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Photoshop Tutorial: Removing Distracting Objects From Photographs

How to produce shots without distracting backgrounds by combing two or more photos together.

|  Adobe Photoshop
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Sometimes you'll find yourself in a location where you want to take a photo but people just keep getting in the way. This happens a lot at places tourists flock to but you'll also encounter the same problem when you're shooting portraits on a busy street. You may think you only have two choices: to take the shot and just cope with the busy background or to put the camera away and not bother with the shot. But there are a couple of other things you can try. The first is to take two or more shots from the same place then combine them in post production so you can erase the bits of the image you don't want to be visible. The second option is to use slower shutter speeds while you're out in the field.

First Method

If you take a shot, such as the example, where there's someone in part of the background but the rest is empty, wait until they've moved to a different part of the frame and take the shot again. It's a good idea to use a tripod such as those available in Manfrotto's 057 series for this as it will make your job easier when it comes to editing the shots. If you work hand-held, you can't guarantee you'll take the shot from exactly the same angle and even the smallest of movements will mean the photos won't line up correctly when you drag them into Photoshop. In our examples, one shot has a clear background to the right and the other to the left so we don't need any more images to make this technique work but if you're working in a particularly busy place such as a park you made need to take several more shots which makes the technique a little harder to do but it still works.

Open images in Photoshop

When you open your images up in Photoshop, drag all of them on to one of your images so you have more than one layer created in one document. You can do this by selecting the Move tool (arrow head), clicking on one of the images and dragging it over onto the other image. You can change the order of the layers if you need to by clicking in the layers palette and dragging the layers up or down the list.

Next, you can either work with a Layer Mask or use the Erase tool. First, we'll talk about the Erase tool. Make sure it's selected from the Toolbar and simply brush over the part of the image you want to remove. As you can see in our example, we've began to remove the object to the right of the man and as the object isn't in this part of the frame in the layer under it, when we erase the top layer, the distracting object is removed and a clear background appears.

Erase tool

The other way to do this is with a Layer Mask. Click on the icon which has a circle sat in a rectangle and a layer mask will be created on your top layer. Now select the Paintbrush tool, making sure black is set as your foreground colour. Then brush over the part of the shot you want to remove. If you remove part of the image you don't want to, change the foreground colour to white and brush it back in.

Whichever method you chose, take your time and zoom in when you get close to the edges of objects you want to keep so you don't clip them by accident.

Some will say you can fix these problems without having to take multiple images by using the Clonestamp tool which is true but it can take a while to do and it can be tricky. If you want to know more about cloning take a look at our previous article: Using The Clone Tool.

Before with the object in the background to the right. After with the object in the background now erased from the shot.

Second Method

The other way you can remove moving objects, such as people, from your scene is to use longer exposures. This works particularly well at night and is the same technique photographers use to to capture light trails in night shots. The problem with using longer shutter speeds in the daytime is the amount of light that will reach your camera's sensor and you can end up with very overexposed shots. But try using a small aperture such as f/22 and find a location which is slightly shaded and experiment to see if it'll work. Using an ND filter will also help you get the slower shutter speeds you need.

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