Update: this entry was one of 12 featured images. Check out the others selected.
Gizmodo issued a Photo Challenge last week to take a series of photos of a busy public area, and then painstakingly remove all of the people. The theory is that after taking enough photos, you’ll have enough coverage to effectively erase all of the people. One of my favorite examples of this technique is in this video Running on Empty, depicting the streets of LA, abandoned, but with moving clouds and blinking traffic lights. Click below to see how I did the shot above, how I got stopped by the police, and a few other tricks you can pull off with a similar method.
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Essentially what you do is take a whole bunch of pictures, stack them as layers in photoshop and start erasing just the people. The theory is that if you have enough photos, you have a shot of the empty pavement somewhere in the stack. After I copied and pasted some big swatches of empty space from various layers onto the bottom layer, I placed the most empty layer on the top, I then started just erasing the people I could see to reveal the layer below. If there was a person in that space, I’d select that next layer and erase in the same spot. Soon I would hit “gold” and move on to another spot. You can see in this photo what it looks like as I erase a person, revealing empty floorspace below them.
In a handful of the frames I shot, I noticed this little scene going on. There is a couple huddled on the floor. The male is comforting the female, and they are talking to a police officer. I’m assuming that the female was robbed or otherwise accosted and they are giving their details to the police to file a report. Speaking of police, I also had the fine pleasure of speaking with a DC officer. While I was shooting, an officer approached me and told me that while I am allowed to shoot photos within the metro, I am not allowed to use a tripod, or attach your equipment to their safety rails. I used a gorillapod to attach my camera to the rail (I was aware of the tripod rule). If I had not have been stopped, I would have shot maybe another five minutes. There are just a few spots in my final image where I had to use the clone tool instead of true empty space I shot. One of the biggest challenges I ran into was there is a definite reflection and shadow off of the people. I tried to replicate the look if I can.
Shutter: 1/20, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 15mm fisheye, ISO: 1000
For each basic shot, I lowered the shutter, made the aperture as wide open as I could, and cranked the ISO to 1000. I wanted it to look bright so it wouldn’t be too dark and grainy. I used a gorillapod to attach the camera to the guard rail overlooking both red line tracks at Galleryplace/Chinatown metro station. I used a remote trigger so that I could just keep firing away with out touching the camera and risking nudging the frame at all. I shot about 50 frames before the police officer stopped me, and about 15-20 of those were unusable because there was a metro train entering or exiting, distorting the lighting drastically.
Kind of the opposite method, is isolating one single person and adding them to one image. It helps if they’re doing something exciting, like Stephen here is doing a Karate Kid jump off of a diving board. I stood in one spot, put my camera on 6fps, and then picked the best ones. I stacked them as layers into one Photoshop document, and then erased everything except the person. The one tricky part in a dive shot like this is that in the sixth or seventh position, the diving board is at the lowest point, so unless you want their feet cut off, you have to finagle layer six down under layer one. It’s not that hard, but the payoff is worth it. I then cropped this image so it would fit as his Facebook timeline cover.
Ok, the Gizmodo contest wraps Monday morning, I’ll let you know if I get a mention. And definitely check out Running on Empty to see.