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Many of the images that you take particularly cityscapes, like most portraits, can do with some spot fixing. I’ve been traveling through Europe a lot lately and because it’s considered almost de rigeur to smoke there, many of the photos that I have are littered with cigarette butts and assorted garbage.
And although you may not realize it, even small cigarette butts will detract from an image. A few minutes spent cleaning up an image can result in it having a way more polished look. Here are my top techniques for cleaning up litter and unsightly blemishes.
A word of advice before you begin: make a duplicate of the original image and work on this. Then you have the original image to look back at and see just how much improved the image is after the spot fixing is complete.
Ensure your brush is large enough to cover the problem area but not any bigger – the idea is to spot fix just the problem area and to leave as much of the original image intact around it. Zoom in close to where the flaws are and paint over each flaw one at a time.
The Hand tool is useful here as you can press and hold the spacebar as you drag on the image to reposition and when you let go the mouse and spacebar the Spot Healing Brush will be still selected.
It can take five minutes or more to spot a really bad image, but the overall result will be significantly improved.
When you’re using the Spot Healing Brush tool, make sure that you have the Proximity Match option enabled, not Create Textures. Proximity match gives a better result with most spotting tasks.
For larger jobs where, for example, the Spot Healing Brush won’t fix the problem because it’s too close to something with different texture or it’s such a large problem that it really needs a bigger solution, use the Patch Tool or the Clone Tool.
With the Patch Tool you make a selection around the area that is the problem, making sure that the Source option on the toolbar is selected. Now drag the marquee away to find an area to use as the fix. Sometimes you may need to apply this fix a couple of times, and you may need to clone around the edges of the area later on to improve the overall appearance and to add some texture back into the image.
To use the Clone Tool, select the tool, locate an area of the image that you want to clone from – this is your source image area – and Alt + Click (Option + Click on the Mac) on that area to sample it. Then start painting on the image – typically this works best if you click repeatedly rather than painting as painting tends to introduce repeated patterns into the fix which scream “Look! I tried to fix this in Photoshop!”
In Photoshop CS4, the Clone Tool has a preview so you can line things up neatly making it a very handy tool for fixing elements where there are lines or other things that need to be matched up in the fix.
You can also use the Clone Tool to add some texture back into areas that the patch tool has removed texture from even after the fix has been applied.
With the Healing Brush tool you need to again Alt + Click (Option + Click on the Mac), to sample the area of the image to use as the fix, and then click over the area that needs fixing.
The healing aspect of this brush blends the solution over the problem so you could, for example, have quite a dark solution area in your brush, but when you paint over a lighter area to fix it, the fix will lighten as it is blended in.
In the example above we couldn’t use the Healing Brush to fix the water running out from under these plants as it would tend to want to blend in and darken the area being fixed when we need it to be lighter. In the case of the water, the clone tool is the best option because it lets us paint over the water area with lighter pixels without trying to blend in the result which would simply darken it again.
Once you’ve fixed the obvious problems take a good look at your image at 100% and see if there are things that are distracting to your eye that you may want to fix. These will generally be things that are lighter, brighter or in sharp focus as they are things our eyes are attracted to. If these are ugly and not really central to the image itself, then get rid of it. I removed some of the tree labels at this point.
To finish the image I added some color to the sky, adding some saturation and a curves adjustment and then cropped in a little closer.
December 31, 2009 02:19 am
You've broken my primary rule! I personally wouldn't remove anything natural about a person's body. This includes freckles, moles, or scars. In my personal view these are specifically part of a person's character and i remind all my clients that I will not remove anything unless specifically asked to do so (and nearly all of them agree with me this produces a better effect). I've only been asked a few times to remove some things (unwanted tattoos or scars) by the clients, but otherwise I would leave my photos untouched in this regard.
In touching up skintones however i find the patch tool takes less time to get the proper satisfactory result, because you can keep to the proper borders of the defect.
