Pro Photo

Object & Artifact Removal

Sometimes it is desirable to remove objects and/or artifacts from an image.

From Hundreds Of People In A Photo To No People: Object And Artifact Removal At Mansfield Photography
From hundreds of people in a photo to NO people: Object and Artifact Removal at Mansfield Photography

Removing Objects, Easy or Difficult?

By Tim Maxwell

Removing objects and artifacts can range from being quite simple to very complex. There are a few techniques that can be utilized for removing objects and artifacts. I use primarily two methods. See below for these methods and to view before and after images.

Object Removal Method 1

If the objects you want to keep from being in your photo are moving (aka people or animals), the first method is to take multiple, identical photos of your subject. Stack the images together in Photoshop, erase the people/animals from each stacked image, and what is left should be a clean image without people/animals. This doesn’t always work (see example 2 below), but it is often effective. When it does not work, or can’t be used, then I move to my second method. 

Object Removal Method 2

If the objects you want to remove can’t be removed using the method above, or you have artifacts that need to be removed, then method two is to manually remove each object/artifact and rebuild that part of the image to ensure it looks real. Photoshop has a nice tool to remove objects & artifacts, but it is limited. If the object/artifact needing removal is simplistic, the tool works rather well. However, it will not work well in complicated scenarios. I still will always start with Photoshop to remove objects/artifacts as it aids the process. In complicated scenarios, I will rebuild the image, sometimes at the pixel level, to attain realistic looking results. I want a user to be able to zoom and never know an object was removed. 

Example #1:

This waterfall had people walking back and forth continuously, so I would have had to wait a long time to get a person-free image. This is the classic use of method 1 above – take multiple photos and stack them together, removing each person. It worked great as you’ll see in the processed image.

However, I laugh at myself because you see the guy sitting in the picture at the bottom left? I was so focused on getting images to stack together to remove the people walking by the waterfall that I completely missed seeing him! He was in every image I took…How stupid was that? 

So the bottom left corner, I had to remove the person manually and rebuild. I am not at all happy with the result, but it is not bad… just not what it should be. 

If you are wondering why the people are blurry, it is because I used a slow shutter speed to make the water look misty… knowing I was removing the people in the end. 

After Before

Example #2:

This is a cutaway of an image I took of the Biltmore house in Asheville, North Carolina. I wanted a nice, clean image of the house without the tourists in front of it. The people at the door going all the way to the right of the image were almost constant. In this example, taking multiple images and stacking them was pointless, so I had to remove every single person you see in the ‘before’ picture manually.

When you think about each person being removed, I then had to ‘rebuild’ the house brick by brick in the areas where the people were to ensure the image remained life-like. I also removed the garbage cans in front of the doors, the flag in upper left, as well as the chain link fence stretching the entire image from left to right.

After Before
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Learn More About My Processes, and to View ‘Before and After’ Images: