A Look at Photoshop CC AI-Powered Select Subject Tool

In November 2017 Adobe demonstrated its first AI-powered selection tool. At the time it was just a sneak peek at a future technology, but with the release of the 19.1 version of Photoshop CC we can finally start using it.

The new version of Photoshop CC released on the 23’st of January 2018 by Adobe brings a number of updates including advanced support for the Microsoft Surface Dial and support for Windows HiDPI UI scaling and per-monitor scaling across monitors with different scale factors.

The most interesting update is, of course, the arrival of the new Select Subject tool which is what we are going to look at in this video using a number of images to see what it can and can’t do.

Single person – The first example that we will look at is a single person image. To use the Select Subject Tool we go to the Select tab and choose Subject (we are not aware of any keyboard shortcut for this at this stage). You can also choose Select Subject if you are currently with the quick selection tool or magic wand which is preferable as these tools will help you enhance your selection and you also have the option to go straight to the Select and Mask window which is something that you will want to do to improve your selection anyway.

In this first example of this portrait that we shot a few years back using the D800 and a Zeiss Otus lens we can see that the tool identified the target but the selection – despite being separated from the background pretty clearly isn’t perfect and if you really want to use it you will need quite a bit of extra work to improve the result. Do note that you also have decontaminate colors in the output tab now which you can help improve the selection a bit more.

Single person – forget about automatic hair selections

Multi-person – Moving on to a two-person image – we can see that the tool was more or less able to recognize the two people in the photo, but it also included some unwanted parts and didn’t include other parts – especially – not surprisingly, many parts of the long hair of the girl, which you will have to still work on manually.

AI selection of several people in an image

Animals – The next question that you might be asking yourself is, can this also recognize and select animals – so here are two lovely swans that we wanted to extract from this image. The answer seems to be yes, but again the selection – even for these relatively simple clear subjects, is far from perfect.

Can identify animals

Objects – Finally, let’s see if this tool can accurately select just any subject out of the background. Again the answer seems to be yes, but the quality of the selection isn’t very good, with the tool missing the holes in the plate.


So as we have seen, the subject select tool does work but it seems to still be very much in an alpha stage. It can typically locate the outline of a subject in an image correctly, but the selection itself is far from perfect.

The tool typically does not seem to be able to handle gaps or holes in a subject and just forget about more complex selections such as automatic hair selection, especially for a subject with long hair.

So is this a gimmick? we don’t think so. It does seem to have a lot of potential, but at the moment the amount of work that this tool will save you is minimal at best. However, if Adobe will continue to invest in actually improving the selection aspect of this tool (not just the object recognition part, which is actually quite decent even at this early stage), we might have a true time saver on our hands in a few years time.

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Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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