In the summer many photographers set off to visit iconic places. Often these are once-in-a-lifetime trips where you would like to take pictures without hordes of other tourists getting in the way.

 While you may reduce the numbers of people competing for prime views by visiting at less popular times of the day – or during off-seasons – there’s no way to stop them from inadvertently stepping into your shots. (You also can’t guarantee the lighting will be ideal at unpopular times.)

If there aren’t too many people, you may be able to avoid them by setting up your camera on a tripod and taking a series of shots, combining them in a way that uses the ’empty’ parts of each. But this simply isn’t practical in popular sites where the crowds prevent you from using a tripod.

You have a couple of choices:
1. Move to a vantage point with a view of the scene that can’t be blocked. Shooting from above the site on a ledge or wall that drops sharply in front of you prevents people from stepping into the shot and blocking a large part of the picture.

2. Shoot from a place that reduces the size of the people in the shot. It’s fairly easy (although time-consuming) to clone out unwanted people when they’re only a small part of the picture.

3. Use software with content-aware fill to cover up the people you wish to remove. Purchasers of the latest version of Adobe Photoshop can take advantage of a new ‘Content Aware Fill’ tool that works with both the Spot Healing Brush and the Lasso selection tool. This tool uses synthesised details from the area surrounding the selection to create a ‘fill’ that replaces the selected part of the image.

Both tool sets and strategies will deliver the same end result: a picture that contains no people. However, the time taken to achieve it can be reduced by combining cloning with Content Aware Fill, using both the Spot Healing Brush and the Lasso selection tool. It takes practice to learn which tool works best for different types of images – and how large to make selections for optimal results.

Cloning Out Unwanted Elements
Cloning is fine when it’s clear what the picture should contain. However, to be successful you must be sure what the picture should look like and be able to find similar areas in the image that you can use as sources for the cloning tool.


An interesting view of the iconic Huayna Picchu peak overlooking Machu Picchu that could be improved by removing the tourists in the foreground.


Enlarging the image and using the cloning tool allows you to copy sections of the wall behind the tourists over the people you wish to remove.


However, you have to adjust the size of the brush to meet the requirements of the area you’re working on – and also choose appropriate parts of the background to copy.


Complex areas where walls and steps intersect are often quite difficult to replace.


The end result after two hours of cloning.

Using Content Aware Fill Tools
Like most editing tools, using the Content Aware Fill tool requires practice. When it works, it’s a brilliant time-saver; when it doesn’t you must resort to another replacement strategy. You need to learn exactly what it can and can’t do, how large to make the selection area and when to swap to the cloning and/or other healing or replacement tools.


Open the image and select the Spot Healing Brush tool. Then check the Content-Aware button in the Options bar. (Both are circled in red.) Use the magnifying glass tool to enlarge the section of the image you plan to work on to 100%.


Adjust the brush size to 20 pixels and the hardness to 100% in the Brush Picker settings window.


Then drag the brush across the section of the image where you wish to remove the people.
The Spot Healing Brush can work well on small areas, particularly where the subject matter is not particularly intricate or complex. However, it’s not perfect and can result in blurring both within and around the edges of the target area.

Slightly better results can be obtained with Content Aware Fill when used with the Lasso selection tool. But again, it’s not perfect and you must be careful with what you select. While you can work with large areas when subjects aren’t particularly detailed – and when the selected area is uniform all over – it’s unwise to do so if the subject is detailed or where colours and textures change. Transitions between bright and dark areas aren’t well handled; nor are strong colour differences.


Use the Lasso selection tool to select the area you wish to replace and click on Edit > Fill.


Make sure Content-Aware is selected in the pop-up window.


An example of the problems that can arise when the selection area is too large for a complex subject.


Before and after images showing how effective Content Aware Fill can be with appropriate area selection.

This is an article from Photo Review Magazine Dec-Feb 2010/11 Issue 46.

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