Every notable landmark seems to have one thing in common: visitors, and lots of them. But if you want that postcard shot or that image that shows how the location may have once appeared, you have a challenge ahead of you. This digital photography and PhotoShop tutorial will provide a means to remove the tourist throngs from your vacation images.
The technique I will describe here applies to photos you have yet to take. Unfortunately, there is no single easy way to get rid of people in the shots you already have. But instead of agonizing over long clone-stamping sessions, you can take shots that will yield vacant sites with only minimal PhotoShop work.
To start, you’ll want to be taking your photos with a tripod. A remote release or timer will also help (it will minimize the possibility that you may inadvertently move your camera between shots). You will also want to shoot using manual settings. As the scene changes, your camera meter may change your exposure values and that will make your PhotoShop work more difficult.
At busy sites, once you have composed your shot, you will find there is no end of tourist flow through your frame. You may find yourself quickly giving up on an image because you know that as soon as one group of visitors starts leaving, another will soon take its place. You might get lucky and everyone will flee the scene, but if you are short on time and/or patience, you may not be able to hold out forever.
The trick is, with your tripod-mounted camera, you can take your shot with people in it. Then, once people have moved a bit, you can take a second photo.
As an example, look at this photo I took at the ruins of Ta Prohm in Cambodia near Angkor Wat:
A lot of tourists loitering in the scene don’t make for such a great photo of a place that evokes imagery of explorers discovering a long-lost ruin. But with a little patience, I was able to get another shot of the scene with fewer people:
What’s important to note in this scene is where the tourists are and where they are not:
Make a mental note of the parts of the scene that were occupied by people. Then, as those parts of the scene empty, take a shot. The rest of the scene doesn’t need to be vacant, just the parts that were previously full:
Now, while still thinking of our mental note of what areas need to be vacated, we can still see one man occupying part of the photo. When he moves, we can take our final shot.
Once you have your sequence of shots you will want to open all of them up in Photoshop then copy and paste all of them into a single document as separate layers with your first shot as the bottom layer in the document. If you are shooting in RAW format, make sure that if you change settings for one of the images, you make the same changes to all of the images so that their exposures, white balance and other settings match.
If there are small differences between the alignment of your images, select the Move Tool and use the arrow keys to nudge the layers into alignment. A handy trick for this is to change the blending mode of the top layer to “Difference,” then nudge the layer using the arrow keys. The closer the resulting image is to black, the better the alignment. Once you have finished the alignment, change the blending mode of the top layer back to “Normal.”
For now, we will make the top layer invisible (click the eye icon next to the Photo 3 layer). Next with the Photo 2 layer selected, create an empty mask for that layer, by clicking the mask icon while holding down OPTION on the Mac and ALT on the PC. Your mask should now be black and the entire layer is hidden.
Now it’s time to get rid of the people in your photo. Select the brush tool and use a brush with a feathered edge. Make sure the foreground colour is white, then Start painting into the mask of the Photo 2 layer in the places occupied by tourists. You will see the people magically disappear from the image!
Once you have removed as many people as you can by painting on the Photo 2 layer, make the Photo 3 layer visible, create an empty mask for it and paint out the remaining person. If you have to take more than three photos, keep repeating the process to erase any remaining stragglers.
You now have a landmark free of people!
While shooting, if you waiting for any appreciable period of time between shots, the light in the scene may have changed. Once you have completed your masking and removed the people, you may be able to discern differences in lighting in the areas where the people were and where they now are not.
If the difference isn’t too off, you can correct this by making active the layer where the people are not present. Then, you can either any of PhotoShop’s tools in the “Image > Adjustments” menu to correct the change in light between the shots.