Blend It Out!

It’s a perfect shot! If only those unwanted moving objects (UMOs, i.e., a person or a crowd) in the scene would disappear. As long as the unwanted elements in your frame move, even just a little, you can make them disappear from your image by taking two or more shots and using Photoshop’s layering and blending capabilities.

1) First exposure

2) Second exposure

3) Third exposure

4) Fourth exposure

You don’t have to retouch your image. Blending is different than retouching. The unwanted elements aren’t covered over with new information by hiding them with replacement information similar to the surround, either from the same source or another. With blends, the information behind the moving subject is revealed. How? It’s contained in the other shot(s).

5) Auto-Align Layers dialog

6) Auto-Blend Layers dialog

You even can do this with exposures that are made with slightly different angles of rotation or framing, so you can use this technique with handheld exposures, not just those made with a tripod. Camera motion may make manual registration difficult, but Photoshop automatically will align and, in some cases, distort the separate exposures so that they register precisely. In some of these cases, you may need to crop the final result to restore a rectangular frame.

You even can remove stationary objects with blends—if you move. In situations where there’s sufficient parallax between foreground and background elements, by varying your angle of view, you can cause significant shifts in position of foreground elements without causing significant changes in position of background elements. Make multiple exposures from multiple angles of view and you can blend out the elements that appear to move. When using this technique, shoot loose, planning to crop more after the merger.

7) Auto-Blend Layers progress bar

If you have two exposures, you’ll need to manually mask a layer. If you have three or more layers, Photoshop automatically will mask the layers. When you automatically blend layers, if there are any exposure or processing differences between the separate files/layers, Photoshop also will precisely match the colors between the layers so they blend perfectly.

So how do you do this with Photoshop? Take these steps.

1. Make multiple exposures.
2. In Bridge, go to Tools > Photoshop > Load Files Into Photoshop Layers.
3. Shift-click to select all the layers.
4. Optionally (necessary if it’s a handheld photograph), go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers.
5. Go to Edit > Auto-Blend Layers.

8) Layer stack for the automatically blended layers

If you’re using only two layers, skip Step 5. Instead, highlight the top layer, click the layer mask icon in the Layers palette, and use a black brush to hide the unwanted element on that layer revealing the Background layer.

9) Layer stack for manually masking two layers

When necessary, retouch remaining artifacts.

Blending out elements with multiple exposures is, in many respects, similar to using an extremely long exposure to eliminate moving elements. Yet blends can be made with either long or short exposures.

This technique is simple. It boils down to taking two exposures and doing a little work in Photoshop or taking three exposures and letting Photoshop do most of the work for you. It’s really the new way of thinking that is, at first, so challenging. But, with a little practice, you can make it second nature. Learn to see in this new way, and you’ll find yourself making images that you once passed by. As a result, you’ll make many more successful images.

John Paul Caponigro, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, is an internationally renowned fine artist, an authority on digital printing and a respected lecturer and workshop leader. Get over 100 Lessons with his free enews Insights at

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