One of the daily struggles of anyone taking pictures of busy places is the people. They are usually everywhere! Always in the frame of the perfect picture, ruining a nice composition, or just getting in your way. So, if you don’t want to wait for hours until everyone is gone, check out this tutorial on how to remove people from photos. You will only need Photoshop (or something equivalent) and ideally a tripod. That’s it!

How to Remove People from Photos in Photoshop

#1 Find a good location

The first thing is to find a good location. This way of removing people only works for places that are not crowded. It works best when all you need is removing a single person, or a even few of them. However, getting rid of a group of fifty tourists is almost impossible.

With this in mind, try to find a location with not many people around. Ideally, you should set up your tripod there. You might succeed if you find a good place to rest your camera, or if you have a steady hand. Keep in mind that the photos need to be as similar as possible.

#2 Take multiple similar pictures

Once you find your location, you need to take a series of pictures. Take your first picture, wait until the people in the frame move a bit, and then take another one. Repeat until you have a good amount of pictures, the more the better.

The idea here is that, as the people move, they will reveal everything behind them. If we take enough photos, we will have photographs containing bits and pieces of the entire background. Later, we will crop the people out from some pictures and put the background there from others. Be really careful with the shadows! You will also need to remove them.

In this case, your biggest enemies are the people who don’t move around. If they are just standing there for ages, sitting down, or just moving back and forth in a very small area you won’t be able to crop them out. You can either be very patient or just live with it and leave them in the picture.

#3 Select the best photos at home

Once you are at home, you will have to go through your photos and pick the ones you want to combine. Sometimes you will need a lot of different photos, sometimes two is enough, especially when there is not a lot of people, or if you just want to remove a specific person.

For this tutorial, I will be using two pictures from my trip to China. I want to use them to prove that you don’t need a tripod. Not only that, but they also have different zoom levels. However, we can get around that as well.

Keep in mind that this is not ideal. Ideally, you want two photos with exactly the same settings. In this case, the photo would probably not be perfect for a professional environment, but for a personal photo book, I think it’s more than enough!

Image of a Chinese Street
Chinese street, take 1 
Another image of a Chinese Street
Chinese street, take 2

#4 Open the photos with Photoshop in different layers

First of all, click on File->Scripts->Load Files into Stack. This will open a dialog window where you can select the photos you want to use. Click on Browse, select the ones you took earlier and click on OK. This will create a new file, with all our photos in different layers.

Loading a batch of pictures into different layers in Photoshop
Loading a batch of pictures into different layers

#5 Align the images

The next step is aligning the photos. If you didn’t use a tripod this is really important. However, even if you used one sometimes the photos are slightly off, so it never hurts to do it.

To align the images in Photoshop, first select all the layers you want to align pressing Ctrl+click or Shift+click on the layer menu, on the right of the screen. Once they are selected, click on Edit->Auto Align Layers. This will prompt a window with different options. Make sure you have Auto selected and click OK.

Auto Align Layers menu in Photoshop
Auto Align Layers menu

Now all the pictures should be perfectly aligned. You can double-check everything is fine by making the layers visible and invisible clicking on the small eye icon next to them, on the layer menu.

Another option is changing the blend mode. Use the small drop-down menu on top of the layer menu with a layer selected to select different blend modes. The overlay one, for instance, shows that my two pictures are aligned, and since they have different zoom levels one is now bigger than the other one.

Using the overlay blend mode to check if the layers are aligned in Photoshop
Using the overlay blend mode to check if the layers are aligned

#6 Decide what to keep and what to remove

At this point, you need to analyze the image and think about what you want to remove.

In my picture, I want to remove two people from it: the man at the bottom of the second picture and the man with the white shirt walking up the street. I do like the rest of them, but the motorbike would be nicer in the middle of the picture, and not in the back.

You should follow the same procedure with your photos, and figure out what elements you want out of your picture, or on a different spot. Once you know what to do, proceed to the next step: masking out elements from the picture.

#7 Create a mask

Since we have two similar and aligned images, using a mask is the easiest way of deciding what to keep and what to remove.

A mask is a very useful tool that allows you to make visible just specific parts of a picture, and blend it with the other one. Masks are usually represented as a black and white canvas. Black areas will be left out of the image, while white areas will be present in the final image. By painting that canvas with a brush and softening the change between white and black we can blend these changes pretty well.

So, let’s do this now in Photoshop! First, switch back the blend mode from normal to all layers. Now you have to add a mask to one of our layers. To do that, select the layer you want to mask and click on the add layer mask icon in the bottom of the layers menu, the one that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside.

This should create a white mask that you can see next to the layer. Since the mask is entirely white, everything from that layer will be on the final picture. You will have to mask out (paint in black) the elements you want to remove.

Adding a mask in Photoshop
Adding a mask in Photoshop

#8 Mask out unwanted elements

To mask out people out of the picture you need to select the brush tool. It is on the left side of the screen, and it looks like a brush. Make sure you have the color black selected, a 100% opacity and the type of brush and size are good for what you want to remove. The default brush should be enough. You might need to change the size, but that’s probably it.

Brush tool with black color in Photoshop
Brush tool with black color

Now that you have a good brush, it’s time to start removing people from your photo. To do that you just have to select in the layer menu the mask you want to change and start painting on the screen.

In my case, I want to remove the white man and the man on the back. To achieve that, I paint the area where they are, which should take them out of the picture. Since I also want the motorbike in the middle of the frame, I also have to paint over it, and I paint where the bike from the original picture is, to make it visible.

However, while doing all this painting I painted a bit too much and now I have some ghosting. That means while removing one of the bikes I revealed part of the body of the white man from the original photo, as you can see in the image below.

To fix that just change the brush color to white and paint over it. Make sure you don’t leave any ghosts in your picture! Again, be careful with the shadows. In my example, I also forgot to make visible part of the shadow of the bike!

Ghosting and an incomplete shadow in Photoshop
Ghosting and an incomplete shadow

As you paint you should also see how your mask changes on the layer menu. If you want to see it full screen just use Alt+click. This way you can see what are you exactly masking out, and make sure you don’t hide something you want in the picture.

You can also use Shift+click to disable the mask and see how it looked originally. Use this to compare both pictures and see if you masked out elements you didn’t want to.

Full screen mask in Photoshop
Full screen mask. Notice the corrections I made to remove the ghosting and make the shadow visible

#9 Enjoy the result

Finally, I have a picture exactly how I want it, with some people out of it and the bike in the middle of the frame. I hope that, by now, you also managed to edit your picture in the way you wanted.

Image of a Chinese StreetFinal compose of the Chinese street
Final picture without the background people and the bike in the middle. You can compare with one of the original ones.

This method is really useful to control the elements you want in your photos and get rid of the annoying people in front of a famous tourist attraction.

Of course, is not only limited to people! You can use it to remove anything that moves or changed between two of your photos. If you really want to get creative this method can be used to combine pictures from different times of the day or even seasons, to create an artistic photo.

For example, when I traveled to Cambodia I took two pictures of the sunrise of Angkor Wat on two different days. I combined them to create a nice effect, where the sky is one color and the reflection in the pond a different one.

Composite of two sunset pictures of Anfkor Wat, one red and one blue
Artistic photo of Angkor Wat. Notice the different colours of the sky and the reflection.

And that’s it! I hope this quick guide was useful for you! If you have any question please comment below, and I’ll do my best to help you. You can also show me the cool pictures you compose!

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