The worst part about taking photos of monuments and city streets is that you always get cars and people blocking the architecture behind them. It can be very distractive, and they take away from the real subject. In this Photoshop tutorial, you will learn a technique that will allow you to quickly remove people and cars from your photos. You do need to plan ahead and take multiple photos, but the results will be amazing!
Photoshop has this little-known feature that has been around for over a decade called Image Stack Modes.
The Image Stack Modes are sort of like a Blending Mode that blends layers inside of a Smart Object in a certain way depending on the algorithm that you select.
One of those Stack Modes is Median, which takes a statistical average of the content found in all the photos in the stack. It will keep identical areas and remove everything that changes between the different shots. It is very likely that cars and people will move and change locations from one shot to the next. Thus, you can remove people and unwanted traffic when the algorithm is applied, leaving only the background.
The tricky part is to get the right photos for this Stack Mode to work. Ideally, you should take your photos on a tripod so that the images line up better during the blend. However, if you do not have a tripod, hold your camera as steady as possible when shooting your images and you will still get great results.
The pictures that we will be using in this tutorial were shot by hand with a mobile phone. I wanted to use photos that were less than perfect so that you could see the power of this technique.
When you take your photos, wait about 20 seconds or so in between each shot. You want to give people and cars enough time to move. In most cases, you will need between 8 to 25 photos.
Bring Your Photos into a Single Photoshop Document
The first step is to bring the image files into Photoshop as layers in a single document. To do so, go to File > Scrips > Load Files into Stack…
In the “Load Layers” window select “Folder” from the “Use” drop down. Then click on the “Browse” button, and look for the folder containing your images. Press OK after you have selected the folder.
The file names will appear within the window (as shown below). If all the files are there, press the OK button. Photoshop will then take all the files and place them in a single document as layers.
For the Image Stack to work, the layers need to be aligned as best as possible. If you used a tripod when shooting the images, then your layers should already be aligned. The photos used in this tutorial were shot without a tripod, so we will need Photoshop to align them for us.
To align the layers, select them all by pressing Cmd + Option + A (Ctrl + Alt + A on PC). Then go to the Edit menu and select “Auto-Align Layers.” Make sure that “Auto” is selected, and press “OK.” Photoshop will then look through all your layers to find similar pixels and align them accordingly.
Put Aligned Layers into a Smart Object
Now that all the layers are aligned, you need to put them into a Smart Object so that you can apply the Stack Mode. Select all your layers again by pressing Cmd + Option + A (Ctrl + Alt + A on PC). Then right-click the space on the left side of any selected layers and choose “Convert to Smart Object.”
You should now only have a single Smart Object in your Layers Panel.
The Median Stack Mode
Now that all the layers are inside a Smart Object you can control how the set blends by using a “Stack Mode.” Go to Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median.
This Stack Mode takes a statistical average of the content found in all the photos. It keeps identical areas and removes everything that changes between the different shots, such as people walking through the scene.
Faster Way of Doing This – The Statistics Script
You can get to this point in the tutorial by only using one single command!
The reason that I took the long approach was so that you could see what Photoshop was doing behind the scenes. If you get into trouble, then you’ll know what the steps were to create the effect, and you can backtrack to fix the problem.
To do this whole process in a single command, go to File > Scripts > Statistics…
In the Image Statistics window, select Folder you want to use. Click on the Browse button to find the images that you want to use in the Image Stack.
Once the images load, select Median as the Stack Mode, and check “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images.”
This will Auto-Align the images, put them in a Smart Object using the Median Stack Mode. Getting you to this part of the demo all within one window!
Fixing Image Stack Errors
Problems may arise when dealing with background elements that are always moving, such as water, clouds, or flags. In this example, the two flags on top of the Tribune Tower disappear. We can bring them back by copying and pasting a flag from one of the original images.
To see the original images, go to Layer > Smart Object > Edit Contents. A new tab will open that contains the contents of the Smart Object. Then look through your layers to see which of the original layers contains the best version of the item you would like to replace.
Select the Lasso Tool and make a selection around the objects. With the selection active press Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy.
Go back to the working document and press Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V to “Paste in Place.” Repeat these steps with any other object that you need to fix.
Create a Smart Object to Hold it All Together
Select the all the layers by pressing Cmd + Option + A (Ctrl + Alt + A on a PC), right-click on the side of any selected layer and choose “Convert to Smart Object.” This Smart Object can now be adjusted or manipulated as if it were a single layer. You can apply the Camera RAW filter non-destructively to enhance the image color and tone.
Camera RAW Filter to Adjust Tones and Color
Select the Smart Object containing all the layers and open Adobe Camera Raw by going to: Filter > Camera RAW. This filter works a lot like Adobe Lightroom. The controls are in a similar layout and do the same things. Lightroom is built from the Camera RAW engine, so it will be familiar to you if you are a Lightroom user.
You can create an HDR effect by darkening the Highlights and brightening the Shadows. Slide the Highlights slider to the left, and the Shadows slider to the right. Slide the Clarity slider to the right. Clarity adds contrast to the mid-tones.
Finalize the effect by adding Vibrance which is a controlled saturation. Vibrance adds less saturation to already saturated areas, and it protects skin tones in portraits.
Crop Your Photo
If you did not use a tripod, you will see that the edges of the photo are likely misaligned. To remove these imperfections, you can simply crop them out by using the Crop Tool. Press C on the keyboard, then use the handles to adjust the size of the crop. Press Return when you’re done.
This is how the final image looks:
Give this technique for and go try and remove people and cars from your images. Let me know how you make out and if you have any questions, please post them in the comments area below.