How to Remove People & Moving Objects From a Photo in Photoshop

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May 7, 2021
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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.

Demo Photos​

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.

birds001.jpg birds002.jpg birds003.jpg

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!


May 7, 2021
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How Do I Open Many Photos into One File in Photoshop?​

Question: I have seen this technique out there quite a bit and would love to know how to do it. I plan on taking tons of photos during a vacation I have coming up and I know that there will be tourists all over the place. The thing is, I don’t want these tourists in my pictures. Is there a way to take multiple shots of the same thing and then somehow remove the people from the pictures so it looks like they were never there? Or, that the area I’m photographing is empty or deserted? I’ll be shooting typical things, such as town squares, fountains, buildings, monuments, etc…

Answer: Okay, what you’re referring to is called Stacking and it’s totally possible to accomplish what you’d like to accomplish here. The trick is to capture your photos while using a tripod and the camera is completely still. A remote shutter button would be perfect in this type of situation. Also, make sure you’re camera is set to manual focus because you don’t want it focusing and refocusing on every person walking by. All of the images need to have been focused on the same object. Actually, if you can shoot in full manual mode, that would be even better. That way, the camera won’t be automatically changing shutter speed and aperture depending on the available light. Light can change over just a few minutes. Be sure people in the scene are moving as you’ll need them in different areas in each photo. It’s no use taking multiple shots of the same people sitting on the edge of a fountain in each image.

When you have a set of photos (probably around 10), go ahead and browse to their location in Adobe Bridge. Then, select them in Bridge and open them into Camera Raw. To reduce strain on your computer’s processor, edit just one of the photos until you’re happy with the way it looks. Then, select all of the photos in the left column in Camera Raw by using the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl (Command)+A and then right-click on the top image and click on the Sync Settings option from the menu that pops up. This will open up the Synchronize dialog box, where you should choose the Everything option and click OK. Basically, what you just did was edit one photo and then apply those edits to all the other almost identical photos. The reason you didn’t select all of the images and edit them at once was because that’s a slow process. It can drag on your computer and use a lot of RAM.

When you’re finished with that, click the Done button in Camera Raw to return to Bridge. This was just the primary editing portion of your project. You didn’t ask about this, but I told you anyway. It’s a good idea to get this type of thing out of the way so you can move on.

Now, to answer your question, yes, you can open up all of the photos at once in Photoshop so they are all in the same file. To do this, go into Photoshop and click on the File menu. Then, click on the Scripts > Load Files into Stack option. After you do this, the Load Layers box will open up, where you should browse to locate your images. When you find them, select them and open them. Once you do this, you should see them listed in the Files window in the same Load Layers box.

If you think the camera may have moved slightly during your initial photography, you can choose the Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images box and then it’s important to select the Create Smart Object After Loading Layers option. This will do exactly what it says it will do. Both of these check box options are located directly below the list of files. When you’re ready, click the OK button to load the images into one Smart Object inside of Photoshop. If you double-click on the Smart Object in the Layers panel, you’ll see your image stack.

I hope this helped.

How To Remove People From Multiple Pictures​

Question: Oh my gosh! Thank you so much. Your explanation of the steps was perfect. I went through the process you explained with some sample pictures a number of times and I would say that I am now an expert. My question now has to do with how I can remove people from the photos after I take them. As you said, I need to take the shots as people are walking around. Is there an easy way to get rid of them by using Photoshop?

Answer: Yes, Photoshop has many tools that will allow you to remove moving objects from very similar images. If one of those objects sits for too long and doesn’t move, obviously that object won’t disappear, but if you have people milling about a town square or near some other popular vacation landmark, you can certainly try getting rid of them by using the Mean feature that Photoshop offers.

