Using PowerPoint's Remove Background tool to enhance presentation pictures

PowerPoint 2010 offers many ways to improve presentations to make them look interesting, clearer and more professional. Better presentations can be the key to new job opportunities and for disseminating information about an important project. In a previous article, PowerPoint Picture Tools For Effective Presentations, we saw how you could improve your pictures using a variety of methods.

A very useful feature is PowerPoint's Remove Background tool. To recap, it enables you to remove the background from an object in a picture. In fact, it can even isolate a single object in a picture containing two or a hundred other objects. Let's take a closer look at its functionality.

We will use the lily in the picture below and show you how to remove the background to create a more interesting picture and PowerPoint slide.

This is what the currently lily looks like in our presentation:

Before you can use the tool, ensure that you have double-clicked on your object for the Format Picture tab to appear. Then click the Remove Background button in the Picture Tools tab. The screenshot below is of PowerPoint working on an Apple Mac, but the Ribbon tools and layout is practically the same as PowerPoint on a PC.

The Remove Background button isolates the lily and removes the background elements surrounding the object - it does this by masking all unwanted components with a purple mask.

When you select an object, PowerPoint makes an initial estimate as to what you would want to remove, by highlighting the areas for removal with the mask. With the Windows version, the ribbon will change to show the Background Removal buttons in the screenshot below.

Tip: This tool bar does not show in the Mac OS version. Instead, you can hover the mouse over areas that have been deleted and it will automatically change to Mark Areas to Keep and vice-versa.

The characteristics of the picture, especially the contrast between the edges of the subject and the background, will influence PowerPoint's attempt to edit out the picture. Often, the selected area covered by the purple mask alone, will produce the desired effect. In that case, just click Keep Changes and the edit will be saved.

In the event that PowerPoint's guess is incorrect, there are a number of quick steps that can be taken to achieve the desired effect. First, drag the rectangle to fit around the object you want to isolate.

Next, click the Mark Areas to Remove button and draw lines over the unwanted areas. Conversely, if part of your main object is under the purple mask, and is in danger of being deleted, use the Mark Areas to Keep tool to ensure nothing is accidently removed. Here is what our picture now looks like with the background foliage removed.

Here is what the picture looks like in the presentation:

So in no time at all, you will have just the areas that you want to keep, and everything else within the original bounding box will become transparent.

As a final step, you may want to use the Crop tool to remove the transparent areas so that the bounding box fits neatly and tightly around the object. Once you have removed the background, you can still apply other effects such as reflections, shadows and glow to great effect as per our screenshot below.

The PowerPoint Remove Background tool can be an effective way to help focus your audience on a specific object. It's also available in Word and Excel, so it's a handy tool to master. Have fun and experiment with all the effects at your disposal to get the best possible results.