Updated: Dec 11, 2019
When you travel, you will go to tourist spots or popular places and take photos. You will not be alone in those places most of the times. And to take photos without other people in it, you either have to be there early in the morning or stay in a spot and wait for the perfect moment when everyone disappears from the view of your camera. If you are in a popular spot, it may be hours before that happens or maybe never. Will you have the time to wait?
Having people in travel photographs are rather common. But, what if you really want to have photographs of buildings, monuments or scenery, without people in them?
For example, consider the photo above with Tiong Bahru Market in the backdrop. The building is the main object and I would like viewers to focus on it. It is normal for people to be moving around a marketplace but the man in front was spotting a cyan-coloured shirt that can easily draw viewer's attention away from my intended object. I don't want him in my photo. But looking around, another group of people is going to walk into my camera's view soon, it's either now or wait another "few" minutes.
Here is a simple photo-editing trick to remove people from photos and can save you some time when travelling. Before that, you will need to do some preparation work.
# Step 1: Get a Series of Photos
You will need a set of photos that are shot continuously from an EXACT spot. The people that you don't want to be showing up in the photo must be moving. This method will not work on stationary people.
If you are a novice with your photo-editing software, you will need a tripod to ensure all the photos can be aligned exactly. If you know how to align photos, you may try without the tripod but you need a pair of very steady hands. Most photo-editing software are not that forgiving with misaligned photos.
There is no standard rule on how to take the set of photos. But it needs to be done within a short time frame, especially if you are in the open where clouds and sunlight can messed up the exposure of the photos — meaning the amount of light on the object changes for each photo. The set of photos above were shot using one second intervals manually, which is sufficient for removing people who are walking.
Go for 5 to 10 shots. After that, you can filter away photos that are not going to help you much in the editing work.
# Step 2: Layer the Photos
From the large set of photos that you took, select only those with areas that are void of people. Do not try to touch-up any of the photos yet, or you will be creating more work to do. Leave it to the last step.
In my case, I selected all three from the photos above and overlay them in the photo-editing software as "layers". I am going to remove the man in cyan shirt and the three ladies in white behind the black car. Nothing much I can do with the group of people standing near the truck on the right side, but they are further away and quite acceptable.
The first photo that I selected has no people around the back of the black car. The second has no people around its front. The third has no people in the middle. That will give me a photo with absolutely no people on the left side.
In the photo-editing software, stack the photo with the least editing work required as the top-most layer. Ensure the layers are set to transparent background mode (without a background color). For illustration purpose, I showed my photos as cascaded but you should overlay yours on top of one another. If you have a software that supports opacity or alpha, set the top two layers to 50% at a time and check that they are aligned to the bottom layer. Remember to put them back to 100% after checking. If you use a tripod, there should be no need to do this.
# Step 3: Erase the People
Use the eraser tool to clear away the people starting from the top layer. If your photo-editing software supports a soft edge for the eraser tool, use it to get better results.
As I erase the people from my top-most layer, the middle layer is exposed instead of white patches (for illustration purpose, I use magenta to indicate the areas that I erased).
After erasing the three ladies on the top layer, the man in cyan and one of the lady on the middle layer can be seen to the far left. Next, I select the middle layer and erase that two persons as shown below.
And it's done! Without touching the bottom-most layer, the four people has vanished.
# Step 4: Merge the Layers
Merge or flatten all the layers and you will have a single-layer photo without people. This is essential or you will be touching-up all the layers separately later.
I have this photo without any people closer to me. There are people walking around further away but that is ok, the marketplace should not be deserted anyway.
# Step 5: Touch-up the Photos (Optional)
You may want to enhance your photos, brighten it, rotate, resize, crop or add a watermark. And you are done.
And I use this photo in the following article:
And this is our simple trick to remove people from photos with just 4 easy steps:
1. Get a series of photos,
2. Layer them on one another,
3. Erase the people,
4. Merge or flatten the layers, and touch-up.
Know how to touch up photos on an iPhone?