- Removing objects and people from images with Photoshop is a routine task for photographers. Even before digital photography, images were often manipulated in the physical darkroom.
- Commercial photography, as well as art photography, is rarely concerned about replicating reality. In the first instance, images are edited to reflect the vision of an art director, or a client. In the second, the artist will endeavour to materialise his inner vision – which may or may not match the outside reality.
- Jesús Ramirez runs a popular Youtube channel called Photoshop Training Channel. In this article, we will follow along on his Photoshop tutorial on object removal.
- In Photoshop you can do almost anything using multiple methods, which also applies to object removal. The methods learned in this article, and in Ramirez’s video, utilise the lasso tool, patch tool and the clone stamp tool.
Removing objects or people from images is a task that all serious photographers must learn sooner or later.
The good news is that getting rid of superfluous items in photos can be incredibly fast and easy.
The bad news is that it can also be complicated and time consuming.
It all depends on the number and complexity of the details in the photo you’re working on.
Fortunately, we have a wealth of free material available on the internet nowadays.
Jesús Ramirez, from the Photoshop Training Channel on YouTube, is a popular Photoshop teacher whose thorough but friendly way to introduce his viewers to the intricacies of the Adobe’s popular photography software has earned him over 300,000 followers.
In one of his recent videos, Jesús talks about three basic ways to remove objects from images. If you are at all familiar with Photoshop, you’ll have found out that all tasks in the software can be accomplished in many ways.
The methods covered here are by no means the only options when removing objects in Photoshop.
They are a great selection of techniques that allow you to deal with very simple cases as well as more complicated ones.
Why Would You Want to Remove Objects from Images
If you’re just photographing for yourself, with no professional ambitions, there’s probably no reason to ever remove objects from your photos.
After all, you are documenting what you see. The closer your photographs resemble the actual scene the better.
If you’re photographing professionally or semi-professionally, the situation is completely different.
Professional, as well as art photography, has never been about recording reality in its true form.
Without going into philosophical musings about the nature of reality, and whether photography is capable of replicating it, we may just remark that art photographers, from very early on, have been more concerned with reproducing the image inside their mind than the one outside it.
The inspiration for commercial photography is always financial, and the guidelines for the final product come from art directors or clients themselves.
In both cases, image manipulation, including object removal is a normal part of the photographer’s job.
We are lucky today to have Photoshop and other great image manipulation tools. The tasks that used to require hours and hours of painstaking work in a physical darkroom can now be accomplished easily on the computer.
Photo editing is much faster, cheaper and more convenient than what it used to be.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no learning curve. There certainly is, but with tutorials such as put out by Jesús, that task, too, is easier than before.
Removing a Photo Bomber using a Lasso Tool
In the first photo example on Jesús Ramirez’s video we’re working on an image with three people walking on a beach, a couple and their friend. We’ll be removing the friend from the photo so that the image will only have a man and a woman on a romantic walk along the seashore.
The technique that we’re using starts with us creating a copy of the image by clicking Cmd+J on Mac or ctrl+J on windows.
We then select the Lasso tool from the toolbar. With the Lasso tool, you’ll draw a selection around the object you wish to remove. It’s good to try and follow the border of the object quite closely in order to leave as much background around it as possible.
To subtract from the selection, hold the Option or the Alt key and click and drag on the image.
Clicking and dragging while holding the Shift key will add to the selection.
Next, go into your menu. Click on Edit and choose Fill. From the dropdown menu, select Content-Aware. Check the Colour Adaptation box. Press OK.
On your keyboard, click Cmd+D or Ctrl+D to delete.
Watch magic happen.
The third person should now be removed from the image and the background behind it recreated using the Content-Aware algorithm – which analyses the pixels around the object. From the surrounding pixels, it then deduces what background behind the removed object should look like.
This technique will work beautifully on an image that has a simple background, as in the first example.
If the image background is a little more complicated, you might want to try the technique that Jesús Ramirez explains next.
Removing a Group of People Using the Patch Tool
For the next technique, you’ll once again need to duplicate your image by clicking Cmd+J, or Ctrl+J, if you’re on a windows computer.
Next, we’ll select the Patch tool which you’ll find under the Spot Healing tool, both located in the toolbar. From the Options bar, located below the Menu, check that “Normal” and source are selected.
Using the Patch tool, click and drag around the object you wish to remove. In Jesús’s example, he is going to remove the group of people sitting next to the building near the water.
Once you’ve selected your object using the Patch tool, zoom out a little bit and look for a suitable area on the image to copy a sample from. The area needs to similar to the one you’re replacing.
When you’ve chosen your sample area, click and drag it on top of the object you’re removing. As you’re dragging the sample to its new location, you can see a preview of the selection, which will help you determine where to drop your new selected layer. When you’re happy that the replaced area looks natural, just let go of the mouse. You should now have a new background that doesn’t seem out of place or unnatural.
How to Use the Clone Stamp Tool
Before moving on to the more complicated examples, Jesús demonstrates the use of the traditional Clone Stamp tool. The Clone Stamp works by copying pixels from a similar area which are then painted on the new area.
You can use the bracket keys on your keyboard to make the Clone Stamp bigger or smaller, as needed. Then, all you do is select the area to be copied and click and paint on the target area while holding down the Option or the alt key. The Clone Stamp tool is slower than the Patch tool when replacing large chunks of pixels but it does allow you to be more precise.
