I planned a trip to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park during the best time to catch fall color (first or second week of November). Since the trip was for photography, I deliberately scheduled the actual hike for a weekday to minimize the number of people I will have to contend with. I was wrong! There were people and more people and more people. A group of foreign photographer tourists clearly broke the law by teaching a workshop in the Narrows with a group larger than 8. This did not bother me. What bothered me was the fact that they would hog a spot for 30-45 minutes. When you see so many people why not get your shot in 3 to 5 minutes and give others a chance?
Either way, this is not my topic today. Rather, I want to address the topic of how to get people-free images when the landscape is littered with people everywhere. What are we as photographers to do? Getting upset and feeling frustrated are normal responses but when we think about it, what makes us so special to want the place to ourselves? Why would these people not have the same right to enjoy the views? With that settled, let's get back to how to get people-free images.
Firstly, I simply asked people behind me to please kindly wait for 20 seconds while I am exposing the image. This worked very well and all the people complied with my request. However effective this may be it does not solve the problem of people further away, those already out there in the image. This image had no less than seven people in the image. Just to the left of this frame was the group that would stay in place for 30+ minutes. At times we may have to reframe our composition if there is no other way to eliminate the people from the scene. If people are ruining an image and just staying there, there is nothing much we can do other than recomposing and kissing that wonderful composition good buy. Waiting for them to leave is not always an option as, by the time they move the sun has set, the light is gone, the cloud has moved, etc. If people are on the move there is a great technique that works wonderfully to eliminate people from the scene.
Take two images 10 to 20 seconds after each other. Make sure that your expose values are kept the same between the two images (shoot in manual). Now bring the two images into your editing software as two layers, one image on top of the other one. Highlight both layers, click on edit, then on auto-align (I am using photoshop here, other software may be different). Now simply add a layer mask and paint over any person on the top layer. Voila, your image is perfect, without people.
The reason why this works so great and is so quick to edit is that the people in the scene are moving. In the second image shot 10 or 20 seconds later the person has walked to a different position. So when we paint over the person we are simply seeing the first image from the layer below. When that image was taken the person being erased was at a different place, hence the real imagery from the layer below replaces the person.
This is a fantastic method and takes but a few seconds to edit. Using the healing brush to get rid of people in our image works great when they are small in the image, but does not work well when the people consume a larger part of your image. This technique works regardless of the size of the person in our image as long as he or she is moving between the two images. If you want to be really safe consider taking three images to guarantee that one of the three images will be person-free at the spot where you need it to be.
So don't sweat about moving people, just use this method to solve the problem.
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