Sometimes I get quite frustrated when a beautiful scene gets overcrowded by other people. It is the unspoken truth about travel photography: many of the most beautiful places in the World, are quite often overcrowded by tourists. So even the most beautiful travel photos you see online may have been taken in very crowded locations. So, how do you create your desired travel photos without tourists photo-bombing your perfect picture? Don’t stress, there are two very simple solutions!
The first one is to ensure you get out of bed VERY early, to beat the big herds to it. Because (sssst, don’t tell anyone else), 99% of the tourists don’t like to wake up early: it’s their holiday! Buttt…. still, it might be hard to avoid getting other people in your frame (or you want to snuggle a little bit longer yourself). With this tutorial I will show you in 7 simple steps how to avoid this annoyance!
So how do you get from the left hand side of the photo (with many tourists), to the right, with no-one at all?
Plan your photo!
When you can’t get around having other people in your shot, follow this easy step-by-step guide:
Step 1: set up your camera on a sturdy tri-pod, and position your camera so you get your composition right. Once you are set-up, you can’t change your composition so ensure you are perfectly happy with it!
Step 2: identify the areas where people are visible in your photo, or may walk into your photo.
Step 3: once you have identified those areas, break your frame into sections, like you see in the example below. This is a process you do in your mind, so keep it simple and don’t create too many sections.
Step 4: as you can see, section 1, 2 & 5 are empty. No people are visible in those sections of the photo. So, the trick is to take as many photos as you need, to have at least all sections empty once. My next photo was the one below, where section 4 & 6 are empty. I needed a total of 5 photo’s before I had all empty sections.
It is very important that you don’t change your camera settings in between taking the different shots. You want to make sure that the exposure and depth-of-field is the exact same in all picture you take. For that reason it is best to shoot these images in the manual (M) mode. Set your camera to the perfect settings, and use these settings for all photos you will take. If you are not comfortable with this mode, choose the Aperture (AV or A) setting.
Step 5: now that is done, the last few steps will be done once you are back home: post production. So, switch on your computer and open Lightroom. Import your photos the way you normally would and edit the first photo until you are happy. Think about exposure, colours etc. Once done, you select all the photos you have taken (to create your 1 image without tourists), and synchronise the settings of the photo you have just edited to ensure all ohotos are edited the same. You do this by clicking the ‘sync settings’ button below the editing panel. Now open all images as LAYERS in Photoshop (selects all photos, right click on one photo, select ‘edit in’ followed by ‘open as layers in Photoshop’). If you are not familiar with these processes, please read my tutorials about importing & basic editing of your photos in Lightroom first.
For the next steps you need to have a basic understanding of “layers” and “layers masks”. Please read my tutorial about this subject here, if the description below is too hard for you to understand.
Step 6: now you have all images loaded as layers in Photoshop, you choose the photo with most of the empty sections to be your base layer (drag this image to the bottom of your layer panel). Make all the layers above your base layer invisible by clicking on the eye-symbols next to the layers. You will now only see the image with the least amount of people (your base layer). (ps. if you are not 100% sure whether your camera has been steady during capturing the pictures, select all layers, go to “edit” and hit ” auto-align layers. this ensures perfect alignment. I suggest you do this just to be sure)
Step 7: Now create a BLACK layer mask on the layer directly ABOVE your base layer (press alt and click on the mask icon, to the right of the Fx symbol), and make the second layer visible by clicking on the eye symbol again. This black layer mask ensures you will now again only see the base layer, because all areas which are black in the mask will be hidden. Now select your brush tool (keyboard shortcut ‘b’), ensure you have selected the black layer mask by clicking on the black rectangular mask icon of the layer (and not the actual image on the layer), ensure your brush is set to white, set the opacity to 100% and the hardness anything below 80%. Now paint over the sections in which people show on your base layer, but are empty in the second layer (in my case the areas of sections 4 & 6). You now simply brush out the people that show in those sections! Repeat this with the other layers and you will get an amazingly clean result: a photo with no tourists!
Ps. there are some other ways to get the same result, like photographing with a ND filter. This ensures you can use a long shutter speed, which basically fades out all people walking along. Not many people have this filter however, which can be expensive and another piece of equipment to carry. Another option is to follow step 1 to 4 of this tutorial, followed by using blending modes in Photoshop. This however works sometimes perfectly well, but most of the times it just doesn’t do the trick. So, this tutorial will always give you satisfying results!