You know what it’s like; you’ve come to a great location, and you want to shoot it as well as possible, but there are crowds of tourists everywhere. They’re milling about and distracting from the subject. So what can you do? You could wait until the crowds have cleared, or you could come back at a time when there are no people about. But those options might not be convenient, especially if you’re on holiday, far from home.
You can also shoot long exposures, which will blur the movement of people in the scene, and so long as the camera is still, the people will smudge, or disappear completely, depending on the length of the exposure. But that requires using a tripod, and if you’re shooting in full daylight, a long-exposure filter, like a Lee Filters Big Stopper, or a B+W 3.0/1000x filter to get the shutter speed low enough.
Instead, why not try this technique. All you need to do is shoot a sequence of images, from the same spot and with the same settings. Then, in Photoshop, combine them. The crowds will still be there, but softer, and less distinct – in many cases this kind of image actually looks more interesting than a crowdless version. Shooting this way can be done without a tripod, too. Here’s how to do it…
Step 1: Set the exposure
To make the shot work, the depth-of-field needs to be the same in all the shots. Switch to aperture-priority mode, and dial in the aperture you want to use. For a scene like the example, an aperture of f/8 gave enough depth-of-field. Next, frame up on the scene and check the shutter speed. If conditions are dim and it’s too low for handheld shooting, for example 1/15sec or below, increase the ISO setting, which will quicken the shutter speed, offsetting any camera shake as you shoot.
Step 2: Focus and image stabilisation
The focus also needs to be the same for all the shots. To achieve this, focus on the part of the scene you want to be sharpest, say for example the building or monument around which people are gathered, to lock the sharpness there. Next, switch to Manual focus, and don’t move the focus ring on the lens after that. While you’re there, make sure that any image stabilisation that the camera or lens has is switched on.
Step 3: Take the shots
Now it’s time to shoot. For the most stable shooting position, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and with elbows tucked in. It also helps to cradle the lens as near the front as possible. Better yet, lean against a wall, or post. Take the first shot, then wait for a few seconds, or for people to move around sufficiently. Then, making sure the framing is the same (it doesn’t need to be identical), take the next. Keep this up for around 10 shots. In the example I shot nine pictures, about 10 seconds apart each.
Step 4: Turn the pictures into a Smart Object
Find all the pics you took and load them into Photoshop. Next go to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack. In the dialogue that appears, click Add Open Images, and then tick the boxes marked Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images and Create Smart Object After Loading Layers. Click OK to begin the process.
Step 5: Blend the images
The images will now all be contained within the same Smart Object, so you can close the originals down. Take a look in the Layers Palette (Window > Layers), and you’ll see the Smart Object there. There may be a ragged look to edges, caused by aligning handheld shots, but ignore this for a moment. To blend the crowds into a blur of people, go to Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Mean.
Step 6: Tidy up the edges
Once the blending is complete, go to Layer > Rasterize > Smart Object. Next press Ctrl+T to enter Free Transform mode. Now, holding the Alt and Shift keys, drag one of the corner handles out to enlarge the picture. Increase the size until any rough edges are removed from view, then click the tick to set it down. Finally go to Layer > Flatten Image, and File > Save As, to save your work.