Remove tourists with ND filters and/or Photoshop

If you’re aiming for that picture-perfect, postcard-style shot, then you possibly don’t want a whole heap of tourists in your photo. Here's how to remove them from a scene.

How do you get around this problem? Well, one option is to shoot at an hour when people aren’t likely to be about. Places like cathedrals may accept a donation in return for taking a few photos after they’ve officially closed. But this isn’t possible or practical for most situations, so you’ll either need to blur them out, or remove them post-capture.

Use an ND filter
Shoot a long enough exposure and any people moving through your shot will simply be blurred out. One method for doing this is to use a 10-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed right down. These light stopping filters make it harder for the light to enter the lens, and the light is reduced by 10 stops with a filter such as Lee Filter’s Big Stopper. This turns a shutter speed of 1sec into 16 minutes!

A tripod is a necessity for this technique. The drawback is you may not have the luxury of time and you could be asked to move on if you stand in the same place in a crowded tourist hotspot with your tripod on display. Circular ND filters screw into your lens’ front filter thread, while square NDs drop into a filter holder that’s attached to the lens. Filters can be a bit of a faff to use and take up extra space in your kit bag, so they’re not great for travelling light. Not to worry, there’s a filter-free method too…

Shoot multiple images and stitch them together
If you take multiple images at standard shutter speeds and merge the good parts of the images from your exposures together, you’ll be able to remove the people from your shot. The trick is to take enough photos to give you all the pieces to create the shot without the crowd – a bit like a Photoshop jigsaw puzzle! 

Multiple image example 1

Multiple image example 1

Multiple image example 2

Multiple image example 2

Frame up on your scene using a tripod if possible, and lock the focus on your main point of interest. Select aperture-priority and set an aperture of f/8, choose your lowest ISO value (usually 100) and engage the 2sec self-timer. Take your first shot, then check your LCD screen to make sure you are happy with the composition and lighting. Now wait for the people to move into a different position and take another shot. The key here is to get as much of the scene as possible without the people in. I usually shoot around ten pictures to give me the best chance of fully recreating the scene in Photoshop.


1. Align your shots
Back at your computer, load up Photoshop and head to File>Automate>Photomerge. Click Browse, find and highlight the images in your sequence and hit OK. Now set the Layout to Auto, untick Blend Images Together and click OK. This process will have now have put your shots into Layers and aligned them for you. This is useful if you had to shoot your sequence handheld.

2. Erase the people
If the people in your shot are moving quickly, you should only require a few separate shots to recreate the scene. Now that your pics are in Layers, go to the Toolbox and click on the Eraser Tool. Choose a soft brush and hit the [ and ] keys until you’re happy with the brush size. Now brush over the people in the shot to replace them with the ‘good’ part of the Layer below. Head to Window>Layers and in the Layers panel click on the eye icon next to each Layer to hide/activate them. You’ll need to work out which Layers have the bits you want to keep and which parts you want to erase. When done, go to Image>Flatten Image and save your shot.

Dan Mold is a professional travel and wildlife photographer and a regular contributor to Practical Photography and Digital Photo. He has recently returned from an epic adventure around Asia and Australia. See more of his work here.