Tips For Removing Cars and Gargage Cans From Photos

May 11th, 2009

First of all I want to thank AndyAnderson76541 for letting me talk about his photo in this post. I’ve been admiring the look of the HDR shots that Andy shoots from his pole with a Panasonic Lumix LX3. I’ve also been giving him a bad time about having cars in the driveway. Like his original shot on the top right.

When I shoot for my wife and her friends I get severely scolded if I come back from a shoot with cars or garbage cans in the driveway. But anyone that has shot even a few homes knows, even though you give homeowners instructions to get cars out of the way, sometimes they are there and you have to deal with it. So I’ve come to depend Photoshop to remove a certain amount of home owner clutter like unwanted furniture, kids toys, cars, garbage cans, and refrigerator clutter (photos etc. that people hang on their refrigerators).You might think it’s more work than it’s worth to remove a car from the driveway. Sometimes it may be a lot of work but most of the time it’s quick and easy. Removing the garbage can and car in Andy’s photo took me about 10 minutes. Here are some tips to make it quick and easy:

  1. Before attempting to remove an object remember that you have to reconstruct what’s behind the object so there must be a copy of what’s behind the object some where else in the image. In the example above there was just grass and cement driveway behind the car and garbage can so the job was a piece of cake.
  2. For sections with involved, patterns copy existing sections of the pattern and paste where needed. A very handy technique is using the polygon lasso to select a section that you need to repeat, copy the selected section of the photo and pasting it where you need it. This is what I did to recreate the curb where the garbage can was sitting. I copied a section of the curb to the left of the garbage can and pasted it over the can and lined it up the the existing curb on each side. Then flatten the image again.
  3. Use the polygon selection tool to constrain the clone tool. To remove the car I used the polygon selection tool to select the entire section of concrete that the car is sitting on, then used the clone tool to fill that area with “concrete”. The selection constrains the output of the cloning so you get a nice clean edge.
  4. Get some practice before you are in a rush. You’ll be amazed at how good and fast you can get at removing objects from the photo.

Note: You can do 2. & 3. with Photoshop Elements.

OK, I know someone is going to bring up the question about ethics and where is the line with doing this kind of photo-editing. Here are my personal guidelines for Photoshop modification of real estate photographs:

  1. I recommend only removing objects that are NOT permanent physical features of the property because agents are legally required to not misrepresent physical characteristics of the property. Cars, garbage cans, refrigerator clutter and furniture are not physical characteristics of the property. They won’t be there when the new owner moves in.
  2. In 1, I say recommend because ultimately photo modification is a legal issue for the agent, not the photographer. I’ve had agents request to remove power lines and even change the exterior color of the home because it was scheduled to be repainted. I have a very clear conversation with the agent and make sure they understand the legal implications… then it’s their choice.
  3. After a number of posts and community discussions on this subject the subject of landscaping appears to be a fuzzy, near the line issue. Some argue landscaping is permanent and some argue it’s temporary. Again, the ultimate one that has to make the decision is the particular listing agent.

I discovered a secret about Andy’s photo is that while looking at it on flickr I didn’t notice that Andy had already modified the photo. Because the photo is relatively small, I had to work on it in Photoshop at 300%. I was almost finished removing the car and garbage can when a subtle fuzziness on the left side caught my eye. He’s remove a whole bunch of power lines!

Thanks again Andy for being a good sport and let me talk about and modify your photo. I really like the work you are doing with that little LX3 on a pole! I never would have guessed you could shoot such good looking HDR waving a camera around on a pole.

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8 Responses to “Tips For Removing Cars and Gargage Cans From Photos”

  • Great topic Larry. If you want to get into a real polarized view of truth in photography, talk up a newspaper shooter. Some of them won’t adjust white balance in post!
    Truth seems like it should be something set in stone, however for better or worse it isn’t…. One thought I had on photos that have been “edited” heavily, would be to include a photographer’s watermark in the image, it would make it easy for anyone who questioned the credibility of the photographer/photograph to get in touch with the “creator”.

  • Great lesson. Cars in photos don’t go over well. Trash cans are easy to move. I think its always easier to ask the owners to move things for you, but if that fails this is a great model to get rid of temporary objects.

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  • Being able to remove cars from photos is a must for a real estate photographer. No matter how many times you tell the own or agent to have the front of the property clear, the words just don’t sink in.

    We also use the same tech to remove less than g-rated posters from walls.

  • Always remember to look behind the car or other temp object to make sure there is not a permanent object there that would be seen if the car were not there and you put grass there and there is a fire hydrand.

    That could be embarassing.


  • Oh, something else I do is when I arrive I park in front of the house to make sure no one else parks there. Especally if the sun is not the best to shoot the front first . I also suggest that the owner park in front if they will be there for the shoot, that insures no one else will park there.

  • You know the copy, paste is what I do. I did not know the pro’s did it the same way.

  • We see this all the time…what a pain!

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