People at Angkor Wat

How to Remove People From Your Travel Photos Using Photoshop

By Lauren Juliff Take Better Photos14 Comments


Articles on this site contain affiliate links, meaning we may be compensated if you purchase a product or service after clicking them. Read our full disclosure policy here.

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?

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. 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 utilizes 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, it’s likely that the people in those photos will be moving around and changing location between shots.

When you load these photos into Photoshop the script works by identifying identical areas (the static background) and removing 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 Carefully

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. Instead, 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 afterward, 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, the camera will choose a slightly different shutter speed and aperture combination each time you take a photo. Instead, you want the exposure to remain consistent in each shot.

Get Us in Your Inbox

Get our regular email updates with the latest travel tech news, tips, and articles. We'll also send over a free 5000-word guide to get you started!

No spam ever, and you can leave any time. Our privacy policy explains how we handle your personal information.

Take at Least a Dozen Photos

Now that you’ve found the ideal spot to take your photos and have your camera settings sorted, you’re good to go. You’ll want to take a series of 10-30 photos, spaced around twenty seconds apart.

Keep an eye on the different parts of the scene. If there’s one annoying person who’s dawdling around, make sure you wait for them to move so you can get at least one shot of the scenery behind them.

Apply Some Photoshop Magic

When you think you have enough photos, it’s time to head home and load them up into 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, but if you examine the image closely, you’ll see there’s some ghosting in the shot. A few people and limbs haven’t been completely removed:

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?


This article is part of Travel Photography Month, with tips and tricks, gear reviews, and advice from several great travel photographers.

About the Author
Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff

Facebook Twitter Google+

Lauren is a physicist turned digital nomad who's travelling and working her way around the world on a permanent basis. She's the clumsy member of the team -- if there's a camera to be dropped, a Kindle to be stood on or a laptop to pour a drink over, she'll be the one to do it. You can read more about her travel misadventures over at Never Ending Footsteps.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ahhhh! Freakin’ awesome tips on here! I’ve always wondered how to go about doing this. Thanks!

  2. Avatar

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

  3. Avatar

    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)

  4. Avatar

    This is too cool! Excited to give this a try 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Avatar

    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

  6. Avatar

    wow, this is awesome. I was previously used content-aware tool. but this tool is also very handy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Avatar

    I have CS6 but cannot find the Statistic in menu. What verson of PS will this work on? Thanks for the post.

  8. Avatar

    The flags thing is easy, You just have to mask/overlay/copy the top half from a single image of the series.

  9. Avatar

    Excellent guide here. I’ve seen a few others for the same technique but none even mentioned simple touch ups like clone or healing.
    Trying this in conjunction with every other bit of PS knowledge I have to get a shot of one of the busiest round-a-bouts in Ho Chi Minh at the moment.
    I’m on a rooftop with a tripod and hoping I can get a glimpse of pavement under all these motorbikes. I have a feeling that with this much traffic, there wI’ll just be an enormous blur of traffic.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.