So you’ve taken a stellar photo, only you accidentally captured an annoying object in the background that throws off the entire composition and effectively ruins your image. What do you do? You can’t “Photoshop” it out be cause you don’t own Photoshop. However, there is hope!
With GIMP, which I always call the “free version of Photoshop,” you can easily remove objects in the background of your image using just a few tools. This technique just requires a bit of patience to get the best result as you are essentially patching over the object using other parts of your image, and then potentially painting over the object to help it blend in with the original background.
You can watch the video version of this tutorial below, or skip over to the Help Article version (below the video), which is available in many languages (via the language dropdown in the top left corner of this web page).
To start, you’ll want to open your image into GIMP by going to File>Open and selecting the image from your computer. If you want to use the same image I am using, you can download it for free on Pixabay (at your own risk) here. I’ll be removing the man from the sidewalk in this photo.
Once opened, zoom in on the part of the image that you want to erase using the zoom tool (select the zoom tool from the tool bar or hit Z on your keyboard). You can click and drag your mouse around the object to zoom in on the object (shown in the image above).
OPTIONAL: If you are worried about accidentally erasing a nearby object, you can grab the paths tool in the toolbar or hit B on your keyboard and draw around your object. You draw by clicking to create anchor points, and can click and drag your mouse to curve the line at the anchor point (shown in the image above).
Click and drag your last anchor point so that it overlaps with your first anchor point (demonstrated in the image above). You can click on any of the anchor points you created and adjust the curves of the line if you need to. Just click on the boxes that show up around the anchor point, dragging them until you get them in place.
Once everything is properly in place (mine is a very rough outline), go to your tool options and click “Selection from path” as demonstrated above. This will outline your object as a selection, and will ensure you don’t paint over anything outside of the object.
I won’t be using a selection area for this image, so I’ll go to Select>None or will hit shift+ctrl+A on my keyboard to deselect the area.
Next, grab the clone tool from the toolbar or hit C on your keyboard (denoted by the red arrow in the image above). This tool allows you to select pixels from a nearby area on your image, then paint or “clone” those selected pixels over the object you are trying to remove. Use the left and right bracket keys (“[“ and “]”) on your keyboard to adjust the size of the clone tool brush.
Once you have the size you want, hold down the ctrl key and select the area where you want to grab some pixels on your image (denoted by the red arrow in the image above).
The circle that represents your brush will freeze on the area where you selected (denoted by the red arrow in the image above) – this is the cloning area. Make sure to leave some room between the area you selected and the object you are trying to remove as the cloned brush will move with your live brush (denoted by the green arrow) as you paint. You can still increase or decrease the size of your brush after you have selected an area to clone – the cloned brush will increase and decrease with the size of your brush.
NOTE: If you want your object/person to look like a ghost or be partially visible, you can adjust the opacity of the clone tool in the tool options menu area (denoted by the red arrow in the image above). Simply click on the Opacity bar and drag to the left or right, or double click on the number (shown as 51.7% above) and type in the percentage of opacity you want.
As you paint, the object should begin to disappear assuming you have selected a similar enough area to clone. As you reach areas that change in composition, you may need to repeat the clone area selection steps (holding ctrl and clicking on a new area) before you continue painting. If you make a mistake, just hit ctrl+z to undo the mistakes.
I recommend hitting Z on your keyboard then holding the ctrl key while you click to zoom out and see what your composition looks like while you work. This allows you to see if any parts of the object are still visible, or if anything doesn’t look quite right. In this case (referencing the image above), some parts of where the legs used to be are visible, and so I’ll zoom back in and touch up those areas.
TIP: You can hold shift to create straight lines with your clone tool. I used this technique towards the end as some of the lines of light in the sidewalk looked a bit funky and smudged.
After cleaning up the noticeable spots, the guy who was originally in the background of the image has now disappeared! The closer or larger your object is in the image, the more detail you will want to pay attention to the areas around the object to remove all artifacts and make it look more natural. To see another example on how to do this, watch our tutorial on How to Remove Anything from a Photo in GIMP.
Thanks for reading this tutorial, and visit our tutorials page for more GIMP tutorials!