The Ghosts in an Image

One of the key importances of photography is its ability to show evidence that we were here.  Yes buildings could probably last longer but it is the photographs that document anthropological existence most extensively.  I’m quite a fan of long exposure images, the ability to capture time with what is both there and not there is still fascinating to me.

One of the first images to show a human being was captured in Paris by Louis Daguerre, one of the early pioneers of photography.  This was at a time when ‘film speeds’ were incredibly slow and the instantaneous photography we have become used to today was a long way away.  The reason this particular image is the first to contain a human is purely because of the gentleman stopping in the bottom left corner to have his shoes shined.  The reality is that this street would have been packed and bustling, yet all bar two of those people are mere invisible ghosts in this image.


To photograph long exposures in the day time can require special equipment and particular conditions.  However in a world of Photoshop we can create images that eliminate other people with just a few clicks turning the three images below in to the image beneath them.


But how?

The first step is to set up in a location and photograph multiple images of a scene, a tripod is highly recommended to keep the parameters the same in each image.  I also recommend using an interval setting on your camera, or simply control it yourself, either way you should shoot one image every ten seconds until you have a collection of around 20 images.  In this particular example I was in the process of shooting a timelapse so the composition contains 120 photographs! I don’t necessarily recommend this as if you’re computer isn’t up to it then you will struggle.  Next, using Photoshop, we simple go to File > Scripts > Statistics, as shown in the screenshot below. (You may not have this feature, it depends on the version of PS you have).

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 15.08.16.png

In the next window we select Browse and load out images into the dialogue.  Ensure that the ‘Stack Mode’ at the top is set to ‘Median’ and click OK.  Depending on the specification of your machine, the number of images and their file type, this could take around 10 minutes to process.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 15.08.43

From here Photoshop identifies what’s different with each image and what’s the same then creates a median of the collection. Then, hey presto, you have an image with no people on show.


Published by andrewphayward

Photographer and Photography teacher from the south of England. Pursuer of the arts of Deadpan and Documentary Photography with a particular interest in the anthropology of non-place. ***All my views are my own and don't reflect those of the institution I work for***

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