Click on the Smart Object I previously referred to in the Layers panel and then go to the Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Mean menu item and click. Once you do this, Photoshop will hang for a few seconds as it evaluates all of the photos inside of the Smart Object. When it’s finished, you should see most of the people in your final product disappear. What happened was Photoshop took the average (mean) of all the areas inside of all the photos and if there were any spots that weren’t like the others, it would remove those spots. That’s why I said that the people in the pictures need to be moving. If some of the people are stationary for too long in too many photos, they’ll become the average and won’t go away. Try this out and let me know what happens. Find some demo images to work with and reply here. I also have a few other tips for you to help with this type of situation.

Reply: Thank you again. I truly appreciate your reply. I went out and took some demo photos at a park yesterday and I followed your instructions. They were perfect. I opened the photos in Photoshop as a stack and then used the Mean command to filter out all the people. The only problem I’m now facing is that there seems to be some ghosting of people in the final result photo. They’re not dark or fully saturated or anything, but there’s a very light version of them in some areas. Also, there are some small objects I’d like to remove from the images as well. Do you know how to remove the ghosting and the objects from the Smart Object stack of photos? Thank you.

Reply: I had a feeling this very scenario would transpire. This typically occurs when the people in your stack of images aren’t moving fast enough (or standing on one place, not moving at all) or if you haven’t taken enough photos for the Mean command to filter them out. Don’t worry, it’s no problem. Basically, at this point, you can use the Clone Stamp Tool to clean things up.

Go to the Layers panel in Photoshop where your Smart Object is located. Then, create a new, empty layer and place that layer above the Smart Object in the panel. After that, activate the Clone Stamp Tool in the left toolbar and then go to the top options bar and make sure the All Layers option is set from the Sample drop-down box.

Basically, at this point you can begin removing anything in the resulting image that you don’t want there anymore. So, if you see a hat on the ground that you want gone, click to the left or the right of it to take a sample of the surrounding area and then brush over the hat. You can do this same thing with the ghosts of the people you can still see in the photos. Working with the Clone Stamp Tool is very easy once you get the hang of it, but can drive you a little nuts until that point. I suggest you read this post to get caught up if you haven’t already.

Copying Objects & Areas with the Clone Stamp Tool in Adobe Photoshop

Reply: This worked perfectly. Thank you. Now, for my final question (hopefully). Is there a way to edit this final photo? I’d like to make some additional changes to the contrast, white, blacks, etc…now that’s it’s been completed. I know the Smart Object consists of the entire stack of pictures, so it would be very difficult to go back and edit them individually at this point. Can I somehow edit the Smart Object as a whole?

Answer: Yes, you sure can edit the Smart Object you’ve been working on. Since you now have two layers in the Layers panel, you’ll need to create a new Smart Object that contains those two layers. Don’t worry, you can nest Smart Objects within Smart Objects. To do this, select both the Smart Object and the new almost empty layer that are in the Layers panel and right-click on one of them. Then, choose the Convert to Smart Object option in the menu that pops up. Once that’s done, all you should see is your new Smart Object in the Layers panel.

At this point, it’s very simple to return to Camera Raw to make any changes you’d like to the overall final image. Go to the Filter > Camera Raw menu item and click. This will bring you into Camera Raw, where you can make your edits. When you’re finished there, click the OK button to return to Photoshop. It’s that simple.

Using Camera Raw as a Filter Inside Adobe Photoshop


May 7, 2021
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How Can I Remove People Who are Walking Through a Scene in a Photograph?​

Question: I know there are a few ways to do this, but I’m not sure about the exact instructions for any of them. Here’s my problem; I went on vacation to Italy a few weeks ago and I took many photos of the beautiful cities there. I didn’t use a tripod, but I kept my camera very steady while photographing. There were many people walking through the scenes I liked, but not so many that the area was overly crowded or anything. Basically, I took multiple shots of each scene (probably around five each) because I knew that if I did that, the people would be in different spots in each shot. I could then take the photos back to Photoshop and somehow remove the people. I saw a video on Youtube a while back where the guy in the video did exactly what I’m looking to do here. He used masks on his layers. Would anyone happen to have the exact instructions for getting rid of people or moving objects from a group of almost identical photos where the people are in different places each time?

