You set up the tripod, line up the shot, and get ready to take the best picture of your life. You stare through the viewfinder and as you press the shutter release a random passerby leaps into the frame. You’ve been photobombed.
Sometimes you’ll notice right away and be able to take another shot, but often, you won’t see the image intruder until you get home. Rather than trash an otherwise awesome photo, lets look at how you can use Photoshop to get rid of photobombers and other unwanted background objects.
The Easy Way: Content-Aware Fill
Open the image you want to edit in Photoshop. You don’t want to mess up the original pixels, so duplicate the background to a new layer with the keyboard shortcut Control+J (or Command+J for Mac users).
Then, grab the Quick Select Tool from the Tools Panel or with the keyboard shortcut W. If the Magic Wand Tool is selected instead, press Shift+W to switch to it. The Quick Select Tool selects all the similar, nearby pixels to the area you click.
Resize the tool tip with the [ and ] keys until it is a little smaller than the object or person you want to remove. Click and drag around the target until it’s selected.
If the Quick Select Tool accidentally selects something you don’t want selected, hold down Option on a PC or Alt on a Mac and drag over the unwanted area. This will subtract it from the selection.
If you want to add an extra area to the selection, hold down the Shift key and click on the area you want to add.
The Quick Select Tool’s selections are far from perfect, so to make sure the whole item to be removed is fully selected, go to Select > Modify > Expand and enter a value of around 5 pixels. This will expand the selection beyond the edges the Quick Select Tool picked up.
Next, go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware from the Contents dropdown. Press OK and Photoshop will analyse the surrounding area and come up with a best-guess fill.
There’s an element of randomness to the Content-Aware Fill tool. If you aren’t happy with the first result, press Control+Z (or Command+Z on a Mac) to undo it, and try again. It might take three or four tries, but Photoshop will normally come up with a decent fill.
If there are some areas that look good and others that don’t, grab the Quick Select Tool again and only target the bad areas. You can repeat this as many times as needed. The image below, for example, took about 15 Content-Aware Fills to get to a point I liked.
Photoshop’s automatic removal tools have got a lot more accurate since they were first introduced. While they’ll never be as good as going in and doing things slowly by hand, they can do a reasonable job of cleaning up most images. They work best on organic and random backgrounds; complex repeating patterns and straight lines can present problems. Even still, you can get away with a lot for social media posts.
The Advanced Way: Clone Stamp
The Content-Aware approach is great, but it’s no where near as good as doing things yourself with the Clone Stamp. If you really want to remove a photobomber or background element so that there’s almost no trace, this is the best way to do it.
You’ll need a working knowledge of layers and layer masks to follow along, so check out our article on the subject if you’re not already familiar with them.
Open the image you want to edit in Photoshop. Create a new layer and select the Clone Stamp from the Tools Panel—the keyboard shortcut is S.
Make sure that Aligned is checked and that Sample is set to Current & Below.
The Clone Stamp takes pixels from one area of an image (the “Clone” part of its name) and paints them to another (the “Stamp” part of it). It works like the Brush tool, but for copying pixels. With it, you can use existing pixels in the image to cover over anything you want to remove.
Find an area of your image that looks like it will cover up the photobomber. Hold down Alt (or Option on a Mac) and click on it. This sets the Clone Stamp’s sample point.
Paint the sampled pixels on the new layer until you have a good sized patch to work with.
Select the Move Tool (press V on your keyboard) and reposition the patch over the area you want to cover. It doesn’t matter how rough it looks at this point.
Add a black mask to the layer by holding down Alt and clicking on the Add Layer Mask button. This will hide the patch.
Next, select the Brush tool. Choose a Soft Round brush, with a Flow of about 40%.
Resize the tooltip with [ and ] and paint white over the person or object you’re trying to remove. This will reveal the patch but only in the areas where you want it. Tweak the mask using the Brush tool so that the original image and patch blend nicely.
To fully remove someone or something, you’ll normally need to use a couple of patches. It took me four to remove the gnome photobomber. You can see a quick time lapse of how it developed below.
Take your time, work your way through the process, and you’ll be able to remove almost anything.
Below is a comparison of the two removal methods. While Content-Aware does a good job, it’s obvious that the Clone Stamp does much better at keeping the scaffolding looking natural.
Removing photobombers and other things you don’t want in the background of your photos is one of the most common tasks people want to do in Photoshop. Automated methods will make a decent attempt but, if you really want someone gone, it’s still best to go in by hand with the Clone Stamp.