Monday, February 27, 2012

Removing People from Your Pictures - A Photography How-To

So, you arrived at a very famous touristy spot. You set up your tripod, waited for that oh-so-perfect moment, then, waited for the people to clear out.

Well, that's when everything falls apart - you waited for the people to clear out. Well, people are there simply because it is a famous spot and people won't be there if it isn't. (Well, it's actually a chicken-and-egg conundrum: are people there because it's famous or did the people going to it made it famous? Hmmm...)

Anyway, you might as well be waiting for the time that will never come.

But, there is something that can help you remove the people in your pictures: time.

Wait, before you protest, I am talking about a different kind of time: the shutter speed of your camera.

Take this as an example: I went to Millenium Park in downtown Chicago and, being winter, there is an outdoor ice skating rink. And, being a weekend, there are a lot of people on the ice.

So, after I wrapped the legs of my Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom to one of the fences, I took a series of shots to illustrate my point here.

Here is my first shot:

1/100s

But, see the magic unfold when I use a longer exposure time - the longer the exposure time is, the more people disappear from the shots! Magic! (Note that I was adjusting my aperture as I adjusted my shutter speed to retain the proper exposure.)

1/50s

1/25s

1/13s

1/6s - here, the "ghosting is obvious"

0.3s - the fast moving people are beginning to disappear

0.6s

1.0s - only a few hold ups...

2.0s

4.0s

8.0s - well, these two are really not moving that much, so...


I got lucky here because of the fact that people, on an ice skating rink, are constantly in motion. But, you can see two flaws in using this technique:
  1. If people are just standing in place, or are not that good in ice skating, then there's no way to remove them from the shot.
  2. The longer you open your shutter, the more over exposed your shot would be as was obvious in the last two shots. (I was at the smallest aperture opening so there was no way for me to close it down further.)
The second has a solution - use a neutral density filter. The first... Well, short of shouting at the people to move, I really cannot think of any other solution.

After some time, the ice needed to be maintained so the people where asked to leave the ice so that it can be resurfaced. That would have been an opportune moment - there won't be people on it - though the big old machine might leave a shadow on my shots - it is slow moving after all...

But, at least I was able to minimize the people on the shots. Or, you could just accept the fact that the place is a famous one and include the people in the pictures - that is another shot in itself anyway. :)

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Shots made with a Canon 7D and a Canon EF 24-105  f/4L IS USM lens.

My review of the Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom can be found here.

An example of a neutral density filter can be found here.

Want the best backpack for your DSLR? Check out my review of my favorite, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW, here and here.

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