your foreground color is black.

In this case, I will bring the brush size down to about the size of the bird’s leg since it was removed from the selection previously.

I’ll also ensure my brush opacity is set to 100%.

Now I’ll brush over where the leg should be with white set to my foreground color and the layer mask selected. Alternatively, you can set black to your foreground color to remove any unwanted parts of your selection from the mask. With your foreground and background color set to white and black, you can press X to quickly swap between them while painting.

In this case, the area around the birds beak was not removed. I can touch this up by painting black over this area with the image layer mask selected.

How To Delete A Selection

There are three ways to delete or deselect a selection that you’re finished with in Photoshop. The first is to go to Select > Deselect to remove the selection. You can also press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) or right-click on the selection and choose Deselect.

Deleting the contents of a selection is simple. However, there’s a step afterward that can be tricky for those new to Photoshop.

First, let’s select the Object Selection Tool (W).

Then, let’s click on one of the birds to select it.

To delete the contents, simply press the Delete Key.

Super simple stuff, right? The problem though is if you select any other tool or do basically anything else in Photoshop at this point, it will only affect the inside of your selection. You will need to deselect the selection.

There are three main ways to deselect your selection. The first is done by going to Select > Deselect.

The second is using the keyword shortcut Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac).

The third main way is to right-click on your selection and choose Deselect.

It may seem cumbersome at first, but deselecting will eventually become second nature and lead to a much smoother workflow. It’s important to do this after you’re finished with a selection so all your adjustment tools going forward will adjust the entire image, rather than the contents of the selection.

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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