Having distracting aspects in a photograph is something that happens all too often for photographers. Whether you want a ‘human-free’ landscape, or you want to remove a ‘photo-bomber’, Photoshop is the answer to all your problems.
This article will act as a complete guide to teach you all you need to know in order to remove anything from an image in Photoshop.
Whilst most of the skills discussed in this tutorial are pretty basic, you might first want to become more familiar with the program if you’re a beginner. If so, then we highly recommend that you check out our list of 50 Photoshop Editing Tutorials. Work your way through some of these and you’ll be comfortable with Photoshop in no time!
So, let’s get started!
METHOD ONE: Using Content-Aware Fill
This method is by far the simplest of them all and can sometimes be the most effective. It works by filling a selection with content instead of color and works the best with simple backgrounds.
1: Go to File > Open and Open your Image, then Duplicate it
For this method, we’ll be wanting, as always, to work in a non-destructive way. So, to preserve the original image, we’ll duplicate it and work on the duplicated layer, so that if anything goes wrong, we’ll still have an unedited version of the image to go back to.
So, once the image is open in Photoshop, go ahead and right-click on it in the Layers Window and select Duplicate Layer from the list that appears.
You should now see that there are two copies of the layer in the Layers Window– the original and the Duplicate.
2: Use the Lasso Tool to Select the Object that You Want to Remove
The next thing to do is to select the object that you want to remove. This doesn’t have to be an exact selection, just make sure that it includes the entirety of the object that you want to remove, whilst trying to keep as much of the background as possible not selected.
As we’re just making a rough selection, let’s use the Lasso Tool. It can be selected from the toolbar down the left of the screen by clicking on the icon shown below and is really good when it comes to making rough but quick selections.
With the tool selected, click and hold down your mouse whilst drawing a closed loop around the subject to represent the perimeter of the selection, like below.
3: Choose Edit > Content-Aware Fill to Generate a Fill from the Surrounding Pixels.
When the selection is complete, you’ll see that the solid line has turned into a line made up of moving dots. At this point, head to Edit > Content-Aware Fill.
Alternatively, you can press Shift + Backspace [Win] / Shift + Delete [Mac] to bring up the Fill Dialog Box, and make sure that ‘Content-Aware’ is selected in the Contents dropdown.
With both methods, tick the Color Adaptation option.
The way this tool works is like magic. It will automatically analyse the surrounding pixels within seconds and generate an informed fill of the area you selected, getting rid of whatever distraction it was that you wanted to hide.
If you have a reflection in your image as we do, then simply repeat the process in the areas containing a reflection that you want to get rid of.
And just like below, you’ll suddenly have a seamless, perfectly distraction-free photo!
METHOD TWO: Using the Patch Tool
This method is a step up from the Content-Aware Fill in the previous method. The tool gives us more control since we select the pixels that Photoshop uses to make an informed fill, rather than letting the program do all the work automatically.
1: Open Your Image by Heading to File > Open and Selecting the Image from Your Files, then Duplicate the Layer
With the image open, head to the Layers Window and right-click on the layer. From the list that appears, select Duplicate Layer. Note that this can also be done by pressing CTRL + J [Win] / Cmd + J [Mac].
By duplicating the original image, we ensure that there’s always an unedited version of our photo to revert to, allowing us to work non-destructively.
2: Right-Click on the Spot Healing Tool from the Toolbar at the Left and Choose the Patch Tool from the Dropdown List
For this method, we’re going to use the Patch Tool, which is typically used to cover up larger sections of images.
It’s hidden under the Spot Healing Tool down the toolbar at the left, so it can be selected by right-clicking on the icon shown below and selecting ‘Patch Tool’ from the list that comes up.
Once you’ve chosen the right tool, you should see an options bar that appears along the top of the screen, in which you can set the properties of the tool. Here, make sure that ‘Normal’ is selected in the Patch dropdown, and that ‘Source’ is also selected.
4: Find an Area of the Image that You Want to Replace the Unwanted Area with and Click and Drag the Selection Over to it.
With the selection active, zoom out and identify an area that you want to sample from and use as a replacement for the area that you want to remove.
Then, click and drag the selection over to the area you want to use as the source, like below.
Once you’re happy, release the mouse and press Ctrl + D [Win] / Cmd + D [Mac] to deselect the selection.
