How to Remove People From Your Travel Photos Using Photoshop

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It’s Travel Photography Month here on Too Many Adapters – all photography all the time for the entire month of August! With tips and tricks, gear reviews and great advice from some amazing travel photographers, this is the place to be if you want to take better shots of the world you’re travelling through.

How many times have you visited a beautiful place only to find it completely packed with tourists resulting in, for example, a sunrise at Angkor Wat with more people than wat?

sunrise at angkor wat

While I don’t necessarily recommend trying to edit people out of all of your travel shots, it’s still fun to play around and view a place as it would look with nobody else there. Fortunately, Photoshop makes it surprisingly easy to get these postcard style shots and it all it takes is an extra couple of minutes setting up your camera.

For this tutorial, I’ll be using the Mac edition of Photoshop CS6 Extended, though users of Photoshop CS3 Extended and above for both Windows and Mac will be able to follow the same steps.

This technique utilises a script in Photoshop that takes the statistical average of a series of photos. For example, if you set your camera up on a tripod and take 20 photos of the same scene, the likelihood is that the people in those photos will be moving around and changing location.

When you load these photos into Photoshop the script works by identifying identical areas (the static background) and removes everything that changes between shots (the moving people). As long as the people in your photos are moving around enough, you’ll be able to stack all the images together and end up with the following (click to enlarge):

Before and after shots at Whistler

 

Here’s how to do it

Choose your location

The first step is to choose your location carefully — find somewhere where there aren’t many people gormlessly wandering around. If there’s a big attraction and everyone’s standing and taking photos, you’ll struggle to get a clear view without people in the way, so find a place where there’s a lot of movement. I chose the location in the photo above because it was a hiking trail so every person in the shot was walking.

Finally, take note of the actual landscape too. Waterfalls will end up blurry, and objects like flags will end up being removed. It’s also best if it isn’t a windy day so you don’t get trees moving and clouds drifting. These will end up as a blur in your final image.

You want lots of movement from the people but as little as possible in the background.

The example below shows why you don’t want things like flags in the photo, and shows why you should choose a location where the people are constantly moving. In this case, people were leaning up against the railings and taking photos. Because they weren’t moving much I was unable to get a clear shot of what was behind them.

bad blurry Canadian flags

In another example, you can see that, although there were originally dozens of tourists in front of this waterfall, there was one guy at the front who didn’t move while I was taking the series of photos, as well as a couple of people who were studying the map to the left of the image. This also shows how waterfalls will end up blurry from using this technique.

Waterfall image stack

Use a tripod

Given that Photoshop will align all of your photos afterwards it’s not absolutely necessary to use a tripod but I’d still recommend using one if possible. If you don’t have one then set your camera down on a wall or other solid surface to limit the movement between shots.

Shoot in manual mode

It’s important to make sure you put your camera in manual mode before taking the photos. If you choose any of your camera’s automatic modes, you’ll find the camera will choose a slightly different shutter speed and aperture combination each time you take a photo. However, you want the exposure to remain consistent in each shot.

Take at least a dozen photos

Now that you’ve found the ideal spot to take your photos and have your camera settings sorted then you’re good to go. You’ll want to take a series of between 10 and 30 photos, spaced around 20 seconds apart. Keep an eye on the different parts of the scene and if there’s one annoying person who’s dawdling around, make sure you wait for him to move so you can get at least one shot of the scenery behind him.

When you think you have enough photos, it’s time to head home and load them up into Photoshop.

Once you’ve opened Photoshop, start by clicking on File, Scripts and then Statistics.

Photoshop screenshot

This will open up the Image Statistics window. Select median as your stack mode and check the box for “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images”, especially if you didn’t use a tripod. Next, click on “Browse…” and select your series of photos. Click OK.

Photoshop screenshot

After 15 minutes of processing, I’m left with the following image.

example photos

Some of my before photos…

Whistler edited

And after!

The script did a pretty good job at removing the people, however if you examine the image closely you’ll see there’s some ghosting in shot — a few people and limbs haven’t been completely removed. For example:

Whistler ghost

If you find that you have small traces of people remaining in the image, then use either the spot healing brush or clone stamp tool, or a combination of both to remove these.

Photoshop screenshot Photoshop screenshot

To briefly summarise each tool:

The Spot Healing Brush works by sampling the pixels surrounding the selected area. It then takes an average of these pixels and replaces the selected area with this estimation. The Clone Stamp works by taking an area of the image that you manually select and cloning this selection to another area.

You can read more about photo touch-up using the clone stamp and spot healing brush over on Adobe’s website. This method can also be used on single photos with tourists in if the background is plain, such as beach scenes with small people in the distance.

I used a combination of both tools on the photo to remove the stray limbs from the photo:

Whistler ghost removed

I’m then left with the following final image:

Whistler after

And there you have it! Who needs to buy postcards when you’ve got Photoshop?

 

16 Responses

  1. Lilian

    Excellent tip! I’ve always cursed other people getting into my shots. Can’t wait to try this out for myself!

    Reply
  2. Rocky Mountain Joe

    Loved it. Great post. I usually accomplishing this by being out before dawn, but sometimes I need this. (I am also going to have my wunderlust son follow your blog)

    Reply
  3. Abhijit Guha

    Hi Lauren, there is another easy way to do this..

    Just select the portion of image you want to remove with Quick Selection Tool then goto Edit > Fill.
    Make sure the blending mode is selected as Normal and Opacity is set to 100%, now click OK & see the magic.

    This way you can remove people and things easily from your photo.

    Hope it helped

    Reply

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