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How To Make People Disappear

Stewart Falls Trail is a 3.4 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Aspen Grove, Utah. The actual falls are a popular spot on a hot Summer day. The view is spectacular, but if you're a photographer, you'd really like a photo without the people, right? I know I would. It's great that people are getting out into nature, but at the same time, it's hard to visit the true treasures of the planet any more without finding it being a tourist trap. Well, I made these people disappear from my photo at the bottom of this page.

There are a few different ways you get these people out of your photo. You could ask them politely to step out of the frame for a few minutes, but this is a lot of people and I'm not sure that would go over so well.

You could rip a really stinky fart right in the middle of the crowd, but I'm not sure that wouldn't work either.

You could use weapons, like a machine gun or gas grenades, but that would be illegal and highly not recommended.

You could go into Photoshop and if you're really good with the clone tool, you could try cloning them out. That's where you're basically taking another section of the photo and using it to replace the areas where the people are. This would take a lot of time with all these people and would be very hard to pull off and make it look natural. Plus I really want all the rocks, water, branches, etc to be as they were, naturally, when I was there.

So now, this is how I do it. The final photo below is made up of many photos. First of all it's a vertical panorama meaning, specifically on this shot, I shot the top of the falls, then the middle and then the bottom. Each shot was exposure bracketed, meaning I took 7 shots of each section at different exposures. This allows me to get more dynamic range. Basically I'm exposing for all the lighting conditions from extreme highlights to extreme shadows, since the sun is harsh. So that's 21 shots right there.

But when it comes to the people, this requires many more shots. All this is done on a tripod so the camera is shooting all the shots from the exact same position. As you can see in this photo to the right, the people are in different locations from the main shot above. All of these people have to move at some point, right? They may not leave, and when they do, someone else is sure to replace them. But if you hang out long enough, the couple having lunch on the rock to the left will get up and leave. You take a shot while that spot is vacant. Then the girl playing in the water will leave. Take another shot. The group of people crossing the river will eventually cross. Take another shot. And so on. Are you getting where I'm going? Take enough shots so that you have at least one shot of each section with no one in it. Then you layer all of them in Photoshop and mask out the sections with people. If all goes well, you have enough sections without people to make the area look empty. Waaalaaaa, vacant waterfalls!

Now there are some factors to consider. I was there for a little over an hour taking pictures from the same spot. In that time, the weather could change, meaning your lighting could change. It's definitely long enough for the sun to move so your shadows are changing. But, if you can keep the overall lighting the same, and just mask out small sections, you'll never notice the difference. And that's how I did this shot.

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