For this type of project and idea, I would recommend trying some of the magnetic lasso tool. The tool is located as the third tool in the toolbar (you should see a lasso or rope looking icon), hold down the icon and it should expand - then select the magnetic lasso tool. The magnetic lasso tool will allow you to scroll over the edge of his profile and it will automatically detect the outline edges. The slower you roll-over the shape the higher the accuracy will be. If the magnet is not detecting a particular edge or sharp corner (for example, the ear) you can manually drop points by simply right-clicking at any point during the selection. If the edge is too sharp, you can also create a light feather which will blend the edge softly (this should be located at the top).
If this is unsuccessful still, you can try selecting by color, using the Magnetic Wand Tool (forth icon in the toolbar, again hold down for all options). Once you are using the magnetic wand tool, you should be able to select all the black areas of the background to delete. You can increase or decrease the tolerance to change the sensitivity of the selection.
Hope this helps!
Refine edge is definitely not a magic bullet, and works better in some situations than others. It is a major improvement on what we had before though, and as someone who does a lot of composite work, it has greatly speeded up my workflow. One of the best 'real world' tutorials I've seen for RE is by Martin Evening, who writes the 'Photoshop for Photographers' books (sometimes with Jeff Schewe who posts on this forum). The beauty of this approach is that it takes full account of what the selection is inteded to overlay.
Thank you both very much for taking the time to explain all of this.
What I don't understand about the Refine Edge tool (when it comes to painting over the edge) is that I often find myself having to option/minus click when I should be simply clicking. I'm doing the opposite of what I should be doing.
For example, when painting over the edge of Bismarck's right shoulder, if I simply paint over the edge, I actually end up adding the background back. So I find myself having to minus click in order to remove more of the background.
Not sure why this is happening. Could the fact that it's a low res compressed jpeg be part of the problem?
Try to restrict using the 'Refine radius' brush to areas where you know there is fine detail. IME if you use it on a hard edge, when the radius is set large enough to reclaim strat hairs, then you'll eat into the selection and have to fix it afterwards. I'd love to hear of any tricks and tips other people might use, but if try to Google for tips, you'll find a lot of clean high contrast images being used in the examples. That's why I lke the Martin Evening example because it is more true to real world situations than most others. At the end of the day RE is one of the best tools to be added to PS in recent versions, and I'd hate to be without it.
[EDIT] I don't tend to get on well using the Alt (Opt) key to remove areas from the selection, because after lifting off, RE paints right back over most of the area you just removed.