Amazing Photography Tricks: How To Get A People-Free Picture At A Tourist Trap :: Digital Photo Secrets

Amazing Photography Tricks: How To Get A People-Free Picture At A Tourist Trap

by David Peterson 20 comments

How many times have you run into the following situation? You’ve flown across the world to visit some beautiful location, but once you get there, it’s packed full of tourists. You try to wait for the perfect opportunity to take a persson-free photo, but it just doesn’t happen. Isn’t that always the way it is with beautiful places? Everyone wants to see them, so they’re always packed. Well, with this amazing photography trick, you can get a people free picture in some of the most crowded tourist traps you’ll ever visit. Here’s how.

Don’t you wish they’d all just go away?
Photo by Ben Clark

Advanced Photography Technique Warning!

Be aware that the following photography technique is highly advanced. It requires more than a basic knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and manual photography. You’ll need to bring these two skills together to get the desired result. So, if you think you’re ready to give it a try, please read on.

The basic lay of the land

Before we dive too deep into the specifics of this technique, I find it helpful to give you an overall idea of what we’ll be doing. The technique involves three steps that, when executed properly, give us a good result. Here’s what they are.

1.) Setup your camera and tripod on location. Pick a low traffic area where you’re likely to get images with the smallest amount of people possible.

2.) Take between 15 and 30 photos of the landscape you want, within a time interval of about fifteen minutes. By doing this, you’re giving Photoshop a bunch of data it can use to come up with a people-free shot.

3.) Use photoshop to take the statistical average of the pictures, a result that is always “people free.” Not even tourists stay in the same place for much time. The average section of the photo shouldn’t have any people in it, especially if you’ve taken a lot of pictures.

Manual Mode Is The Key

The key to doing this well is to use manual mode. That way, you lock in some very consistent exposure settings, meaning all of your photos will have roughly the same brightness. You really can’t use any of your camera’s automatic modes when you’re attempting to do this trick because your camera will a pick slightly different shutter speed and aperture combination each time you take a picture. As the clouds move by, it will expose the image differently.

I usually pick the aperture first because I want these types of photos to turn out sharp. In most cases, you’ll want to pick an aperture somewhere between F11 and F22, something that will give you a large depth of field. After that, you can use your camera’s built-in light meter to pick a shutter speed that will give you just the right amount of brightness. Before you start taking a bunch of pictures, experiment and look at your LCD a few times to make sure you’ve gotten the exposure right.

Snap away for the next 15 minutes

Now start taking shots. The idea is to make sure most of your landscape is not full of tourists, so don't take any shots when lots of people are in the shot. Also, if you can, take shots when people are in different parts of the photo. That will make sure the average process we'll do next in Photoshop works correctly.

Average these images in Photoshop

(If you don't have Photoshop CS, there is a shareware program called Image Stacker that also does this process. However, it's not as easy to use as Photoshop).

Once you’ve got the 30 or so pictures you’ll be using, you need to open up all of your images in Photoshop CS. Next, go to the file menu and pick scripts --> statistics. At this point, a dialog box will pop up, showing the different modes. You’ll want to select “Choose stacks” mode, and then, select “median” and exit.

Here’s what you just did. You told Photoshop to average all 30 of those images together to make a single image. Pretty cool, eh? Interestingly, even when it’s crowded, people move in and out of a place quite quickly. On average, most sections of your photo won’t have people in them, and that’s why this technique works.

  • Canon PowerShot A620
  • 50
  • f/4.0
  • 0.003 sec (1/320)
  • 7.3 mm

Machu Pichu sans tourists. With this trick, it'll look like you were the only the one there.IMG_8080 by Flickr user j0055

But there is one caveat. Clouds are quite different from people. Clouds hang around a little more. You shouldn’t have a problem if you have slow-moving high clouds throughout the day, but the faster moving ones can confuse the Photoshop averaging method. In that case, the ground will look as it should, but the sky will be a blur.

Thankfully, you can very easily fix this problem by taking one of the skies from any of your 30 photos and pasting it over the jumbled and messy sky Photoshop creates. See my video tutorial for tips on how to do this.

And that’s all there is to this amazing trick. I never thought photo editing software had the power to do such a thing, but I’m always surprised with what people come up with. If you use this technique to take some tourist-free images. I've love to see them! Please send me an email with your photos

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  1. Gloria says:

    Just read your great tutorial! I am soooo pumped to try it on my vacation to East Coast Canada in 10 days! Lighthouses are so hard to capture "people-free". It's so frustrating spending all the time waiting up early, setting up your shot and then WHAM! someone steps in to spoil it. I can't wait to try it!
    Kudos to you sir!

  2. Serg says:


    Thank you for the great tutorial.

    I am not able to find the File > Scripts > Statistics in my Photoshop CS 6.

    Could you give more details?

    Thank you!

    • David Peterson says:

      HI Serg,

      It's only available in the Extended edition of the old CS5. If you want this feature, upgrade to Photoshop CC which has the feature as standard.


  3. Rajeev says:

    Dear Sir,

    I was using Photoshop for editing photos. But for me this is a new technique which is not known before reading this article.
    Thanks so much.
    Usually i'm having the habit of taking many shots of same object within a short time for selecting the good one or two, so this new technique is more useful for me.
    Thanks a lot.

  4. Marc Mulkey says:

    David, do you know if it is possible to do this trick with PSE 12? Thank you for your response....and I'm loving the Dash for April!

    • David Peterson says:

      No, you can't do this with Elements. You need Photoshop CS or CC for the average function. However, there is a free program online called Image Stacker that can so it for you as I explained in the article.


  5. Arthur Winailan says:

    This is the best tricks ever.

  6. Rocco de Wet says:

    I presume this script cannot be used in the original CS?

  7. Jeff says:

    Wow, I've attempted to be a "purist" and try to take great pictures without 'photoshopping" them, but this is a great reason to have PS. Thanks!

  8. Chris Poyser says:

    Great tutorial - many thanks. I have tried a similar (but much more long winded) approach which had me manually masking out people on different layers within PS to expose a people-free portion of the images underneath. But this method is so much simpler and so much better.

    I would add (and I know that the post briefly mentions it) that a very solid and stable tripod base is essential. Possibly also a remote control to fire the shutter would be useful to avoid any slight movement when taking individual pictures (to ensure the sharpest possible 'averaged' end result).

    Great stuff, many thanks - can't wait to give this a try.

  9. Gwenn says:

    Wow, what a great idea, thanks for ALL your lessons. However, for those of us that cannot afford the CS versions of Adobe, what would you recommend we try for this technique. I do have have Photoshop 9, when it grows up it will be a CS version. Maybe, next year. I consider myself a decent photographer, and can use my camera to its advantages. I have a Nikon D60. Thanks so much, Gwenn

  10. Dave Lind says:

    Thanks David Great timing as I will be in crowded spots in a few weeks. Great Tutorial.

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