Quick and Dirty Method of Using the Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool

Quick and Dirty Method of Using the Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool


Let’s say you use Lightroom and you’ve tried and tried to get rid of those distracting spots using Lightroom’s Spot Removal Tool but no matter how you set it – using Clone or Heal or changing the Opacity or increasing the Feather – you have a giant, obvious repair on your image. Not good!

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - wild horses

This is my final, processed image but I had to dive into Photoshop to get there.

You’re a good photographer

For kicks, let’s agree that in addition to knowing your way around Lightroom, you’re a skilled photographer. You also subscribe to Adobe CC, but honestly, you don’t use Photoshop much. Perhaps you’re even a little bit afraid of it. You loaded the software and update it whenever Adobe tells you to but other than the PS icon looking cool and professional in your dock, you don’t actually use it.

You just don’t use Photoshop

I mean, Layers, Masks, Blending? Ugh. I know. I do 90% of my work in Lightroom. No one has ever called me out on that so I keep on keepin’ on with Lightroom. I love Lightroom but – and it’s a great big but – LR’s Spot Removal Tool is no match for Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush Tool.

Because I know this issue affects so many of us, I’m going to teach you the quick and dirty method for how to Spot Heal in Photoshop. No layers. No tricky stuff. Just easy, quick simple repairs for the problem areas in your images.

Practice as you read this

Grab an image that has a problem area that you can’t seem to fix in Lightroom and follow along with me. Practice is the best way to learn so repeat these steps a few times today. After you Spot Heal a few images in PS, it will naturally become part of your image processing tool kit.

Step #1 – Process the image in Lightroom

In Lightroom, process your image as normal. Here’s my RAW  image before I’ve made any adjustments.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - raw image

Canon 7D Mark II, 70-200 plus 1.4x @ 280mm, f/6/3, 1/1600, ISO 400.

Below is a screenshot of all the adjustments I’ve made on my image. I started with a pretty aggressive crop. You can see the White Balance and Basic adjustments but I also dropped in several Radial Filters to add clarity and brightness to key elements like the horses’ eyes. However, I struggled to get rid of the flecks of mud around the black horse’s eye.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - Lightroom adjustments

Step #2 – Edit in > Photoshop

Right-click on your image. Select Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - Edit in Photoshop

It is very important that you don’t skip this step. Do not open your image directly in Photoshop. For the down and dirty method to be most effective, you must start this process in Lightroom.

NOTE: If you haven’t updated to PS CC 2017 or if you use an older version of PS, you might need to modify these steps. Instead of Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2017, you might see Edit a Copy in PS.

Step #3 – Select the Spot Healing Brush

It takes a minute, but eventually, your image will appear in the Photoshop window. Here’s the image I’m working on. Check and make sure your screen looks pretty similar to mine.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - PS interface

Click on the Spot Healing Brush Tool. It looks like a band-aid except that it has a little semi-circle handle over it.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - band-aid icon

If you can’t find this tool, count seven icons down on the tools pallet and right-click on that. Once you right-click, you should see the rest of the tools. Hover your cursor over the band-aid icon that says Spot Healing Brush Tool. Click to select it. It will now show as the active tool.

Step #4 – Setup the Spot Healing Brush

Review the settings for the tool bar that runs across the top of your Photoshop window.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - mode and type

If your Spot Healing Brush Tool doesn’t default to these settings, change them to:

  • Mode = Normal
  • Type = Content Aware

Step #5 – Zoom in

Zoom in and increase the size of your image so you can see the problem area more clearly. Click the Command/Alt key and the + (plus) key simultaneously. Click again to zoom in more. If you’ve zoomed in too far, click the Command/Alt Key and the – (minus) key simultaneously to zoom back out. Grab the drag bars on the bottom and right side of the image to reposition the problem area so that it’s in the middle of the screen and easy to see and repair.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - zoom in

Zoomed into 200%, I can see the problem area clearly.

Step #6 – Size the Brush Tool

Hover the Spot Healing Brush Tool over the problem area. You may need to change the size of the brush. The easiest way to do that is to use the square bracket keys on your keyboard.

  • Click the Left Bracket Key [ to decrease the size of the brush.
  • Click the Right Bracket Key ] to increase the size.

Notice that as you click on the bracket keys, the Size number in the bar that runs across the top of your image increases or decreases. (If you click on that number, you’ll get more tool options. Don’t worry about those for now.)

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - 20px brush

Using the Left Bracket Key, I adjusted my Spot Healing Brush Tool to 20 pixels and started making small repairs around the eye.

Step #7 – Brush over the bad area

After you’ve adjusted the size of your brush, start clicking on the area of your image that you want to repair. You can also drag the brush to make short strokes.

Photoshop is smart and should fill in the area with an appropriate selection but if it doesn’t, click Edit > Undo Spot Healing Brush in the top menu (or Cmd/Ctrl+Z will also undo). That will undo the last thing that you did.

If you want to undo multiple things, go to Edit and click Step Backward repeatedly till you’re at the last point that you liked. Step Backward does have limitations so work slowly and check your repair work often. Note: you can aslo open the History panel and go back to any previous step.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - undo

Step #8 – Save

Evaluate your work. Do you like the repairs? If Yes, go to File > Save in the top menu. Photoshop defaults to saving images as a TIFF file. If it doesn’t, select the TIFF option if/when the menu pops up. This will also import the newly edited image into Lightroom.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - save

If you don’t like the repairs you made, quit Photoshop without doing anything. Photoshop will ask if you want to save your work. Just say No. Go sip some coffee and try again another day when you’re fresh.