You can see that there’s now a gap where the man was before, that has been filled with a manually selected background of duplicated pixels.
Then you can just repeat the process until you’ve cleared the photo of any unwanted elements!
METHOD 3: For more complexe images
This method will take a longer time but will undoubtedly yield the most professional results. The advantage of using this method is that your subject, or the part of the image that you really want to keep, will always be separated from the rest of the photo and will sit at the top of the layers. That way, you can be sure that it won’t be affected and no areas of it will be accidentally hidden.
1: Open Your Image in Photoshop by Choosing File > Open and Duplicate the Layer Twice
Once you’ve opened your image, you’ll want to go straight to the Layers Window where we’ll right-click on the layer and choose Duplicate Layer from the list that appears. Do this twice.
Having two copies of the layer allows us to always have an unedited version of the image to go back to if we make a mistake, and we’ll need three layers so that two of them can be changed into layers dedicated to the subject and the background.
For organisational purposes, double click on the titles of the top and middle layers to name them ‘Subject’ and ‘Background’, respectively.
2: Choose the ‘Subject’ Layer and Use the Quick Selection Tool to Select the Subject, then Create a Layer Mask from the Selection
In the Layers Window click on the layer entitled ‘Subject’ in order to make it active. We’re going to create a selection to use as a layer mask that will isolate the subject on this layer so that we can separate it from the rest of the image.
So, choose the Quick Selection Tool from the toolbar by clicking on the icon shown below.
Then, click and drag over your subject to create a selection of it. You can use the square bracket keys on your keyboard to change the size of the brush.
Once you’re satisfied with the selection, head over to the Layers Window and click on the New Layer Mask icon, as shown below. This will turn your selection into a layer mask that just makes your subject visible and hides the rest of the image on that layer.
3: Ctrl [Win] / Cmd [Mac] and Click on the Layer Mask of the Subject Layer and Go to Select > Modify > Expand
Now that we’ve created a layer containing just the subject, we’re going to also create a layer containing only the background.
Hold down Ctrl [Win] / Cmd [Mac] on your keyboard and click on the layer mask of the subject layer in the Layers Window. This will load the selection that we made previously.
Then, head to Select > Modify > Expand and input a value of around 7 pixels. Note that the most suitable value will vary depending on the size of your image.
You should now be able to see that the selected area has literally ‘expanded’, and there should be some sort of gap between the subject and the outline of the selection.
4: Select the Background Layer and Open the Fill Window. Set the Contents to ‘Content Aware’ and Tick ‘Color Adaptation’
For the next step, you’ll need to make sure that the layer entitled ‘background’ is active, by clicking on it in the Layers Window.
We can then bring up the Fill Window by pressing Shift + Backspace [Win] / Shift + Delete [Mac] or choosing Edit > Fill from the top of the screen.
In the options window that opens, set the Contents to ‘Content-Aware’ from the dropdown menu, and tick the ‘Color Adaptation’ option. Then click OK.
When you make the top layer invisible, by clicking on the eye icon next to it in the Layers Window, you should see that the subject has been removed from the layer, and Photoshop has made an effort to create an automatically generated fill of the area where it was, informed by the surrounding pixels.
It doesn’t matter if this isn’t perfect, as most of it will be covered by the subject anyway.
5: Look at the Contents of Your Image to Find Areas that You Can Duplicate, and Use the Techniques Discussed Previously to Duplicate Them and Hide Unwanted Areas
At this point, you can simply use the processes discussed in the previous methods- content-aware fill and the patch tool- to get rid of all the unwanted elements of your image. Here’s the ‘before and after’ of how we removed all the other people from the photo.
And that’s about all there is to know about how to remove anything from a photo in Photoshop! Want to find out more about how to carry out the processes discussed in this tutorial? Then check out the three video links below:
- This video by Photoshop Training Channel that covers multiple different methods, some of which were discussed in this article.
- This video by Peter Mckinnon which quickly demonstrates a method you can use, utilising some of the more recent updates to Photoshop.
- Or this video by Photoshop Café, that details three ways in which you can remove anything from a photo.
Captivated by the digital world and particularly attracted by everything related to creativity, Martin is an amateur photographer and digital marketer who has more than 10 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop. Check his about page here
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