Let’s face it our pictures will never come out perfect straight out of the camera. Sometimes there will be some details we did not notice in our tiny viewfinder or an annoying bird that just happened to fly by at the wrong moment. Luckily for us, Photoshop provides us with an array of different useful tools to erase unwanted imperfections in out photos. In this tutorial I will show you the tools I use and how I use them to erase everything from birds flying around to tattoos.
The Clone Stamp Tool
One of the first tools provided in Photoshop for this purpose was the Clone Stamp tool.
What this guy does is clones an area you have selected and stamps it wherever you click. To select an area, hold down ALT and click on the spot you wish to clone. The limitation on this tool is that if you do not have an appropriate area to clone over something you want to erase (for example same texture or color palette) than your modification will be grossly evident.
To use it, first create a new Layer in your layers palette that way if you make a mistake you can always go back to your original image. Make sure your settings (located at the top of your window) are set to Mode: Normal, Opacity:100%, Flow: 100% and Sample: All Layers. The sample all layers is most important since you’re telling the Clone Stamp to sample every layer the image has not just the one you are on. If not, since your current layer is new, nothing no image will be available to clone!
In this example I’m going to erase some trees that got in the way. What you want to do is using ALT key set the clone area in the sky immediately to the left of where the trees are. That way as you go down, the sky will gradually get darker and so will the area you are cloning.
The Spot Healing Brush
Another useful tool you can use is the Spot Healing Brush.
What this tool does is make an average of is around the area you select using the brush to recreate the same texture and color palette. You have to be very careful with this one as it sometimes adds a weird pixel texture if there are a lot of different textures around your selected area. Another thing to watch out for is an incomplete selection. What the tool will do is a horrible smudge as it gradually averages out of the selected area. For these reasons I tend to use it on small things like specs of dirt on a negative or really faraway objects.
The Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop CS3 has two Type settings. Switch it to Proximity Match and not only will it average everything selected but it will also blend the selected pixels and will try to follow the pattern of the image. Sometimes it is best to use this Type when, for example, contrasting colors or strong lines.
As of Photoshop CS5 they have added another Type setting called Content Aware. Now in my opinion it is a major improvement. Content Aware differs from Proximity Match as it tries to recreate the texture based on the surrounding pixels so it doesn’t blend with the pixels that you just painted over. A lot of times it’s a lot more accurate and smudge free.
Content Aware as a Fill
Now, a really neat trick you can do with Content Aware is using it as a fill. In this case you can select a spot in your photograph using the many selection tools available and by press Shift + F5 to bring up the Fill window. Make sure to set Content Aware in the Use dropdown list. Again, this feature is only available in Photoshop CS5.
This new feature gives you even better control and even better results. Remember you can tweak your selection using Refine Edge.
The Patch Tool
If you scan your negatives to work in Photoshop like I do or simply add grain to your photos you will find that sometimes these tools will mess up your grain pattern in an area that you worked on leaving behind revealing soft focus spots. What I like to use to recover the original grain pattern is the Patch Tool.
This tool works like a selection tool and averages the pixels selected from one area to where you want to place it. Just select a soft spot and drag it to a similar area you want to average it with. I find it comfortable to use because you can create odd shaped selections according to where you need to recreate the missing grain texture.
Make sure your Patch settings is set to Source otherwise it will work the other way. It will drag your selection and average it with the destination area you sent it to. This setting might be usefull if you find you’re missing grain in a certain area and you want to drag some in from other parts.
Finally, it goes without saying that not one of these tools are miracle workers all on their own. If you want to wipe out a whole lamppost from a scene, you’re going to have to use a combination of all them. Each tool has it’s pros and cons so finding how to compliment them is the key for subtle modifications in your images. Hope these descriptions and tips were useful!