Step #9 – Head back to Lightroom

Almost done!

Go back to Lightroom. You’ll still be in the Develop Module with the original RAW image that you were working on still open. Press G for Grid which will take you to the Library Module. Check to make sure that next to your original RAW file is a new TIFF file. Select the two images and view them in Survey Mode so that you can look at them side by side (N on your keyboard).

If the two files don’t show up right next to each other in Lightroom resort your images by Capture Time (or file name), or drag and drop so that they do.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - compare

Side by side of RAW file adjusted in LR (on the left) and TIFF with the addition of spot healing (on the right).

Wait, don’t you have to use layers in Photoshop?

That’s the down and dirty part. When you’re doing simple fixes like this, you don’t need to worry about layers. Why? Well, layers are excellent if you’re doing quite a few things to your image and you want to be able to turn different effects on and off. They’re also important so that you preserve your original image in a background layer (non-destructive editing).

But with this method, you still have your original RAW file. That’s why you want to start in Lightroom and then open your image from there into Photoshop. Lightroom sends a copy of your image to Photoshop. When you save your work in Photoshop in step #8, Photoshop generates a totally separate image file. That new TIFF file shows up in your Lightroom catalog next to your original RAW file.

NOTE: If you haven’t updated to PS CC 2017 or if you use an older version of PS, you might need to modify these steps. You might need to select “Edit a copy” and not “Edit Original.”

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - final image

This is a wild horse so I didn’t go too crazy fixing every little thing, but the distracting mud around the eye and on the neck is cleaned away nicely, don’t you think?

What if the down and dirty method doesn’t work?

This might not work for your image. Some repairs are finicky and this is definitely a hack method that won’t work for everything. My advice is to experiment. Remember the other tools that were grouped with the Spot Healing Brush Tool? Try one of those. Or, keep using the Spot Healing Brush Tool but change the Mode from Normal to Replace or even Multiply.

Remember when we clicked the Size number? Click that again and adjust the Hardness of the brush or the Roundness. Make only one change at a time and make notes on what each change does. If something works, click File, then Save and remember what you did. If nothing works, exit out of Photoshop without saving (and go have more coffee).

You can always experiment again another day because you still have your RAW image. It’s cataloged in Lightroom right next to the TIFF file. As long as you always start in Lightroom, you’ll be able to try again later.

Photoshop Spot Healing Brush Tool - Essaouira cafe

In this image of an outdoor seafood market in Essaouira, I experimented with a variety of tools to zip out the distracting bit of tree on the left, the construction equipment and the light posts. The RAW image, with Lightroom only adjustments, is on the left. The spot-healed TIFF is on the right.

Share with the dPS community: What hack or down and dirty methods do you use when you process your images?

Read more from our Post Production category

Lara Joy Brynildssen is an avid equine, wildlife, nature and travel photographer. She is crazy about her cats, loves her Canon 5D Mark IV, and never refuses a sip of limoncello. More seriously, LJ is working on several series of wild horse images, writes about and teaches photography and exhibits her work in the Chicagoland area. Follow her at www.LaraJoy.us.

  • drdroad

    I don’t use Lightroom but do use the Spot Healing Brush constantly. Ever get dirt on your Sensor? Those ugly circles of darkness will screw up any sky and the Spot Healing Brush is the easiest way to solve the issue. Thinking I might learn something new about that tool I read through this anyway. Way confused. Couldn’t figure out if he was using Windows or Mac. Without being too critical, because this is an issue the most rookie of Photographers need to know, how do you write this article without giving stroke instructions in both platforms??

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    Sensor dust spots are actually easily fixed in Lightroom – no need for Photoshop on those.
    I’m guessing that since you aren’t a Lightroom user and since the article was specifically targeting Lightroom users (as noted in the opening paragraphs) that you were very confused as you read. The article was also intended for Photoshop novices, not experts. The goal was to encourage Lightroom users to try Photoshop, not overwhelm them with details that would perhaps intimidate them. As far as Mac or PC, commands were given in both, ie “Cmd/Ctrl+Z will also undo”
    By the way, I’m a SHE, not a HE. That at least should be clear from my dPS profile?

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Great piece, Lara Joy. I consider myself “intermediate.” I started 10 years ago with Photoshop Elements (“Photoshop Lite”) but less than 3 years ago I subscribed to Creative Cloud and began learning Lightroom. Now 90% of my work is in Lightroom alone, and I LOVE it, but absolutely when there are things LR either doesn’t do well, or at all, it’s off to Photoshop, and for a tough spotting job like yours I might very well just work right on the base layer because it is being saved separately from the LR raw file. Photoshop IS intimidating, especially when people are reminded that it is “destructive” at pixel level. The concept that you are “destroying” parts of your image is as intimidating as it gets! Your article encourages them to get their feet wet with no risk. I think it’s great you tell folks that they do not have to work in layers. You always have the original raw file as a fallback. As folks get comfortable with Photoshop they start to range further, and we both know that there are things that only Photoshop does and it’s best to do those things in layers (face swaps for example). Kudos! ?

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    Thanks! Exactly. The goal is for people to get their feet wet in PS CC with no risk. Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

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