In this tutorial I will demonstrate how to extract a subject (in this case a tree) from its background using the Color Range brushes in Topaz ReMask.

We’ll then apply selective adjustments by bringing out the tonalities & exposure in the tree using Topaz Clarity, followed by enhancing the tree’s edge texture using Topaz Clean.

To finalize the image, we’ll bring the background into Topaz Lens Effects to create an abstract, dreamy background.

So if you’re tired of your same ole editing workflow and looking to try something new, download the image to the right (or use your own) and follow along!

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Background Information

Here is the original image that was captured midday, lens angled up at the sky, with simmering summer UV rays shining down.

Afterbranch copyAs you can see, the tree is underexposed, which is a good thing considering I was pointing my lens almost directly at the sun (better to have an underexposed photo where details can be recovered than an overexposed one where details are blown out and unrecoverable).

Camera settings for this image are as follows:

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • Lens: EF40mm f/2.8 STM
  • ISO: 100
  • Exposure: 1/1000 sec at f/8.0
  • HDR Natural Mode with +3 EV

I had originally brought the entire image into Topaz Clarity to work with the tones and selective contrast adjustments, however I noticed banding start to form in the sky. Because of the stark amount of light coming through at the time it was captured, the sky in this image is very delicate to work with. I knew that I would need to isolate the tree from the sky to apply selective adjustments to it, thus avoiding any artifact formation.

So, let’s make this image more colorful and vibrant than the original!

Step 1: Topaz ReMask

The first thing we want to do to this image is separate the tree from its background so that selective adjustments may be applied to the tree and to the sky separately. To do this:

  • Open Topaz ReMask.
  • Go to the Fill section of your tool panel and select blue so that the screen is filled with blue (you’ll have to click on the image to fill it with blue).

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.57.50 AM

  • Select your Red Primary brush and brush in as much of the background with red as you can without touching the treeline.Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.19.52 AM
  • Next, select your Red Color Range Brush. This will bring up an eye dropper/color picker for you to select a color in the background that you wish to be removed. Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.21.44 AM
  • You may choose to increase the Color Range slider to increase the range of the selected color affected in the image.
  • Once you’ve selected the color, begin to brush over your image. This will turn the selected color red.
  • Repeat this process until a good portion of your background is colored in red.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 12.06.28 PM

  • Next, select your Green Color Range brush and repeat these steps, but this time sample the tree (or whichever subject is in your foreground).  
  • Brush over your subject until it is mostly covered with green.
  • Note: you do not need to be 100% exact in this process. As long as there’s some indication of green in tiny areas, the program will know that this is a ‘Keep’ area.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 12.09.46 PM

  • Once you have made your red and green selections, press Compute Mask (or the Enter key) to compute your tri-map resulting in a mask:

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.11.38 PM

As you can see, the above mask looks pretty good. But don’t be fooled! You’ll want to make some refinements before pressing OK.

Step 2: ReMask Refinements

The refinement process in ReMask is the most important part of this workflow. The first thing I like to do after computing my mask is to view it in different modes to see if there are any flaws that need fixing.

  • First, I advise switching to either dual or quad view mode (shortcut keys: 9 & 0).ViewModes
  • You can then alternate between view modes. I suggest viewing the image in the Keep and Mask mode if in dual mode.viewtabs
  • Use the shortcut keys 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 to switch between the different view modes.
  • In Keep & Cut view modes you may also change the background by pressing ctrl/cmd + B. Often this helps with detecting where parts of the background might still be seeping through.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.15.48 PM

  • As you can see above, I have chosen a dual screen in Keep and Mask modes. Zooming in (-,+ keys) I am able to detect parts of the sky bleeding through.Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.20.36 PM
  • To fix this, select your Primary Red brush and decrease it to the smallest size. Then, simply dab, or click where you see the part of the sky coming through with the Red Primary brush and it should vanish. Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.30.43 AM
  • Next you’ll want to check for areas of the tree where branches are disconnected. Below, you can see a white area where the branches aren’t attached.Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.27.57 PM
  • Here’s another view of this in quad screen mode:Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.41.46 PM
  • To fix this, use your Green Primary brush and dab in the areas to bring the branches back into your mask. It helps to have the Original view up for this so you know where to click.
  • Before dabbing with green, be sure there is a blue compute underneath it. You may also choose to use the Blue Primary brush to brush over areas where branches are disconnected. This will recompute the area. You may then use the Green Primary Brush to further refine the area.
  • Use the H or spacebar to pan around your image as you are doing this.
  • Use the shortcut keys Q, W & E to switch between green, red & blue primary brushes while making refinements.
  • Another way to make refinements is to switch to the Cut view mode (shortcut key: 5). You may need to change the background to a different color.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.40.01 PM

