There are two easy ways to make a silhouette in Photoshop, whether you want to make a backlit photo look more dramatic or want to create a silhouette for a graphic in another project.
In this tutorial, you’ll first learn how to turn a photo into a silhouette graphic for use in other projects. In the second example, you’ll see how to create a more realistic-looking silhouette by darkening specific areas of a backlit photo. Let’s get started!
How To Create A Silhouette In Photoshop
There are two top ways to make a silhouette in Photoshop, depending on what you want to use the silhouette for.
The first method creates a stand-alone silhouette that you can use as a graphic in other projects. The second method creates a silhouette out of the subject in your photo to create a more dramatic scene.
Method 1: How To Create A Silhouette Using Selections In Photoshop
To make a graphic silhouette, you’ll need to select your subject and apply a black fill layer.
This method is great for moving your silhouette around on your Photo or using the end graphic in a different project.
Step 1: Select Your Subject Using Select Subject
The first thing you need to do when making a silhouette is select the person or object to be silhouetted. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Photoshop’s AI.
To do this, first, select the Quick Selection Tool (W) in the Toolbar.
In the Options Bar above your image, open the drop-down menu next to Select Subject. Two choices will be presented to you: Device and Cloud.
If you’re online, choose Cloud. This will give you a much more accurate selection.
Once you’re ready, click Select Subject. Photoshop’s AI will automatically find the edges around most of your subject. This can be confirmed by the “marching ants” around your subject.
Step 2: Redefine Your Selection With A Quick Mask
Photoshop’s AI is excellent at selecting your subject, but it’s not perfect. Parts of your selection may need to be refined.
It’s essential to ensure your selection is as crisp and complete as possible, as this selection will determine the parameters of the finished silhouette.
If you’re making a silhouette out of a person, chances are you will need to refine areas around the feet and the hands of the subject.
The easiest way to refine a selection is with a quick mask.
To start, select the Brush Tool (B).
Make sure you have your default colors selected (black & white). I’ll get into the specifics of which color you need as your Foreground Color soon. Remember that you can quickly switch these colors back and forth with the Color Switch button.
Once you have your colors set and the Brush Tool selected, click on the Quick Mask Button at the bottom of the Toolbar.
Your screen will turn mostly red, except for your selected area. Your goal is to ensure only the areas you don’t want to be selected are in the red areas.
The main phrase to remember here is white reveals, black conceals.
To add to your selection, ensure your Foreground Color is white, then paint over the areas you want to add with your Brush Tool.
To make your job easier, turn the quick mask off and on multiple times to check what areas need to be added and which need to be deleted. You can turn the quick mask off and on by pressing Q.
Also, if you need to fix any areas you shouldn’t have selected, switch your Foreground Color to black and paint over the area that needs to be fixed.
While redefining your selection, don’t forget to zoom out every once in a while for a bird’s eye view of your work.
When it comes to smaller areas of your subject that need to be redefined, it’s better to use a different tool, like the Quick Selection Tool (W).
Once the Quick Selection Tool is selected, click the Subtract From Selection Button to delete pixels. Click the Add To Selection button if you need to fix what you over-corrected
While using the Quick Selection Tool, use the [ and ] keys to adjust the size. The smaller your brush, the more accurate your selection will be.
Step 3: Create A Black Fill Layer
Now that your subject is fully selected, it’s time to add the effect of a silhouette with a black fill layer.
Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color to do this.
For Color, leave it as None. Then, click OK.
Once you click OK, the Color Picker window opens. You can change the color to something else, but select black for the most realistic silhouette. Then, click OK.
Your fill layer will appear as a new layer above the original in the Layers Panel. The fill layer will also include a Mask.
Step 4: Expand Your Selection
So far, your silhouette looks pretty good, but you may have some inconsistencies.
This problem is common with people or objects without a defined edge. The areas around a person’s head often need to be cleaned up.
Expanding your selection will help with these issues. Plus, combining this step and the next step allows you to move your silhouette anywhere in your photo.
To start, reactivate your selection by holding Control (Win) or Command (Mac) and selecting the mask on the fill layer.
With your silhouette selected, go to Select > Modify > Expand.
In the Expand Selection Info Panel, enter the number of pixels needed to clean up the area around the silhouette.
