I do not use the term “ultimate” lightly. It tends to get tossed around far too often, and I must admit it irritates me. When doing my usual article outline, I slowly came to the realization that this may actually be the first article I have written which is deserving of the title. You be the judge. Feel free to lambast me in the comments if you feel otherwise.
Before I open myself up to all kinds of trolling nastiness, let me be clear. By ultimate, I do not mean I’m about to write a novel worthy (length-wise) article. Instead, this will be deserving of the ultimate badge as it will be the only resource a new or old photographer will need to discover the techniques necessary to remove any object in Photoshop; blemish, dust, scratch, mud, color cast on skin, power lines, people. Whatever. If you master every technique here, you will become a Photoshop object removal master.
Cleaning Pictures, You’re Doing It Wrong
Before we get going, it’s important to know how we can tell when something has been done badly. It’s important to know this, so you can assess your own work and decide if it’s good enough. To demonstrate a couple of common signs, I’m going to use the Clone Stamp Tool. Please note, the signs I mention here are just as applicable to ANY technique mentioned.
To demonstrate my point, I used a very large, soft brush. The size of the brush is not something I would usually use; it’s just for demonstration purposes. The blurred ring you can see highlighted here is from one click with a soft edged Clone Stamp. As you can see, it has destroyed the texture on this shoe and left a very distinct ring. Imagine what it would do to the texture on a person’s face. Now, imagine building that up as you remove more and more blemishes. The result? A blurry mess!
[REWIND: HOW TO REMOVE YOUR EX IN PHOTOSHOP]
There’s no point spending a long time explaining this one. If we flip the soft edge concept on its head (a hard-edged brush), the same is true. It’s much more subtle in the example photo, but we can still see a clear line where the hard-edged Clone Stamp has been. In fact, it demonstrates another point. Why was a hard edged brush harder to see in this example? It’s the texture itself. The texture on this shoe is very complex. As such, it lends itself fairly well to using a hard edged brush. Whereas, if I were cloning something out of buttery smooth bokeh, for example, using a hard brush would be a poor decision. The complexity of the surface we are editing should play a huge role in your decision-making process.
Those are the most common signs that manipulation has occurred but, of course, there are many more; unnatural color and luminosity shifts, shadows not following the direction of light, and just general dodginess. Think poorly Photoshopped images which make it into magazines and occasionally surface online; what are images made up of? A collection of pixels which range in color and luminosity. If you can get your head around that idea, you’ll find this whole process much easier.
Essential Tip – Once you’ve made your adjustments, toggle them on and off. By doing so, you’ll quickly see if it all looks natural.
Clone Stamp Tool, Healing Brush, and Patch Tool
In part one of this guide, we’ll mostly be covering the bread and butter of object removal: Clone Stamp, Healing Brush and Patch Tool. Plus, I’ll throw in one less ordinary technique. 90% of tasks you need to do in Photoshop involving object removal (especially large objects), can be done with one of these tools. They may be some of the easier methods but, trust me, becoming a master at these tools is far from easy. It takes great skill to learn how to use them to their full potential.
To augment Joe’s article, check out this fantastic video by Julia Kuzmenko Mckim. Julia takes us through the Clone, Heal, and Patch tools, showing us how each can be used in the context of portrait retouching.
It’s worth momentarily backtracking now. In my example above with the shoe and its texture, we saw the effects of bad technique and touched upon how you can avoid this yourself. These negative effects are very apparent on skin. Skin is extremely complex and thus, must be treated with care. It’s very easy to destroy texture, making your adjustments obvious.
The usefulness of these tools does not end with portraits. I’d say that’s just the beginning. With some skill, you can use these tools to remove anything in your images. If you’re working with edges, it’s best to use the Clone Stamp. On the other hand, the Patch Tool and Healing Brush work very well with smooth textures. Gradients have such subtle changes that using the Clone Stamp Tool can be tricky. It’s in those instances that the Patch Tool and Healing Brush shine. The only real way to learn these tools is to practice. Go through your image library and find some photos to test these methods out on. Start small and then build up to removing much larger objects.
The Best Way To Remove Unwanted Things From a Person’s Face
…and so much more! I’ve covered Frequency Separation in a previous article. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you can find the article here. Briefly, Frequency Separation involves placing the details of your image on one layer and the color and luminosity on another. We can then edit the two separately. The immediate and obvious benefit to this is within portrait retouching. We can correct any imperfections on a person’s face and have very precise control as we do so. But, Frequency Separation can be used for so much more.
While editing product photos, I often use Frequency separation to smooth out the tones of a surface; it’s great for smudges. In the photo above, note the smudges around the left click side of the mouse and just above the scroll wheel. To remove these imperfections, I used frequency separation. With the Frequency Separation layers all set up (refer to this article if you don’t know how), use the lasso tool on the low layer to select the area you want to adjust. Once selected, apply a Gaussian Blur to that area. I prefer to add a small blur and repeat the process multiple times with varying shapes of selections. I find that produces the most realistic results.
Essential Tip – Make sure you blur the edge on the Lasso Tool. Anywhere between 1-5 pixels will do, depending on the size of your selection.
It certainly would have been possible to use the Clone Stamp tool here, but it would have been very difficult. Why? Well, for the larger smudge (on the left click) the size, complexity of texture and subtle gradients would have all presented a major challenge.
Do the uses for Frequency Separation end there? Nope. Watch this video by Michael Woloszynowicz of Vibrant Shot for another fantastic use for this technique. In the video, Michael removes the folds of skin in a person’s neck that appear when they turn their head. He does this by doing something called texture grafting.
Clone Stamp Tool, And Much More
We’ve covered the basics here, as well as something a little more complex. If the idea of frequency separation sends chills down your spine, don’t worry. Master your core object removal tools first. As mentioned, there is so much you can do with the Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, and Patch Tools. If you’re new, there’s no need to move on to the more complex techniques until you have a very decent hold on the basics.
In part two, I’ll be covering some less conventional techniques for object removal in Photoshop. We’ll be removing everything from dust to large groups of people.