Mister360 Learning

Expert techniques and best-practise processes

Removing people from 360 photo scenes


As I mentioned in Advice for Shooting 360 Photo Tours, shooting empty spaces is normal for most virtual tours. Many commercial virtual tour projects are done to present a space to potential visitors; hotels and resorts, universities, shopping centers, gyms, parks… the list goes on and on. What most of these clients will want is to show their spaces without people. This can avoid distracting tour users from the spaces themselves, and it means no model release or permissions forms are required – along with the conversations that can be needed to persuade people to sign those! (Model release forms aren’t needed for people in the distance, but anyone that could be considered as ‘featuring’ in a scene that’s used for any commercial purpose will need to sign one.)

Sometimes, however, it just isn’t possible to remove everyone from a location before you start shooting. A hotel lobby or a train station concourse is a busy working environment that can’t be evacuated during its normal working hours, and shooting at night when it’s closed can mean no ambient daylight and an unrealistic-looking scene.

You could consider using Photoshop’s ‘generative AI’ image tools to remove people from scenes – but be warned; this is likely to generate images of things that don’t actually exist, which clients would quite rightly object to. When people are removed, the generative AI process dreams up what it thinks might have been behind them, and these are quite likely to be wrong. In these cases it’s much better to shoot in order to remove people, a technique that requires planning ahead plus more work in post-production, but can deliver results that feel almost like magic.

In a nutshell

The concept is simple: take multiple photos in a particular direction, watching for how people are moving around in that area and aiming to have shots that can be layered and combined in Photoshop to mask empty areas over the top of any people – or indeed cars or any other transient unwanted elements.

While it can be done with one-shot 360 cameras, this makes the post-production part of this is a much more technically challenging process. This is really a technique best used when creating high-end 360 photos with a panoramic head and a DSLR or mirrorless camera. It’s also best done with a very stiff, sturdy tripod.


Okay, I said the concept is simple, and it is, but it does require paying close attention to the entire area your lens covers and being aware of where people are and where they move to. It also requires a lot of patience! There have been cases where I’ve waited 15 minutes or more to have a set of shots that can combine to fully clear just one view angle. Obviously, if you’re able to take a shot then politely ask someone to move just enough, you can achieve this without passively waiting… but in public places remember not to walk too far away from your equipment. Not only is it an invitation to theft, it could be knocked over by some inattentive member of the public.

Watch out for shadows and reflections as well as actual people (and vehicles), and when in doubt shoot more. You can easily end up with a dozen more more shots for each direction your panorama head faces. You may not have to layer them all together to create an empty composite image, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you failed to spot someone and don’t have a shot where they’ve moved to a different area. So be trigger happy.


When the shoot is done, make sure you process all your shots with the same settings. Best practise is of course to shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG as this allows the most post-processing control, but regardless, make sure each set of shots has the same overall white balance and exposure adjustments.

Group all the shots for a particular view angle together. I generally use color labels in the macOS Finder but find a method that suits you and your operating system. Look through them to see which ones seem to offer the best options for hiding unwanted parts of other ones. This can require a bit of back-and-forth hunting, so allow time for this stage.


Once you’ve identified your set of shots for one view angle, open them all in Photoshop. If you have, say, just four or five to deal with you can simply copy-paste them all into one, then add a layer mask to each layer apart from the bottom ‘background’ one. If you have a lot more images to work with, try getting Photoshop to stack them all together for you: choose File > Automate > Photomerge, add your chosen shots, and let Photomerge do the assembly work. I’ve never seen it do the actual masking correctly, but just automating the process of putting the images into one file is a useful time-saver trick. (If Photoshop goes a bit nuts and tries to stitch images into a panorama just close the result without saving and try it again.)

Each layer above the background layer should now be hidden by a black-filled mask. Shift-click the mask on one to disable it, and set the layer blending mode to Difference. This will reveal any slight pixel-level shifts it may have. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to nudge the layer until the shifts are as small as you can achieve, then set the blending mode back to Normal and shift-click the mask to enable it again. Repeat with each layer so they are all as precisely aligned as possible, then simply start painting white into one layer’s layer mask in order to hide part of a layer beneath it. With a little care you’ll end up with a photo where all the unwanted people, cars, birds and so on are eliminated. Flatten the image, save it, then close everything and move on to the next one.

Once you’ve done this for all the different view angles for a scene you’re ready to get back into normal stitching mode; launch PTGui (if you’re shooting 360 media professionally you ARE using PTGui to stitch, right?) and stitch the shots together as usual.

Final thoughts

Personally, I normally like having people visible in 360 scenes as it can help bring a sense of life and additional interest, but getting permissions can be awkward and sometimes the people can be a distraction from the space itself. Also, if a client doesn’t want people that’s the way it has to be – so try this technique out until you’re confident you can manage it right the way through the process, then go for it. Or contact me and see if I’m available to do the shoot; that’s always an option!

Mobile: +44 (0)7909 541365, email: thatkeith@mac.com