Removing a Car Using a Combination of Automatic and Manual Tools
In his next example, Jesús works on an image depicting a woman walking on the street. There’s a car behind the woman which she is partially covering and which we’ll be removing.
This time, we’ll duplicate the image layer twice by pressing Cmd+J or Ctrl+J twice. We will then rename the layers by double clicking on the name of each layer. We’ll name the top layer as the Model and the bottom layer as the Background.
According to Jesús, separating the tasks on different layers makes it easier to work on the image, and this certainly makes sense: complicated jobs become manageable when they’re divided into the building blocks that they consist of. This principle is also true when it comes to Photoshop.
After renaming the layers, we’ll select the Model layer by clicking on it. We will then select the Quick Selection tool from the Toolbar and make a selection around the model.
If you’re using Photoshop CC, you can see what the Photoshop will accomplish with its new auto selection function. To do this, click on Select Subject on the Options Bar. This option will be visible when the Quick Selection tool is selected.
In Jesús’s example, the automatic selection is pretty good but not perfect. You can click and drag on the selection to add to it, or take away from it by holding the option or alt key while dragging.
Overall, the selection doesn’t have to be perfect. The important thing is that the areas near the background object are carefully selected.
The next step is to create a layer mask by clicking on the New Layer Mask button on the Layer Panel while having your Model layer selected. You should now have a layer that only has the model, with a rasterized background.
We’ll later paste the Model layer on the cleaned up background – once we’ve removed the car.
By holding the Cmd or Ctrl key and clicking on the Model layer mask you can now load the layer mask selection. Then, disable the Model layer by unticking the box next to it.
Select the Background layer and pick Modify and Expand from the Select menu. This will enlarge the mask. Jesús expands his mask by five pixels but explains that the pixel number varies, depending on the size of the photo. The photo that he is working on is quite large, warranting the use of five pixels. On smaller images, you might want to use two or three pixels.
By enlarging your selection, you will have created some space between the subject and the background.
You will now press Shift+Backspace or Shift+Delete which brings up the Fill window. Select Content Aware from the Contents box and make sure you have the Colour Adaptation box checked.
Click ok. The model will now be removed from the image and the areas behind the model filled in with the help of the Content Aware tool. The result will not be perfect but we can use it as a basis to continue recreating our background.
How to Recreate the Background
Jesús will now proceed to clean up the background by using a combination of tools, including the clone stamp tool, Rectangular Marquee tool, and simply by copying and pasting. To do this, he’ll need to decide which parts of the background can be duplicated for the purpose of recreating the missing parts of the image, covered by the model and the car.
He starts by selecting an area of the street with the Rectangular Marquee tool. He clicks Cmd+J or Ctrl+J to duplicate the selection. The new layer has the selection on the raster background.
When making the selection, Jesús explains, it is important to use a feather of a few pixels – Jesús uses three pixels – to make it a little fuzzier. You don’t really want selections that are too sharp.
With the original layer and the Background layer selected, Jesús now moves the area selected with the Rectangular Marquee tool to partially cover the car.
Because the selection is slightly darker than the area where it’s been moved, Jesús brightens it slightly using a Levels Adjustment tool. He also “clips” it above the Marquee selection layer, which assures that it will only affect the layer below it.
To fine tune the selection, Jesús selects the Levels Adjustment mask and clicks Cmd+I or Ctrl+I, which makes the mask invisible. He then paints white with the Brush tools on the mask. This will allow the adjustment to become visible in the areas where he’s painting.
To merge the Rectangular Marquee selection layer and the Levels Adjustment mask, you choose both layers by clicking on them while holding the Shift key down and then click Cmd+E or Ctrl+E.
You can now copy the finished Marquee selection layer into a new locating using the Move tool while holding down the Option or the Alt key.
This will create additional Marquee layers which, again, you can select using the Shift key and then merge together into one layer by clicking Cmd+E or Ctrl+E.
To remove the car from the image, Jesús duplicates the windows in the building behind the car.
He first creates a new layer and then selects the Clone Stamp tool. To clone areas of the window, Jesús clicks on the window while holding down the Option or the Alt key. In this case, however, he wants to flip the selection horizontally. To do this, you need to select Window on the menu and go to Clone Source. From here, you can choose the orientation of the clone.
The selection is now flipped horizontally, which means that you can paint the selection on top of the other window, partially covered by the car. In this manner, the right side of the intact window can naturally be pasted on to the left side of the other window.
Finishing the Image
All there is to do now, is to copy the area created with Clone Stamp tool and use it to create the other side of the wall obscured by the car. To clean up smaller areas, Jesús keeps using the clone stamp tool.
In the end, the whole wall behind the car will have been recreated using suitable bits and pieces of the uncovered wall around it.
To finish off the image, Jesús merges the Adjustment layers into one single background layer. He now has three image layers: the original layer, the Background layer and the Model layer. He selects the two top layers and clicks Cmd+G or Ctrl+G to merge them into a group which he calls Edit.
On this new layer, he creates a layer mask and paints black on it to reveal the original pixels in the background. He does this in order to get back as many of the original pixels as he can and so avoid some of the more obvious repeating patterns in the cloned layer.
He also works around the edges of the model to fine tune the selection. In this case, he returns the Edit group and selects the Model layer to work directly on it.
The image is ready when the car has been removed and the street under and building wall behind it look natural.
The model is now walking on the street with no car behind her.
You can watch the video tutorial by Jesús Ramirez below.