Photography Software

How do I automatically select the subject of a photo in Photoshop?

automatically select the subject of a photo in Photoshop
That's a keeper: Photoshop's new tool automatically finds the subject of your shots

Photoshop has a new trick – it can now automatically select the subject of your photo. This, in theory, could be a neat little time-saver if you want to quickly cut out someone from a portrait or an object you’ve photographed. But how reliable is it? I’ve been testing the new feature.

How to automatically select the subject of a photo in Photoshop

First things first – we need to find where this feature is lurking in Photoshop’s myriad menus.

Open the image as normal and then click on Select in the top menu bar. As shown in the screenshot below, choose Subject from about half-way down the menu (there doesn’t appear to be a keyboard shortcut for this at present). Photoshop will spend a couple of seconds thinking and then surround what it believes to be the subject of your photo in those familiar black-and-white marks.

Photoshop select subject

If Photoshop doesn’t get the selection absolutely spot on – and it rarely does – you can refine the selection using all the normal methods (polygon lasso, brushes etc).

How good is Photoshop at selecting the subject?

That very much depends on the nature of the photograph. For portraits, where there’s a clear contrast between the person in the foreground and the background of the image, results are good.

On this image of my daughter, you can see the selection is largely accurate. It’s chopped off her right thumb and there’s some tidying up to do around her hair, but it’s by-and-large there.

Photoshop Select Subject

Even on this much more challenging shot of the basketballers, with a busy background and two players intermingling in the frame, it does a decent job of picking them out. There’s some refinement to do in the gap between the arms of the chap on the left, and part of the arm of the guy on the right, but it’s not a bad effort.

Photoshop Select Subject

Things start to go awry when the subject has lots of fine detail, such as the golf clubs in this image. It’s not done a fantastic job of extracting the chaps from the background either:

Photoshop Subject Select

It’s a similar story with objects. This shot of the ice lolly on a plain white background is extracted perfectly:

Photoshop Subject Select

This more intricate object is largely there, although would again require some work with the refinement tools:

Photoshop Subject Select

Overall, the automatic subject selection works pretty well and I can see it becoming useful for quick cut-outs. It’s not a massive leap beyond what tools such as the magic wand did already, but anything that even marginally accelerates the editing process is alright by me.

Now read this: Is this £35 camera/laptop bag a genuine bargain?


About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at

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