The Digital Darkroom (Adobe Photoshop)
 Developed and Instructed by James Gordley 2004

Class Lab - Pumpkin Carving 101

Photograph by Jim Gordley copyright 2005
Photograph by Jim Gordley 2006

Topics of this lab

bulletAdjustment Layers
bulletNaming Layers
bulletMerging Layers
bulletArranging Layers
bulletSelection Tools
bulletMagic Wand
bulletLayer Selection
bulletSelection Brush
bulletPaint Brush Tool
bulletChanging size
bulletCustom Shape Tool
bulletGradient Fill
bulletZoom Tool
bulletSmudge Tool

Don't loose your head, this exercise is designed to introduce you to these tools and how they work. It will take practice with them to become proficient.


Copy the image above and place it into your standard editing window in Photoshop Elements. This is the pumpkin that we are going to carve. Always copy the original image so that you have a layer with that image securely in place, just in case we make a mistake along the way.

By Jim Gordley ~ Copyright 2007 HomeSpun Internet Enterprises

Create the features of the pumpkin in any way you like.

The pumpkin I carved is on the right. Your pumpkin may be completely different. The object is for you to understand what can be done with an existing image.

Removing the background from the original image above can be done in any number of ways. I found that using the Layer Threshold for me was the quickest.









  1. In the Layers Palette click on the adjustment layers button

  2. From the drop down options click on "Threshold..."
    The Threshold dialog box will pop up. (see image below)

  3. Adjust the slider control or change the level of threshold by typing a number into the Threshold level box. Continue this adjustment until you see the entire pumpkin and stem appear as all black.

  4. When you have set the level and can see that virtually all of the pumpkin has been selected click "OK" in the Threshold dialog box.


Notice that you know have a second layer in the layers palette. Now you can use the "Magic Wand Tool" by placing it on the black area and clicking. When you do so note that you now have a selection marquee (marching ants) around the black part of the image.

When you see that you have made a selection and have the marching ants around the black portions of the image drag the layer named Threshold 1in the layers palette to the trash can and drop it there. Now you will see the pumpkin has the marching ants around it.

Clean up the selection using the "Selection Brush Tool" Don't forget to use the "Zoom Tool" to magnify the image. Work as close to the edge of the pumpkin as possible.

Remove portions of the selection by holding down the "Alt" key on your keyboard as you click your mouse. I like to use a large round brush for this part of the selection process. Continue working around the pumpkin removing any of the selection marquee that is not part of the pumpkin.

If you notice any areas of the pumpkin that are not enclosed within the selection marquee you can add them by placing your "Selection Brush Tool" on them and clicking the mouse without holding the "Alt" key on your keyboard.

Helpful Hints
Do not drag or try to paint away the unwanted areas instead place your brush carefully and click. Then move to the immediate area next to that and click again. If you make a mistake just undo your last action (Ctrl+Z) on the key board. Then try again.

When you are satisfied that you have the entire pumpkin and stem within the marquee (marching ants) click "Select" on the "Menu Bar" and click the option "Inverse" This completely reverses the current selection, that means that everything that is not the pumpkin is now selected. Press the "Delete" key on your keyboard.
You should see something very similar to the image on the right on the main editing screen. At this point we can do away with the marquee (the marching ants). On the Menu Bar click "Select" then click "Deselect". Note that now the marching ants are gone.

Now we need to add a background that will help us see any area around the edge of the pumpkin that we didn't quite manage to get perfect.

Create a new layer by clicking the New Layer button in the layers palette.

You now have two layers, but Layer 2 needs to be moved behind Layer 1. Do this in the Layers Palette by dragging Layer 2 below Layer 1 and drop it there.

You can also re-arrange the Layer using the menu bar "Layer > Arrange > Send Backward"


The keyboard short cut  Ctrl+[

Which ever way you decide works best for you is fine. I prefer the drag and drop method.

With Layer 2 in place behind Layer 1 use the "Paint Bucket Tool" and fill Layer 2 with black paint. You will probably notice some light colored fringing around your pumpkin, that will have to be cleaned up.

Make sure that you are working in Layer 1. Place your cursor on the image of the pumpkin in the layers palette. While pressing the Ctrl key on your keyboard click the mouse. Notice that the pumpkin once again has a marquee around it. On the Menu bar click:

Naming Layers
Now would be a good time to get in the habit of naming your layers as you work. This will make it much easier for you to identify them later when you want to work on them. Double click on the layer name in the Layers Palette then type a meaningful name, that is all there is to it.

Select > Modify > Contract

In the Contract Selection dialog box that appears set the number at 1 or 2 pixels, more if needed so that the selection is set to just inside the very edge of the pumpkin. Then click "OK"

Now Inverse the selection the same way you did before. Select > Inverse. Press the Delete key on your keyboard. You should now have a clean edged pumpkin on a black background. Now we are ready to start carving the pumpkin.

At this point your screen should look much like the image above.

Using Custom Shapes

At this point we could use any thing that we want to on our pumpkin to give it a "carved look" In this exercise we will be using the Custom Shapes Tool . Once you have clicked on Custom Shapes Tool you can select from a library of shapes, you can even create your own, more on this later.