Photoshop Retouching: Heal, Clone or Copy?

By LaurenMarie

Problem Areas in a Photo

Before Photoshop CS, the only option for retouching a photograph was to use the Clone Stamp tool. This is a difficult tool to learn to use because it duplicates pixels exactly, which can create a nasty pattern look if you’re not careful.

Hurrah for the Healing Brush! This is a huge leap in retouching for Photoshop. It works by copying an area of the canvas and blending it with the surrounding pixels’ color and texture, which eliminates the pattern effect that the clone stamp can have.

The Down Side to the Healing Brush

The Healing Brush isn’t perfect, though. It has difficulties around high contrast areas, like the dark edges of objects or people against a light background, where it will “flair” or create a muddy streak.

Bad Healing Brush!

A little trick I picked up from reading Real World Photoshop is to make a selection around the area you need to fix and feather it (while in a selection tool—Marquee, Lasso, Magic Wand—right click and choose Feather with a radius of .5 pixels). Then use the Healing Brush. This makes it so that the brush doesn’t consider pixels outside of the selection when blending.

Examples – Heal, Clone and Copy

For this photo I used both the Clone Stamp (S) and Healing Brush (J) tools to take out unwanted parts of the photo.

Before we start, number one rule when altering or retouching photos: Make a copy of the original first. Never work off the background layer.

Can you tell that’s an important rule? Bold and italics! You never want to mess up the original state of the image, just in case you need to go back.

Bye bye minivan

First there was a big brown minivan parked just above the lake in this otherwise pristine photograph. That definitely had to go. I used Ctrl+J to copy a selection from one layer to a new layer and moved it over the unwanted section. With the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush, I blended the swatch into the photo. To blend the edges of the new layer, I had to merge it with the original.

Remember, you can tone down the strength of both of these tools by either pressing the number (5 will make it 50%, 1 and 5 in quick succession will be 15%, etc) or by going up to the context sensitive toolbar at the top of the Photoshop window and adjusting the percentage. These percentages are of opacity—the lower the number, the more see-through (less opaque) the results will be—just like other art tools.

The next part I had to remove were the owners of said minivan. I used the same techniques as with the minivan.

Slightly transforming the image to make it line up

The straight line of the log the woman was sitting on posed a problem; the swatch didn’t line up quite right with the original photo. I used the Transform (Ctrl+T) function to reshape it slightly. If you hold down Ctrl while clicking on a corner of the transform box, you can adjust only that one corner without resizing the rest of the area. Don’t do this too much, though, or the area will become distorted and pixilated.

Remember to look for reflections and shadows left behind!Finally, look at the details around what you’ve take out of the photo. Are there tell tale signs that something should be there that is now gone? Look especially at shadows and reflections. There were reflections of our proud minivan owners in the water (as well as a white duck or something that I took the opportunity to ex out at the same time). I again copied the pixels next to the reflection and drug them across and blended them in to cover the unwanted reflections.

Examples – Just Heal

Original Swamp Photo

Here is another example of removing unwanted pieces of a photo. This is a beautiful, lush picture of a bayou swamp–it could even pass for a prehistoric oasis–but… oh! What are those wires running through the middle of it?! No, that just won’t due.

I only used the Healing Brush in this photo because there were a lot of different textures to help conceal the copied pixels. You can use only the Healing Brush if you’re taking wires or poles out of the sky (with few clouds) or some other such thing with very little texture or a lot of varying textures, like this image. The Healing Brush works great for removing creases and dust particles from scanned images, too.

No more wires

In the image above, you can’t even tell where I’ve use the Healing Brush to get rid of the wire except that all of a sudden there is no wire (and the fact that I’ve pointed it out with big red arrows!). The Healing Brush works great here because there is a lot of different textures, so small inconsistencies are easily hidden.

Remember to check out the previous posts on color correction with levels and some other advanced but simple tools for color correction.

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