There is no exact science here, but try to make an educated guess on how far out your selection will need to be expanded to cover the areas that need to be erased. Usually, you don’t need to be perfect with it.
Click OK to confirm.
Once you hit OK, you will see how far your expansion will go. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Step 5: Erase Your Silhouette From The Original Layer With Content-Aware Fill
The real magic happens in this step. To start, select your original image layer in the Layers Panel.
Next, make sure you have one of the selection tools active. Then, right-click your silhouette and select Content-Aware Fill.
In the window that pops up, you will see that most of your photo will turn green. This green signifies everything in your image that will be used as a sample for applying the Content-Aware Fill.
In the preview window, you will see your silhouette completely removed from your image.
In the Output To drop-down menu, choose Current Layer. When ready, click OK.
Before moving on to the next step, make sure to deselect your selection by pressing Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac).
Step 6: Clean Up Extra Pixels With The Clone Stamp Tool
Chances are, you have some extra pixels that need to be erased from your photo. This is easy to do with the Clone Stamp Tool.
First, choose the Clone Stamp Tool (S) from the Toolbar.
While holding down Alt (Win) or Option (Mac), click somewhere outside your silhouette to grab a “sample.” Then, drag your mouse over any extra pixels you need to get rid of, such as the flyaway hair in my picture. This will replace those pixels with a copy of the pixels you sampled.
Step 7: Make Final Refinement Touches
One last step before you’re finished with your silhouette. Make sure to look for any other imperfections that may be present.
Once you find an imperfection, click the mask itself on the color fill layer.
Then, grab the Brush Tool (B) in the Toolbar and change your Foreground Color to black (or the color of your silhouette).
Paint over the area that you need to fix to fill in any problem areas.
Step 8: Freely Move Your Silhouette
Now that your silhouette is finished, you can move it anywhere on your background layer.
To move your silhouette, select the Move Tool (V) in the Toolbar.
Click on your silhouette to select it. You can confirm it’s selected by the blue bounding box around it.
You can now reposition your silhouette anywhere around your design or drag and drop your silhouette into another project.
Method 2: How To Create A Silhouette Using Adjustment Layers In Photoshop
Using a black fill layer to create your silhouette is great, but using a Curves Adjustment Layer will create a much more realistic effect that will feel more natural. Here is the photo I will convert into a silhouette of the man on the beach.
Step 1: Select Your Subject
The first step in this process is to select your subject.
Select the Quick Selection Tool (W). Then, switch to Cloud (Detailed Results) and click Select Subject.
Photoshop’s AI will automatically select the main subject in your photo.
Step 2: Consider What Else Needs To Be Selected
Sometimes, your subject is all that needs to be selected. Many times, however, you will need to add more areas of your photo to your selection to make your silhouette look more natural.
This all depends on the photo you’re working on, of course. So, before you move on to the next step, take a few minutes to think about any additional areas that should be selected.
To select additional areas, just use the Quick Selection Tool on the areas you need to add. In my example, I selected the foreground, which is the sand on the beach.
Step 3: Remove Unwanted Areas Of Your Selection
Now that you have your subject and additional areas selected double-check and make sure there are no areas that need to be deselected.
If you find any areas in your selection that need to be removed, set the Quick Selection Tool to delete pixels by clicking the Subtract From Selection button in the Options Bar. Then, click around the areas that need to be deleted from your selection.
Step 4: Add A Curves Adjustment Layer
Once you have your selection fully selected, it’s time to add the Curves Adjustment Layer.
First, click on the Adjustments Panel next to the Properties Panel above the Layers Panel.
In the Adjustments Panel, click on the Curves Icon.
Once you add your Curves Adjustment Layer, you’ll find it above your original layer.
You’ll be able to adjust the curves layer in the Properties Panel.
To create your silhouette effect, you will need to adjust the midtones of your image. First, click in the middle of the curve line. This will add an anchor point.
Pull the anchor point down to darken the selection.
If you pull the anchor point all the way down, your silhouette will look completely dark. Similar to the first method detailed above.
Pull the anchor point down just a bit to make a more realistic and natural-looking silhouette. Just enough to still see some of the details of your original subject.
Using a Curves Adjustment Layer is a much faster method to create a more realistic look and feel for your silhouette. The downside is you won’t be able to move your subject around or drag your subject to a different project.