December 30, 2009 05:16 pm
I use that method a little, but I take care to choose clone from an area that has the same dimensions and the same color, so that there would be no obvious edges. I recently did some "extreme makeover" for a friend for his wedding photo (removed some freckles from a studio photo), and nobody noticed (or didn't say anything).
December 25, 2009 11:18 pm
It´s is the same as with women`s maquillage - the less you see it the better the result ;)
December 19, 2009 06:00 am
I want to thank you for your presentation. As a newbie to Photoshop, I appreciate the demonstration of these techniques.
Obviously, as each of us uses these tools, we need to hone our skills and decide for ourselves how and to what extent we will use them. I really think the grumbling and criticisms here are out of line, and I appreciate that you took the time to share your knowledge.
December 18, 2009 05:12 am
I would almost have preferred the water to be left because it does blur the bases to the pots of plants. The other further out doesn't bother me as much.
But as a tutorial very helpful. I'm still learning photoshop and every tip and tutorial is helpful.
Much like Jennifer, if my scene isn't perfect I don't think about how I can photoshop it I move on to another scene.
December 10, 2009 02:13 am
I appreciate the article, and I'd remind the other readers that the "after" photo is just for demonstration (I hope--it DOES look too altered, IMO.)
As for me, I prefer to do minimal editing to my photos, aside from things like color adjustments, fixing red eye, and (if desired) adding some minor effects. I think it's very easy to over-do photo editing, now that I've been taking and editing photos for a short time.
If I find that a setting I've chosen is unsuitable, for whatever reason, I simply grumble a lot and choose a different subject. I don't think it's worth it, if one has to edit the you-know-what (life) out of a photo. It just looks too fake at that point.
That said, as someone who is new to GIMP/Photoshop, I found the steps laid out very helpful.
JenniferLynn Producitons, LLC
December 8, 2009 08:11 am
I can't believe she would go to all that trouble to "fix" an image & leave the image crooked - what's that about ?. The bluring of the pavement is pretty bad & no understanding of the tonality in perspective. If you are going to remove items in a photo it must be done as though you are spotting a photo, not by using broad strokes. Too saturated - it's usually best to adjust color, then back up a bit. That's why adjustment layers are so good - do your work, wait a day, then take a second look & reduce the amount of initial adjustments....
BTW, I usually add lots of cigarette butts to my European photos to give it that certain Left Bank high-brow je ne sais quoi.
December 5, 2009 11:23 pm
The camera position should have been a little bit more to the left side. The picture would work better if there are some people in it.
December 2, 2009 09:27 am
Great tips, but IMHO the edited image looks a bit underexposed due to the saturation and curves adjustments. I wouldn't have cropped the foreground but that's just me.
cesc - agreed.
December 2, 2009 06:09 am
For everyone complaining about the posters observation about European smokers and cigarette butt littered streets - you do see the picture, right? Also, I don't think she is attacking smokers, just observing that Europeans smoke more than Americans. She does seem to be attacking litterers so if you want to take up for them, there's always that...
November 28, 2009 09:35 pm
I think the problem with the new photograph is the size of the patch used, and where it was used. I only use it in smaller sample size areas (ie. each individual piece of garbage, rather than a whole chunk of pavement), because it tends to blur the sample area due to the "transparency" of it. In doing a smaller sample size, more of the original texture of the image remains and some of the imperfections also remain, which help to maintain a better and more true image in the end.
That being said, I only use the patch tool because it's the best way to control what clone source you will use to fix the problem area, as it is never in exactly the same place twice. As a result you'll get less of a noticeable "photoshopping" of the image.
I've always thought that people who used the clone/heal tool instead of the patch tool are less professional because patch actually saves time in the end because you get it right the first time, a lot more of the time.
The second point I'd like to make is where it's used. I noticed that some potholes and cracks were removed. It's never a good idea to play with these, especially since they are in an area of limited sample source. They are simply too large to be removed safely because there isn't enough of the right colour in close proximity to sample from. The other part of this gripe is my main rule of thumb for cloning/patching/healing: NEVER REMOVE A SHADOW. It totally throws off the eye because it helps add the right dimensions to a picture, and in this case it make the trees look like they're floating in space.
