The following application generates a single “flawless” composite image by ignoring transient elements detected in multiple images and stitching together the remaining static features.

For example, suppose you wanted to capture a photo of a popular beach or city street, but do not want crowds of random people in the image. Unless you can arrange for the beach or boulevard to be deserted during the shoot, you are likely going to have to retouch the photo to remove the unwanted clutter. For example, you could use the manual process described at to mask out flaws or, if you happen to have Photoshop CS3 or CS4 Extended, the more automated “image stack” method described at Another option is to use the free tool below…


  1. Serious users should Run Photo Decrapifier in a new window (useful since it can be resized).
  2. Enter up to five URLs for images (the images must be online; you cannot upload from your PC through this version of the application). The images must be the same size and should be taken of the same scene, separated by enough time so that moving elements shift position substantially. Photos should ideally be taken using a tripod or this cheap substitute; this version does not correct for image offset due to jitter. If necessary, align the images to each other as best as you can in Photoshop (or whatever) first. The URLs of the five images shown above are set as default.
  3. Click the “Load” button. The images should be visible in the preview panel.
  4. Adjust the settings (explained below). For good results, just accept the defaults (leave setting alone).
  5. Click the “Process” button. The program will analyze the images, extract static features, and composite them to a new image.
  6. Continue reading below for an explanation of the algorithms used in more detail.

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Run Photo Decrapifier in a new window (useful since it can be resized)

Behind the Scenes

In this version, there are three algorithms: Median, Modified Median, and Cluster. Median is the first method I tried, simply because it was simpler to implement. The median algorithm looks at corresponding pixels from each image and calculates the RGB distance of each pixel from white (0x000000). It then sorts the pixels by distance and chooses the middle point (median). The following simplified example with non-RGB color values illustrates the algorithm.

Example 1:  Three desired/static and two undesired/transient pixels

Pixel color values: 20, 25, 30, 250, 250
Mean Pixel: 115 (bad)
Median Pixel: 30 (good)

Example 2:  Two desired/static and three undesired/transient pixels

Pixel color values: 20, 25, 100, 175, 250
Mean Pixel: 114 (bad)
Median Pixel: 100 (bad)

Notice that the median pixel algorithm can usually provide a good answer as long as there are more desired pixels than undesired pixels in the set. It can still fail though when two very different colors—one desired and one undesired—are both nearly the same RGB distance from white.

The modified median algorithm starts by calculating an average (mean) RGB value for the set of pixels. It then calculates the distance of each pixel from that average value and chooses the pixel closest to it. Again, the results are mediocre at best. As long as there are sufficiently more static than transient pixels, it’s fine, but as this method tends to err toward choosing the pixel closest to 50% gray, it is easy for undesired pixels at the edges of transient features (where antialiasing and blending occur) to be chosen. It can also suffer when very bright or dark pixels shift the value of the mean far away from the value of the static pixels. Both median and modified median algorithms fail easily when there are fewer total static pixels than transient ones.

To solve these deficiencies, I implemented a straightforward agglomerative hierarchical clustering algorithm. First, the RGB distances between each pair of image pixels is calculated. Then the two nearest pixels in RGB space are grouped into a cluster. The color of the cluster is updated to be the average of the colors of pixels in the cluster, and the distances of the other points to the cluster are updated. Then the next smallest distance between a pair is chosen. This could be a distance between two lone pixels, between an existing cluster and a lone pixel, or between two clusters. These  are then further clustered. This process is repeated until no two pixels (or clusters) are closer together than a threshold distance.

The algorithm then looks for the largest single cluster, which we assume will contain static pixels. It then draws the average color for the cluster. Note that it is no longer necessary that there be more total static pixels than total transient pixels. It is simply necessary that the size of a cluster of static pixels be larger then the next largest cluster, as the previous example demonstrates:

Example 2:  Two desired/static and three undesired/transient pixels

Pixel color values: 20, 25, 100, 175, 250
Mean Pixel: 114 (bad)
Median Pixel: 100 (bad)
Clusters: (20, 25), (100), (175), (250)
Cluster Pixel: 22.5 (the average of 20 and 25) GOOD!

The cluster algorithm returns a much better color value than either the median or modified median algorithm. As long as the threshold value chosen is larger than 5 and smaller than 75, the static pixels will belong to the largest cluster, even though there are more total transient pixels. This is therefore a more robust algorithm.


Distance Metric: Choose either the Manhattan distance or 3D Euclidean_distance.

Algorithm: Choose Median, Modified Median, or Cluster

Threshold: The percent of the maximum distance (the distance between white and black) beyond which two points will not be considered as being part of the same cluster. Small threshold values will result in many clusters with only a single pixel. Large values will create large clusters (possibly one cluster), and provide an average of both static and transient pixels (the result will simply be a blending of all images).

Show Unclustered: If checked, pixels drawn that were not part of a cluster of two or more pixels are colored pure blue. This is to help you choose the optimal threshold.

Possible Future Improvements

  1. Try different color spaces than RGB, such as YUV, which are theoretically more tuned to a person’s subjective perception of color than RGB.
  2. Use a different clustering algorithm such as spectral clustering or DBSCAN.
  3. Add intelligence that takes into account the clustering choices made for pixels neighboring the one currently being evaluated. Use neighbor information to reduce discontinuities or act as a prior for choosing cluster points.
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