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Remove digital photo elements by liquid resizing

How to remove somebody from your pictures with a single click

Carefully look at the two photographs below

Can you spot the difference between them?

Berwick Upon Tweed Lighthouse — photo by Patrick Down
Berwick Upon Tweed Lighthouse — photo by Patrick Down

Berwick Upon Tweed Lighthouse (and man walking dog) ©Patrick Down

Well, the answer is child’s play: there is a dog missing.
But what you might be interested in learning is how I did the trick.

Yes, how did you remove the dog?

I used the remove function of some seam carving software.
Such software, called also content aware scaling, liquid resizing or with similar names, is primarily used to rescale pictures in a particular way: it leaves the important details untouched, while gradually grinding areas without relevant information. You can find a more in-depth explanation and examples about such flexible resizing tools at our page devoted to content aware image resizing.

The same software is able, while shrinking an image, to selectively remove whatever object you choose.
See on this short video how the thing works: liquid rescaling allows to easily remove unwanted elements by just masking the area you want to get rid of, and resize accordingly.

©Original photo of Harijan Village by Hamed Saber

You have a picture you like, but also a few elements you would like to remove. Some speckles, an odd pole in the background, disturbing tiny details of any kind. You can even get rid with ease of a person regarded as undesirable. Just mask it for deletion, and let the software delete the masked area while it rescales your picture. You can then bring back your image to the original size and the unwanted details are gone!

How can I try it myself?

There are many available tools you can choose from for image retargeting and object removal.
Some free choices we suggest for your first tests are:

All three software are working on Mac, Linux and Windows.


Two words of wisdom

Now that you know how to remove somebody from your pictures with only a few clicks, please read below.

Such a process can obviously lead to easy photographs “alteration” and “falsification”, which is itself a good thing: it is a strong reminder that photographs can lie. Or, at least, cannot be considered as truth. Digitally removing details or even people from a photo is actually nothing more (nor less) than painting, writing or telling what you have in your mind, instead of what is (or was) in front of you.
Do not forget that photography has always been a very flexible medium; not just modern digital photography but also the old chemical system. Today’s Photoshop users should pale (if they only knew) before Rejlander’s The Two Ways of Life composed out of 32 different shots and dated 18571. Just give a look at what Jerry Uelsmann did with traditional film-and-paper approach in the last forty years to have an idea of what we are meaning.
Feel free to adopt photography for any of your creative works: boundaries between perceived facts and fiction are quite loose, actually. Don’t stop to be creative, and remember that photographs are not documentary evidence of events.


1 It is not to be forgotten that combination printing technique was not only a trick for fiction results, but also a way to achieve quite the opposite, that is to properly render optically corrected images despite limitations of ancient methods. Ask more about it if you like. (↑)

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