November 25, 2009 05:10 pm
I use Gimp which is a free photo editing program..I find it to be very good I used it for all my images
November 25, 2009 01:06 am
Fortunately most of European people don't take account on Jeffrey's comments. At least not me.
But certainly is not a very polite comment.
November 22, 2009 06:18 am
Helen... While I feel is was very rude of you to attack smokers and much of Europe's culture (why do non smokers think they have a right to do that?) I do appreciate your article. It takes time, effort and a desire to help others when putting yourself out there and that is what DPS does well. In my humble opinion, your example serves to show what "can be" done and not always what "should be" done. Photoshop fuels such debate because of what it is capable of doing, which is alter reality, thus creating a new one. Perhaps it pleases you, the photographer/artist that took the picutre, to see the image as you've "fixed" it. For others, they may find more interest in the "before". I fall into the "before" catagory, especially for the shot you submitted. Removing the man's head near the bike really confuses me as I found it the most interesting part of the picture. That however is my totally subjective opinion. Thanks for sharing your tips.
November 20, 2009 10:29 am
Sorry to criticize but i think the finished piece has a better cropping job but the rest of the cloning and cleaning up in the photo looks horrible it is a lot of work for something which at first is hard to be seen but when seen is disappointing! You can see the plant pots have been clearly retouched and the ground is unnatural.
Very bad image to demonstrate the cloning and healing brush tools, you could rather have used a picture with a blue sky which has imperfections from the dust on the camera or you could also use a ald photograph with scratches and lots of imperfections...
November 19, 2009 11:34 pm
I prefer the original. Blurring has been introduced by excessive photoshopping, the saturation has been boosted too high and I think the crop is too tight. Also, on a philosophical level, should we be hiding these blemishes?
Finally, the original image appears slightly canted to my eye.
There were some useful tips here, but I don't like the result.
November 19, 2009 09:15 pm
"I’ve been traveling through Europe a lot lately and because it’s considered almost de rigeur to smoke there, many of the photos that I have are littered with cigarette butts and assorted garbage."
Is that a joke ? Do you know that people from Europe may read this tutorial and feel insulted with such stupid sweeping statement ??
Anyway it seems that this tutorial did not convince that much. I agree with the others comments, sometimes it's better to keep a picture close to the reality.
November 19, 2009 02:44 pm
Thanks for that advice. I find a good way to check those sort of adjustments is to temporarily lighten your LCD screen using the different light settings available on the screen itself (on mine anyhow). That will quickly show up any flaws in your cloning, etc. Sometimes those flaws wont otherwise be visible until you print the image.
November 19, 2009 12:51 pm
The 'after' looks okay viewed in the article. But if you look at it in its large format, the pp'ing is extremely obvious...even without looking at the original, especially by the bottom of the pots on the right where she tried to take out the water.
I'm not opposed to post processing, I use it often. But everyone knows the saying 'less is more' for a reason.
November 19, 2009 02:46 am
I don't like the result at all. I prefer the original on every level
November 19, 2009 02:36 am
Great idea. But has to be done tastefully and not lose the integrity and originality of the photo.
November 19, 2009 02:12 am
Interesting tutorial but I am not convinved by the example image.
The right picture has been cleaned too much, leaving the pavement clean but a bit blurred. Well, this is what it looks like to me.
I think it would have been fine to leave some areas untouched, expecially the ones near the plants and flowers.
November 19, 2009 01:40 am
I agree that a little PS makes for a significantly better photo. And to Mr. Jeffrey, how can you say that her own observations are BS? It's not like she made it up. She was there! (Also, lots of Americans eat fast food every day, and it's a large part of the reason so many of us are fat, so you're really not that far off there.) Cheers!
November 19, 2009 12:54 am
I’ve been traveling through Europe a lot lately and because it’s considered almost de rigeur to smoke there, many of the photos that I have are littered with cigarette butts and assorted garbage.
You know that's just bullshit right? That's like saying all Americans are fat and eat Mac D all day (which is not true either!)
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