Achieving a pure white background - the easiest way

It all started when my kids’ passports expired and we needed two white background passport photos for them.  Now I have taken couple of shots white a white drape behind and some background lighting but the result was greyish rather than whitish. I have been doing some research of the matter for couple of days now and I have come across 3 ways to do it:

A. You do it off the camera using studio quality softboxes and lighting

B. You do it in Photoshop which is a little bit complicated and precise

C. You do it in Adobe Lightroom; and this is the easiest and quickest way)


But first I am going to summarize the steps to do it the hard way (in Adobe Photoshop):

  1. Increase the exposure to get the background as close to white as possible… without making the subject look funny or washed out.  Go to Image – Adjustments – Exposure and slide the Exposure slider to the right.
  2. Run Image – Adjustments - Auto Contrast. Auto Contract tends to make the background whiter and the subject a little bit sharper. 
  3. Next we’re going to need to do some touch-up with a brush (the ‘B’ shortcut), set the colour to white and pick the features of your brush around 200. Hardness set to 0.
  4. Start by painting everything in the background to look white. If you’re painting close to the subject hair or body zoom in and use a smaller brush. Leave the shadows in place to avoid having the subject looking unnatural.


And now the easiest method (in Adobe Lightroom):

  1. You need to have Adobe Lightroom (any version).
  2. Go to the Develop module and make your Global Adjustment. When you are happy with the exposure, tones, contract, clarity, etc. go to step 3.
  3. Select the local Adjustment Brush in the Develop module and select a size that is big enough to paint over the background. Add a small feather enable Auto Mask so that Lightroom will do most of the selection work for us. Set Density to 100.
  4. Paint over the background with the brush. Make sure the cross hair is on the background so that Auto Mask option doesn’t paint over your subject. You can press the ‘O’ key to show the painting overlay (default is red). The overlay will make it easier for you to see where you are painting. If you make an error paint with the Alt key (Windows) / Option key (Mac) to erase.
  5. When it comes to hair or very fine objects in your subject, don’t select a smaller brush. It is more efficient to enlarge the brush so that the centre is positioned over an area of the background and the rest of it extends over the hair area. At this point you might consider decreasing the density to around 30 so that you only partially select the background. Click once and click again if needed.
  6. If you are not happy with the white or it is not pure enough adjust the settings for the Adjustment Brush by increasing the exposure and brightness until the background becomes pure white. Check the hair area and you’ll see that not all the grey has gone but, when you zoom out the results are acceptable.

Now unless you want to enlarge this photo or print it in bigger sizes, you can use the Lightroom method for web and photo passport printing. I know the method above saved me time and money taking the family to the local studio plus I can print passport photos on demand from now on.

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful.


The background in this photo is not pure white. You need to increase exposure adjustment to blow out the background.

The background in this photo is now pure white. By increasing the exposure slider on the adjustment brush we managed to do that.