Photographing a Busy Scene

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Sometimes we might like to get a photo of a busy scenic location without the people. The busier the place the more difficult this can become. This tutorial will show you how I took a photo at a busy garden with a constant flow of people. There are a few things to keep in mind while reading through this tutorial.

  • Some amount of planning is required while on location. You will need to take multiple shots of the same scene in order to capture different areas where people are absent.
  • Some of amount of work must also be done in Photoshop or another layer capable photo software program.
  • In addition to using layers, you may also need to clone, heal, patch, or use content aware fill.

Taking and organizing the shot

I have Lightroom open and I am looking at three images taken of the same scene. My camera was tripod mounted. I enlarged the thumbnails so we could see the bridge more clearly. I was interested in capturing the bridge and path without anyone on it. It is difficult to tell from the small images here, but there are also people on the top of the ridge. There was seating setup there and folks were camped out. I was unable to get a shot with that area clear, so we will use one technique to remove the people in the foreground and another to remove those on the ridge. You can see in the first two images there is no one on the bridge, however there is either a person approaching the bridge or on the other side. The third shot has someone on the bridge who, once he arrived, stayed there for as long as my camera was set up. Between the three photos I have a clear bridge and a clear path.

 Open as Layers

Select all three images in Lightroom, right click, then select “Edit in” > “Open as Layers in Photoshop”.


Arrange the Layers

Spend a little time arranging the order of the layers so you can make logical choices when it comes to masking different areas. In this case I decided to put the image with the man on the bridge on my top layer. We will look at the other two layers later.

Align the Layers

Before starting we need to make sure the layers are aligned. Select all layers in your stack, click on “Edit”> “Auto-Align Layers”.


From the pop-up dialog box select “Auto”.

Link the layers

We want to link the layers in case we do any cropping or resizing. When the layers are linked any cropping/resizing done on one layer is done on all layers. Click on the small down arrow just above the layers and select “Link Layers”.

Add Layer Mask to Top Layer

Let’s add a layer mask to the top layer by selecting the top layer and then clicking on the Mask icon at the bottom of the layer palette.

Masking out the People on the Bridge and the Path

Make sure you select the mask for this next step.

Select a soft brush and size to an appropriate size. Set the color selector so that the brush is painting black.

Set Opacity and Flow to 100% for now. You may need to reduce this later.

Lightly brush over the man on the bridge with the brush painting black on the mask. The man disappears revealing the empty bridge on the layer beneath it. If you mask out too much simply switch the color to white and paint white back in until you have the effect you want.

The bridge is now empty but there are still some people on the path I would like to remove.

By turning off the top two layers and revealing only the bottom layer I can see that part of the path is clear in the bottom layer.

To prepare for this I have made all three layers visible and selected the top two.

Right click and select “Merge Layers”. This will merge the two layers that are selected into one layer. There should now be two layers. The top layer is the layer we made by merging layers and the bottom layer has the part of the image we want along the upper path where there are no people. Notice that when we merged the top layer with the middle layer the mask disappeared.


We need to add a new mask to the top layer. Select the top layer and then click on the Mask icon at the bottom of the layer palette. Make sure the mask is selected by clicking on it.

Select a black brush and paint over the people on the upper portion of the path.

There are no longer people on the path or the bridge. However, we still have two areas to deal with. The people on the upper ridge and there are also some people in the trees in the lower right.

At this point I am done with the layers so I have flattened the image.

This leaves a single Background layer.

Dealing with the People on the Lower Right

I have a couple of choices with the people on the lower right. That area of the image didn’t add anything to the photo so I opted to simply crop them out. It may have been better to use the clone tool but this worked well for my purposes.

Dealing with the People on the Ridge

The people on the ridge are a little harder to deal with. I don’t want to crop them out but I don’t want them there either. My solution will be to turn them into daffodils. I have good luck with Content Aware Fill.I have zoomed in close so I can see the folks in the upper left. Using the polygon selection tool I outlined an area around the couple and the three chairs between the trees. Notice that I have made the selection very close to the objects.

From the menu select “Edit” > “Fill”.


From the pop up menu select “Content Aware”.

The people and three chairs have been replaced with daffodils.

It would take several pages and screen captures to detail the removal of each group of people. However, it is as simple as the first group. Simply use the polygon selection tool to select small groups of people and use content aware fill. You may need the clone tool to clean up an area a little, but I removed all the people along the ridge in just a couple of minutes with content aware fill.

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