All too often, when you visit a place that you want to photograph, others have had the same idea. That means there are likely to be a lot of people milling about the place you are trying to photograph. It messes up your picture.
There are things you can do about this though. In fact, there is an immediate option to try pretty much every time in this situation. It is essentially to wait it out. Line up your picture, and hold the camera so that you are ready to take the picture. Then wait. Just stand there and wait for the people to clear out of your frame. That way, when they do, you will be ready.
But that won’t always work. Some places just involve a steady stream of people. So here are six other ways to remove people from your travel photos that you might want to think about, from the simplest to the most complicated.
1. Take a Long Exposure
If you are somewhere that allows for the use of a tripod, consider taking a long exposure. By long I mean at least 20 seconds. In a long exposure situation, if a person happens to walk through your frame, they should not show up in the final picture because they were only in the frame a small percentage of time that the camera was exposing the picture.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you are taking a 30 second exposure. If someone walks through your frame, as long as they are moving, they are only covering a given space within in the frame for a few seconds. So, of that 30 second exposure, the camera will be capturing what you want the whole time that person is not in the picture. As long as the person keeps moving, you’ll never even see them in the final picture.
To accomplish a long exposure, you will need to limit the amount of light coming into your camera. Otherwise all that light coming into your camera will overexpose your picture. You can start by using the lowest ISO and the smallest aperture. Even then, if it is the middle of the day, this will likely not be enough. In that case, you will need to use a neutral density filter, which is a filter that reduces the amount of light that is let into your lens. They come in different strengths, but I recommend you start with a 10-stop filter, which is pretty strong. Put the filter on your lens and reset the exposure (scenario 4 of this article might help you do this). It is likely that your exposure time will be something like 30 seconds at this point.when you take the picture, people walking through your frame will disappear!
2. Arrive Early
This one may sound obvious, but it does not involve any gadgetry or technieques. If it is a place you can enter freely, consider arriving very early. In addition to getting the best light, this is the time when there will be the least amount of people. Of course, museums, attractions, and other tourist spots will have opening hours that you cannot work around. Even then, it pays to get there immediately upon opening.
3. Use the Healing Brush
If you end up with people in your picture, all is not lost. Photoshop has ways to deal with this. If the person is but a small blip on an otherwise clean background, use the Healing Brush to get rid of them.
Using the healing brush is simple. Just select the healing brush tool and then place the cursor over the area you want to heal. Press the Alt-key and move your cursor to the place where you want Photoshop to select pixels from. Click that spot. Then move your cursor back to your original spot and brush over the area you want to heal away. Photoshop will attempt to remove the person and use the pixels you selected as a replacement.
Here is a video tutorial I created for using the Healing Brush in Photoshop Elements (and it works exactly the same way in Photoshop):
4. Master the Clone Stamp Tool
Similar to the Healing Brush is the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop. These two tools are used in exactly the same way, but whereas the Healing Brush involves Photoshop making guesses as to the pixels it should use to replace the selected area, the Clone Stamp tool allows you to decide. In other words, the Clone Stamp tool will use the exact pixels you dictate to replace the pixels in the selected area.
It might be easier to show you how it works than try to explain it, so check out this video showing you how to use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop (and it works the same way in Photoshop Elements):
In the hands of a skilled user, the Clone Stamp tool can work wonders.
5. Let Photoshop Try
Photoshop has one other tool to allow you to get rid of people from your picture. It requires you to have taken multiple pictures from the same spot.
If you load these pictures into Photoshop and select the Statistics script, Photoshop will analyze the pictures and look for anything different in the pictures. From there, Photoshop will attempt to determine what doesn’t belong and remove it from the picture.
It is simple to set up. Just go to File, then click on Scripts, and select Statistics from the choices presented. Load in your pictures. In the dialogue box that pops up, be sure to set your Stack Mode at Mean. Other than that, this whole process is automated, which is good and bad. It is good because it is very simple and Photoshop takes care of everything. It is bad because you are at Photoshop’s mercy. Either it works or it doesn’t. And, honestly, for me, it usually doesn’t. I always seem to end up using the Clone Stamp tool. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, so be sure to try it.
7. Blend them Away
Rather than using Statistics to automate the process of combining the pictures, you can also load your versions of of your picture as Layers of one file and then combine them so that you use the portion of each layer where no people are present. This is called Blending in Photoshop. If you have an unwanted person on the left side of your photo in Picture 1, but they have moved to the right side of the photo in Picture 2, you will create a new photo using portions of each, as follows:
- Picture 1 has unwanted person on left side, so use left side of Picture 2.
- Picture 2 has unwanted person on the right side, so use the right side o Picture 1.
- In this way, you will use the right side of Picture 1 and the left side of Picture 2 to create a photo with no people in it.
Blending can be a bit tricky to accomplish, but Here is a quick guide to the steps for accomplishing this:
- Select the photos you want in either Lightroom or Adobe Bridge and tell Photoshop to open these photos as layers of the same file. In Lightroom, an easy way to do this is right-click and choose Open as Layers in Photoshop.
- Make sure the layers are aligned. Select the top two layers and align them, by choosing Edit and then Auto-Align layers. As long as the photos are close to the same, Photoshop will align these two layers so everything matches up.
- Add a layer mask to the top layer. If you are not familiar with this, just got to Layer, choose Layer Mask, and then choose the Reveal All option. Nothing will look different in your photo. The white mask means that all changes to this layer show up in the final picture.
- Choose the Brush tool (hit B for a shortcut) and select black as your paint color (if you hit the X key it will toggle between white and black). Don’t paint yet though. First we’re going to take a look at what changes you want.
- Now determine which parts of the current layer you want, and which parts of the layer underneath you want. Use the eyeball beside each layer to alternatively see/hide the top layer.
- Wherever you don’t want the top layer to take effect (like, say, where there is a person in the frame), paint black in your layer mask. Where you do want the top layer to take effect, don’t do anything.
- Once you are done, be sure yyour top layer is selected and go to Layer then Merge Down. That will combine the layers.
- If you have additional layers, go back to step 2 and go through the process again. Do it until you are down to just the one layer.
Make sure, when you are taking your photos, that you have taken multiple exposures. Use a tripod if you can. That way you will have the option of trying this technique when you get home. But if you don’t take multiple exposures at the time you are photographing, you have no chance of fixing it in this manner later.
8. Combine These Techniques to Remove People
You can also combine these techniques. Try to get as clean a shot as you can in the field. But make sure you take multiple exposures while you are there so you can blend them in some fashion later. When you are back at the computer, you could load your pictures as layers and then blend the file to remove unwanted people as in Method 7. After that, use the clone stamp tool to clean up. And so on.
You can do it however you want. But the point is that you do not need to rely on any one of these tips to get rid of people from your picture. Very often you will have to mix and match these techniques.
There are plenty of times you will want people in your photos. But where you don’t want people in a photo, and there is a person, almost always that ruins the picture. Therefore, it is important that you take steps to keep this from happening.
Again, it is best if you can just keep from having people in your picture in the first place. If you can find a gap where there are no people, take it. If you have to wait around for a while, I recommend that you do so. Waiting a few minutes while you are shooting can save you a lot of time in Photoshop later.
But there are times where you just need to roll up your sleeves and get to work in Photoshop. When you do so, don’t worry if the process is a bit messy. And remember that anything you do is going to look better than having that unwanted person there. Just stick with it and eventually the picture will take shape.