  • As you can see above, it’s now easier to see where branches are included in the cut part of the mask.
  • But, we want these brown areas to be included in the “Keep” part of the mask since we want to keep the tree–use the green primary brush at a small size and dab those areas of the branches evident in the cut area to turn them into keep.
  • Once finished with making refinements using the primary brushes, you may also make refinements using the Adjustment sliders in the left hand panel.Adjustments
  • For this example, I increased the Color Recovery slider to reduce any background color seeping through. (See definitions for what each slider does on page 16 of the user manual).
  • Once you are complete with refinements, save you tri-map if you want (Menu-> Save Trimap/Mask) and press OK to return back to your host editor.

Step 3: Clarity

Now we have a beautiful extraction to work with!

  • Upon returning to Photoshop (or whichever host editor you’re using) you’ll notice the extraction should be on a new layer. In this case, mine appears as a layer mask (in ReMask go to Menu-> Preferences-> Enable Use-Layer-Mask to make this change).
  • On your background layer, click on the eyeball to hide that layer so that you can now see your extraction with checker marks (transparency) underneath it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.03.20 PM

  • With your masked layer selected, open Topaz Clarity.
  • Press ‘Reset’ (bottom right corner) to start with a clean slate, ridding of any effects that were used in a prior session.
  • In Clarity, I prefer to work with the selective parameters on the right from scratch, however you may choose to apply a preset from the collections on the left too.
  • What I typically do is under Dynamics: increase the Micro, Low and Medium Contrast sliders and decrease the High Contrast slider. Under Tone Level, I typically will increase the Midtones and Black Level sliders, and then decrease the White Level slider.
  • When working with foliage, I also like to expand the HSL panel and increase the Green Luminance and Saturation (will make the leaves brighter and more vibrant).

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.18.26 PM

  • Press OK when complete to return back to your host editor.

Step 4: Topaz Clean

Topaz Clean is our texture and edge stylization plugin that we’ll be using to bring out the texture in the bark, branches and leaves of the tree.

  • Open Topaz Clean.
  • Navigate to the Crisp Collection and expand it.
  • Apply a preset such as Edge Boost or Edge Boost II and press OK.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.22.58 PM

Step 5: Topaz Lens Effects

  • Back in your host editor, turn back on the eyeball of your background layer to make it visible again.
  • If the background layer is locked, duplicate it (ctrl/cmd + J) so that you aren’t working on the original image.
  • Select the duplicated background layer which we are now going to edit (not the masked tree).

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.27.09 PM

  • Open Topaz Lens Effects.
  • Navigate to the Camera – Toy collection of presets. Choose either Awesomeness I or Awesomeness II (or whichever preset suits your preferences).
  • In the right hand panel, expand ‘Toy Camera Aberrations’ and reduce the camera shake to 0.
  • You may also choose to reduce the amount of vignette if it is too strong.
  • Press OK when complete.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.34.51 PM

Step 6: Final Edits

You may then choose to add any additional edits to your image as you please. I thought the tree was still a tad too dark so I brought it into Topaz ReStyle and adjusted the tones, saturation and structure to my liking.

I then used Topaz Detail’s Tone panel and increased the Magenta-Green & Blue-Yellow sliders to further bring out the colors in the trees, making my subject more vibrant than before.

Here is the original image: Afterbranch

And here’s the after:ReMaskTreefinal

My first take on this image was actually quite different. Unfortunately I was in such an artistic frenzy that I did not record the exact steps I took to achieve this result, but rather just a general outline of the programs I used (in which I presented in this tutorial):

Edited TreeHowever, hopefully I have communicated the general procedure for this type of surreal, dreamy look. And isn’t that the beauty of art? To create something new each and every time–something that cannot be replicated.

Which result do you prefer?

If you followed this tutorial, please feel free to post your results to our Facebook page, Tweet us @topazlabs, or share your results with us at Thanks for reading!

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