Answer: You can totally do this, but which method you choose depends on the circumstances in which you took your photos. Let’s say you set up a tripod and captured two photographs of a scene. In every which way, the photos are identical, except that in one photo, a person is standing in one spot and in another, a person is standing in another spot. It would be very simple to import both of these images into Adobe Photoshop as layers and then use masks to simply mask the first person out of the first photo and then the second one out of the second photo. Since everything in the images is perfectly lined up, you’d never know those people were there because their now empty places would be filled in by the alternate image.

Things get much more complicated when there are people milling about in an area and if the images aren’t completely 100% lined up with one another. It’s sometimes impractical to simply mask out each and every person, so bigger tools are necessary. These tools include the Auto-Align Layers feature in Photoshop, Smart Objects, Stack Modes, Masks and using the Spot Healing Brush Tool. I’m not sure if this would be considered an advanced topic, but I can tell you that once you get through it once, it’s as easy as pie. That’s for sure. I’ll cover the process for you below and if you want, you can check out my recent post on removing moving objects from a photo using Adobe Photoshop.

By the way, I’m assuming you’re referring to a scene like this one below.


This is exactly the type of place where people would be passing by, walking right through your shot. There’s nothing you could do about that other than to take multiple photos in the hopes that the people are in different positions in each one.

Okay, I’ll tailor my example to your situation. You first said that you took approximately five photos per scene. That’s great. That should be enough, as long as there are some spots were people aren’t. You may need to use some spot healing towards the end if there are people left over, but we can deal with that later on. To start out, we’ll need to get the images into Photoshop as layers. To do this, open Adobe Bridge and locate your images. Select all five of them for your first scene and then go to the Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop as Layers menu item and click. What this does is it takes all of your selected files and transports them into Photoshop and places each one of them in the same tab, but as different layers.

You also said that you handheld your camera, which means that these photos are in no way aligned. We’ll need to fix that. To do so, click the first layer in your Photoshop file, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and then click on the last layer. All layers should be selected. Then, head up to the Edit > Auto-Align Layers menu item. Select that one and then, when the box opens, click the OK button. Don’t worry about any of the settings in that box. Auto is fine.

For the next step, you’ll need your layers to be contained in a Smart Object, so go ahead and select all your layers again (if they’re not still selected) and then right-click on any one of them and then choose the Convert to Smart Object option. And finally, go to the Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median menu item and choose that option. What this command does is calculate what’s inside of each layer and then average the pixels therein. So if there’s sidewalk, ground or building in four of your photos, but a person standing there in the fifth photo, that person will be averaged out by the others. After taking this step, you should see most of the people in your images disappear.

I’m sure all of the people won’t disappear though so you’ll need to continue on with a few more steps. I know, this is a long process, but like I said, once you get used to it, it becomes like second nature.

To remove the lingering humans, double-click on the Smart Object thumbnail in your file. Then, when the new tab opens, find the layer that contains the offending person or people. Select that layer and then click on the Add Layer Mask button down at the bottom of the Layers panel. Mask out those people and when you do, you’ll see the areas that you photographed, void of them altogether. Finally, if there are any artifacts left over that you want to get rid of, you can click to select the top layer and then use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to brush those areas away. Just be sure to have the Sample All Layers box in the options bar checked because if you don’t, you’ll only be affecting the very top layer with your brushing. You want to have an effect on all the layers.

When you’re all finished and when you’re happy with your results, close the tab that contains the individual layers. Photoshop will ask you if you want to save it. Click to save and then your file with the Smart Object in it will update automatically.

I know this seems complicated, so please ask me if you have any questions. You can also read through the post I wrote that discusses this topic. I include screenshots of much of what I covered here, over there. Thanks!