We do it the hard way, you need to create a path around the image so that you can effectively drop out the background. This can be done in Photoshop or any other image editor that allows you to create paths. Its a tedious process, but the end result is close to perfection depending on how experienced you are with massaging paths.
Ah. No easy way around it huh? Thanks, I'll work with paths a bit and see if I can get it.
A few years ago I tried a friend's program called Magic Mask because I heard it was the hot stuff (and it wasn't cheap, either, if I remember correctly). After drawing little dots and losing several along the way to create a path, I came to the conclusion I didn't have the fortitude to master its behaviors. It was not user friendly. Nor was it found to be useful in any way in my cluttered little virtual software toolbox.
To this date it is MIA.
There are other programs to mask out backgrounds. Whether they really work or not is one of those questions I haven't investigated - so I can't say one way or the other. After my MM fiasco, I haven't bothered.
So I do mine "manstyle" - by carefully eliminating anything I don't want and saving what I do want in one (or several layers) over a transparent background. You can use a combination of filters, contrast tweaks, color tweaks - all kinds of stuff to get the job done. If you cruise some of the photoshop tips pages - you'll find an arsenal of techniques that will allow you to even separate things like hair and smoke from your (unwanted) backgrounds.
A pen tablet also works wonders instead of a mouse. Really. If you're going to do this for a living - by all means - BUY one :) Since mine no longer works - I've been remanded to doing it with a mouse... and it really, really s**ks, to put it mildly.
Idiotgirl: veteran of hair, smoke, grass, and cloud masks - and have the war medal pinned on my chest to show I survived.
If you have Photoshop, look on Adobe's site for masking tutorials...
Corel also puts out a program called Knockout that's designed just for masking objects like that.
<added>I bought a pen tablet. I hated it. I went back to using a mouse. ;) I'm waiting for those spiffy flat-screen touch sensitive Cintiq monitor/tablets to come down a couple grand in price.</added>
Also, can be done by doing a lasso selection. Just remember to try feathering it by one pixel before cutting it out; it gives it a natural roundness as opposed to an aliased effect around the cut.
Another big help is if the original is at a high resolution/size. One pixel at 300 dpi contains more information than one pixel at 72 dpi. You're getting a finer cut.
Oh - and when you are using your eraser - go ahead and play with the settings for softer or harder edges and vary your transparency settings ala martinibuster. It makes a big difference! And doing your original scans at high res - big size IS the key. Working on small images and trying to obtain good results is emotionally harmful.
Unless... of course... there's something that does that for you. Who knows - maybe Knockout works! Corel had an online demo that looked impressive.
I used Knockout back when Ultimatte was still producing it. It wasn't a cakewalk, but it did a bang-up job.
Personally, I favor the duplicate-image-in-new-layer --> go-to-town-with-eraser-&-lasso method, but I don't deal with too much grass, smoke or hair either. (Never was the hippie type...)
Mivox - then how do you spruce up your ferret pics?
See? You're more granola than you realize :) A little hair, mane, tree leaves, wheat, tail, claw, whisker, clouds - sooner or later we all succumb to them.
How we go from extracting images to peace, love and smoke we'll never know.
Thanks for your suggestions, I'm going to go work through some Photoshop tutorials and possibly look into Knockout --> Although I heard it was no Sunday picnic too...whatever those are.
I didn't hear anyone mention peace and love... but you can blame idiotgirl for the smoke.
As for ferret photos, the little buggers don't hold still long enough to get a photo with my poky old digital camera, so I don't have to worry about all that fuzzy stuff... and nobody ever asks me to make pink clouds either, so that pretty much eliminates fluff as well.
Knockout just requires a steady hand (same as the Photoshop eraser/lasso technique), since you need to trace along the outer and inner edges of the transition/edge area between your image and the background. (At least the old version I was using did... YMMV with Corel's version.)
This is interesting because I don't use the eraser.
I lasso the object I wish to lift out of the picture. Once I have it properly selected, I feather the selection by 1 pixel (to soften the edges of the selection so that they look natural).
Then I copy and then I paste. The pasted image is now on it's own layer with transparency around it.
At this point, I magic wand the transparent section and then turn on the mask (turning everything Pink and not-pink), and using the air brush, I alternately add or subtract to the selection.
Afterward, I jump out of mask mode and do another copy and paste, and this last version should be the best. Soft edges... Nice.
The air brush is superior to the pencil tool in these situations as the pencil is exact, and creates aliased looking edges while the air brush creates soft natural looking edges.
Just thought I'd add this to the pot of ideas. :)
If possible, start with a high resolution (or large size) original. Only resize it once you've got the image the way you want it; that way, any small errors will disappear, and an unnaturally hard edge will be softened by the anti-aliasing process.