If you’ve ever tried to take a photo of an area and had people constantly enter your shot, I can feel your frustration. Just think about it. You’ve either got your tripod set up or you’re just standing there with your camera at a train station, mall, city square or anywhere else people tend to frequent and every single time you take a photo, you find that someone had walked right into your scene. This happens all the time, so don’t sweat it. Actually, Adobe Photoshop has a tool to fix the problem I’m referring to. So, if you’ve ever wondered how these great photographers who post their images all over the place online get those magical shots of empty city centers in Europe, I’m about to show you their secret.
By the way, the process I’ll cover down below is also useful for passing cars that don’t belong in your “empty road” shots and animals that tend to wander nearby or fly right your your otherwise beautiful sunset photo.
In today’s post, I’ll use three photos of a wonderful sunset. In each shot, the photographer attempted to capture just the sunset, without any distractions. Unfortunately, there were some pesky birds nearby that kept flying through his scene. Because this photographer knew how to remove the birds using Adobe Photoshop, he didn’t mind them at all. He took his shots and went how to enjoy some tea.
Okay, so I’m not using people for this demonstration as I would have loved to because I just couldn’t come up with the perfect sequence of photos. I’m substituting these birds in instead. What’s important here is the process, not the subjects of the photos. As I continue through this tutorial, think about how you might use this same process for your own experiences. Remember, for this to work, you’ll need to keep your camera steady and capture multiple shots of the same exact scene, with only minor differences in each one. For example, let’s say you were standing on the corner of a street in an attempt to take a nice photo of a building across the way. The problem is, cars kept passing by. What you would do is take four or five shots of the building and not concern yourself with the cars. They can be easily removed later on.
Here are the images that I’ll be using for this post. They’re fairly identical, except for the random birds that were caught in the shots.
My goal is to remove these birds from the photos in order to present one final photo void of birds altogether.
Loading as Photoshop Layers
Okay, let’s get going. To begin, the first thing I’m going to do is to open the three images I have to work with into Adobe Photoshop as layers in the same file. To accomplish this, I’ll open Adobe Bridge, locate the files, click on them to select them and then head up to the Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers menu item and click. This will transfer the three images into one file in Photoshop and each image will be in its own layer in the Layers panel. Take a look.
Aligning the Layers
Now that I’ve got the layers inside of Photoshop, I’ll need to align them. This step is very important because it’s rare that multiple photos will have exactly the same alignment, even if a tripod was used. To align the layers, I’ll click on the top one in the Layers panel, hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and then click on the bottom one. This should select all three of them. Then, I’ll head over to the Edit > Auto-Align Layers menu item and click.
When the Auto-Align Layers dialog box appears, I’ll keep the setting on Auto and then click the OK button.
Converting to a Smart Object
The next step I’ll need to take is to convert the three individual layers into one Smart Object. To do this, I’ll select all the layers in the Layers panel once again and then I’ll right-click on any one of them. When the menu appears, I’ll click on Convert to Smart Object.
Creating a Stack Mode
This next step is going to blow your mind. You’ve most likely never heard of a Stack Mode. I’m also guessing that you didn’t know that Photoshop allows you to take the “average” of multiple photos. For example, in the three photos I’m working on, the average of two of the photos in a particular area might be the sky. In one of those photos though, a black bird might be in that very spot. By using a stack mode and taking the average of that specific area, the bird would disappear and the sky would prevail. It’s a crazy helpful tool, so I’ll show you how to use it right now.
Now that I’ve got the three images combined as a Smart Object, I’ll go to the Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median menu item and click.
In this case, all the birds will disappear and my project will be completed. If I had chosen the Mean option from the menu, some of the birds would simply fade out while the ones all the way to the right would disappear all together.
Removing Faded Birds
As I just mentioned above, using the Median option of the Stack Mode completely removed the birds from the image I’m working on, so as of this point, my project is completed. I’ve done what I set out to do. The problem here is called reality. This almost never happens. What usually happens is, depending on how many photos you’ve taken, you’ll likely have a few faded objects in your Smart Object that still need to be removed. In this section, I’ll show you how to do just that. To assist me, I’ll be using the Mean Stack Mode as opposed to the Median one I described above.
To remove the faded birds, I’ll double-click on the Smart Object thumbnail in the Layers panel. Doing this will open up a new tab that contains the individual layers again. I’ll find one of the layers that has the original birds that are now faded in it and then I’ll select that layer. Then, I’ll go to the bottom of the Layers panel and I’ll click Add Layer Mask button. This will add a new mask to the layers in question.
Next, I’ll use the Brush Tool with a resized and very soft brush to paint black over the birds in the photo. This will make them disappear. I’ll do this for both layers where the birds are visible.
After that, I’ll make sure all of the layers are visible and then I’ll use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to clean up any areas that look unnatural. I’ll make sure the Sample All Layers box up in the options bar is checked so all of the layers are taken into account.
When I’m finished with this, I’ll close the tab, click on Save to save it and then take a look at my final image. There’s more I could do to clean the image up at this point with the Spot Healing Brush Tool if I needed to, but I don’t see any need for that. In that case, the project is completed.
You may be asking yourself why I didn’t simply use masks to remove the objects in the first place. The answer to that is that I could have. That’s always an option. The thing is, when you take the median of the images together in a Stack Mode, you’re blending them so they’re nearly identical. When is comes to the mask work later on, it’s minimal. In my case with the images I worked on today, things were very straightforward and simple. If this were a much more complex image, I definitely would have needed every bit of extra help I could garner.
I hope I clearly explained how to remove people, animals and moving objects from a stack of photos using Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below or in the Photoshop discussion forum. Thanks for reading!