Photoshop Tutorial - Removing background objects

As a point of reference, I am using the Adobe Photoshop 2015 version (as part of the Creative Cloud Suite) on Windows 10 for this tutorial. If you have an older version or a different OS, your screen may look different but the processes remain the same. I will also be working with a JPG original, so if you're using camera raw or Lightroom first you may use sliders instead to correct exposure, etc.

As a photographer, I spend a lot of time after every shoot (be it a wedding, portrait shoot, event, etc.) using Photoshop to improve all sorts of things in my shots. Most of the time it's just a few simple adjustments to contrast or colour to really bring the best out of my images but on occasion it's for something else. In this tutorial, I will focus on one particular point that crops up sometimes during wedding photographs - removing unsightly or undesirable items from the background. This is a particular issue with weddings as they do happen off the cuff and you can't always apply the proper mise en scéne to your images as they are being shot due to time issues. 

This is particularly potent in group photos. Specifically, the shot below. I will be explaining a method using cloning, but Photoshop is powerful enough to provide many means to the same end (such as content-aware removal, patching, etc.). What you use is up to your own personal taste.

This simple group photo was taken outside a registry office that only had a car park as any outdoor space. Believe it or not, the closest thing to an acceptable background was the scene you see before you, in front of the exit door of the ceremony room. Unfortunately there are a number of wheely bins and cones disrupting the image, so these need to go.

To start with, the simplest way to remove the lion's share of undesirable objects is to crop the image with the crop tool (arrowed). This is what I do first with every image I retouch as it makes correcting errors much easier, as well as seeing comparisons with earlier history points. You can see how the crop box in the image completely removes an unwanted portion of the picture. As a point of reference, I've cropped the image to a ratio of 7x5 as this is my default print size, but feel free to crop to any ratio you wish. Following this, I've also made minor adjustments using the essential Levels (ctrl+L or image>adjustments>levels), Shadows/Highlights (image>adjustments>shadows/highlights) and Unsharp Mask (filter>sharpening>Unsharp Mask) tools to bring up the exposure to levels I'm happy with.

Next up, it's time to select the Clone Stamp (arrowed) in the left toolbar. This is a tool which acts as a kind of 'copy/paste' brush, allowing you to replicate parts of the image down to a pixel by pixel level and therefore mask unwanted objects. Right-clicking while this tool is activated also enables you to fine tune the properties of the brush.

The clone stamp works by you selecting a 'source point' with one alt-click, and then 'painting' with the brush in a different location. As I am replacing the bin with the brick wall around it, I've selected an easy to align part of the cement work to use as a source point so nothing looks out of place. 
Paint carefully around the edges of parts of the image you don't want removed (such as the arms of the subjects in this photo) using light strokes, adjusting the opacity of the brush as necessary. 

Once finished, blend in any rough edges using the Healing Brush tool (arrowed). This brush acts as blending tool.

After this, you'll notice that some of the brick work appears a little lighter than you'd expect for it's placement in the image. Using the burn tool (highlighted), add a little shade. Following this, apply curves (ctrl+m or image>adjustments>curves) to fine tune contrast.

Your image is now complete! Now is the time to fine tune the colours and brightness further to your taste, or add various filters until you are happy with the image. Personally I would add a warming filter to this image to finish it off.

Keep an eye out for further tutorials in the coming weeks :)