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Making People Disappear

You are at a Living History museum, castle or stately home or some other event and you can't get photographs without all the tourists in the way. So how do we get over this.

If we can of course its easier to take images without the people, so before we look at the other solution lets look at how taking this without the people might be possible.

  • First and last - being first through the door or hanging back when everyone is leaving may get you the shot you want.
  • Just waiting until there is a gap, or perhaps activity elsewhere that people are attracted to. If the flow of people is not too great this may be a solution.
  • Politely asking a few people if they wouldn't mind waiting, will often provide a solution where its a path or similar and the flow of people is not too great.
  • Asking the attraction, place and if you can enter earlier, stay later or enter on a day they are normally closed to get what you want. If its a small family run place, a garden only open some days or a place run by enthusiasts you will often get a positive answer. In Britain few ask. Larger places will often have marketing and Public Relations people, and if you have a reason that is beneficial to them then its likely they can arrange things for you, providing that you want to enter when they have staff on.
  • Of course if its a commercial job, you could offer to pay, and then nearly anything becomes possible.

Assuming that none of these are possible, then how do we get over the problem.

The solution involves a stack of images, and editing in a software program such as Photoshop.

  1. You put your camera on a tripod and lock it up solid.
  2. Put your camera onto manual (you can use the 'P', 'S', or 'A' modes to determine the exposure and do a test first to get the right effects).
  3. Take a number of photos, trying to make sure that people are at different points in the scene. Take quite a few, although you probably won't need many.
  4. Put the images, or selected ones, onto separate layers in Photoshop (or similar), and get the layers all perfectly lined up. You can do this automatically or just turn the transparency down so that they become ghost images and can be lined up.
  5. With all images back to normal, working on the top layer only, just rub away (to transparency) the people, you then see the image underneath.
  6. If anyone is on the next layer down showing through then switch to that layer and rub them out, you don't need to rub out all the people on each layer only those that show through the layer rub outs above. In most cases you will only need about three pictures, although its just as easy to start with say 5.
  7. When its what you want then flatten the layers, and you have the image you want.

So what can go wrong, and how do you get over these problems.

  • Things can move, for example clouds, vehicles, flags, but if you are careful not to rub out these areas its not a problem.
  • The light can change, for example sun going behind clouds and the like, in which case you need to just select a period when its not changing.
  • There could be a constant stream of people, i.e. a non stop line.  But this is unusual. Where you have more people you generally just need more photos so as to be able to find the gaps on layers with no people.
  • Someone just stands in place and doesn't move. Get someone to ask them to move for you,  just a few yards will do, or just wait.
  • The camera moved, you didn't have it locked up solid enough, if so then just slide the images to line them up and after flattening, crop if necessary.

You can use this technique to remove people or moving vehicles from street scenes, and for many other uses. Even where things are moving as long as there is nothing moving in the area you are going to rub out.

Have a go somewhere, you could do a trial in a local park or similar, just so you have the confidence to feel you can use it in the future.


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