How to remove people from your photos with image stacking

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Every travel photographer knows this situation. You arrive at a new city, lets say Berlin, and obviously you wanna check out some of the main sights and snap some nice photographs. The weather is promising, the golden hour approaches and you arrive at the sight right in time. Unfortunately, who’d guessed so, the whole area is overrun by other tourists who have exactly the same plan. So how to remove people from your photos?

So there are a few ways to deal with this situation in order to get away with a decent shot.

  • try to find a good vantage point. Frame your shot carefully and maybe you’re able to take a photograph without a bunch of tourists in it
  • try to find an angle where people actually add value to your composition (for example giving a sense of scale)
  • come back very early in the morning or super late at night and cross your fingers that you have your subject of choice to yourself.
  • use a neutral density filter (preferably 10-stop or higher) to get an exposure time of several minutes. This only works, when people actually move. Every person sitting static in the same place won’t be affected.

If all of the above mentioned options don’t really work for one reason or another, don’t despair. Thanks to powerful image editing software like Photoshop, there is an option left: Image Stacking

This script analyzes a series of photos and takes the statistical average. That means it identifies and keeps the areas which are identical in every image – in this case the Brandenburg Gate as your static background – and removes everything that changes between the shots – in this case the moving people.

Remove People from your Photos

Here is a step by step guide that will help you to efficiently remove people from your travel photos using the image stacking method.

1. Position

The first step is to choose your position carefully (as you always should) to find a spot where you have as little people wandering around as possible in order to minimize the sources of irritation from the very beginning. Fewer people in your photos means less work in post production. Once you found that spot, set up your tripod and get your camera ready.

2. Settings

Now it’s time to dial in the right settings. It is crucial that you put your camera in manual mode. Every automatic mode might result in the camera choosing a slightly different aperture /shutter speed combination every time. Like with every other photo, make sure to get a balanced exposure without clipped parts and with enough detail in the shadows. A small aperture, a low ISO value and a neutral density filter are helpful to increase the exposure time and thus to lower the number of visible people in your photograph. But keep in mind, that this also affects other moving objects in the scenery like the sky.

3. Shoot

You should take at least 15 to 20 shots of the same scene without moving your camera or changing your settings. The interval between your shots and the overall number of photographs you might need highly depends on the amount of people and their movement. Try to wait around 30 seconds between the shots to give people enough time to move on. With only a few fast-moving people 5-6 shots might already be enough. However, just take some extra shots just to be sure.

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before – a lot of people ruining the shot of Brandenburg Gate

4. Post Processing

Once you took all your photographs and you’re back home and in front of your computer you can start with the post processing.

  • Create a new folder and put the whole sequence of photos in it
  • Open Photoshop and go to file -> scripts -> statistics 
     
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  • The window “Image Statistics” opens. Choose “median” as stack mode and check the box “Attempt to automatically align source images”. This is optional when you worked on a tripod, but absolutely necessary when you took your shots without one. Now click on browse and select the folder containing your photos and click OK. 
     
  • Photoshop now starts to do its magic and depending on the number and size of your files as well as the power of your computer, it will present the final result after a few minutes of processing.
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after – the only thing left of all the people is some minor ghosting effects

The script did quite a good job in removing people and other moving objects. It basically

Gear

There is some gear and gadgets that isn’t mandatory to have, but comes in very handy and will help you to remove people more effectively.

  • tripod – a tripod not only reduces camera shake and therefore allows for longer exposures, it also guarantees, that the camera stays static. So each and every shot is identical in terms of framing. Although Photoshop will align all of your photos afterwards, it is still advisable to use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, look for alternatives. A tree trunk, a pillar, a garbage can. It doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure your camera sits still and stable.
  • remote control or cable release – both do basically the same job. They help you pressing the shutter release without actually pressing the shutter release and therefore prevent your camera from shaking.
  • Neutral Density Filter – ND or gray filters come in various stops and basically work like sunglasses for your camera. They prevent light from entering the lens and reaching the sensor which results in slower shutter speeds and longer exposures.

 

I hope those tips help a little to remove people from your photographs and improve your travel photography experience.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to drop me a comment in the box below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

And if you like what you see, feel free to connect on Instagram for more photos of Berlin and from around the world.

 


 

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