Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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Photoshop Tutorials - clone stamp and healing brush tools

In this tutorial I will explain how to do basic cloning and healing. The clone stamp tool is a very useful and powerful tool, but it's use may be considered controversial as it is altering what is in the photograph. I will use the tool to remove a distracting blade of grass or twig, or in the example I will use below - a bit of someone's red jacket who got in my way just as I took the shot.

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I feel justified in making these alterations provided that they are done subtley - using the tool to duplicate images - such as cloning multiple birds into one image is plain deception and I disapprove of this completely.

The healing tool is very useful for removing marks caused by dust on the sensor of a digital camera, or dust and scratch marks from scanned film images. The two tools are similar in that they both sample an area that acts as the source or donor pixels and then places the selected source pixels at the destination where you want to cover up something. Where they differ, is that the clone stamp tool copies the selected area and places it unaltered onto the new location, whereas the healing brush tool attempts to blend the source pixels into the surround destination pixels - so it is great for blending good sky into a damaged portion.

The two tools are to be found in the Photoshop toolbar - the clone tool looks like a rubber stamp, and the healing tool an elastoplast. If you can't see them, they may be hidden beneath the pattern stamp tool (clone) or the patch or colour replacement tool (healing brush). To access them right mouse click on the tool icon and select the tool you wish to use.


Here is an example of what I see as a perfectly legitimate use of cloning. I am removing an unwanted red sleeve which was not in the scene I was trying to record. I could crop it out, but this would leave the composition looking too cramped on the left side of the picture. No - it has got to go!

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Look carefully at the image above and you will see a faint orange circle on the image to the right of the red sleeve, and also note that the clone stamp tool is selected in the toolbar (as it's background is white - it is in the pressed state) The circle is the brush and the size of the circle is the size that I have selected for the brush - 200 pixels in this example. The easiest way to alter the brush size is to use the square bracket keys on the keyboard.
Now look at the toolbar at the top of the example screen and you will see that the information is relevant to the clone tool - because that is the tool we have selected. Ensure mode is set to normal,and opacity and flow are at 100%. These controls can be varied and are very useful, but not on this occasion. Finally, ensure that aligned and use all layers is selected. This enables the source point to automatically move in unison with the tool rather than continually sample from a single point.
You want all layers selected if you are going to work on a duplicate layer (which is safest, as you can delete it if you make a mess of things).

Next you want to move the source point to the location where you want to take the pixels from. Move the cursor to the source point and press and hold down Alt key. You will now see a little circular target appear. Now left mouse click and then release both the alt key and the mouse button.
Next, move the brush over to the area where you want the pixels to be copied, press and hold down the left mouse button and move it around until the area is covered. You will see the brush represented by a circle and the donor point as a cross which moves around with the brush.Then release the button when you have covered the area to be cloned .

A few tips - keep varying the sampling point to get a convincing result and also, if you have a largish area to cover from a small source area, you can clone a bit and then clone again from the cloned area. However, beware of repetitive patterns forming which look unnatural. An identical stone appearing six times in succession does not look very convincing!
Finally, it often helps to zoom into the area you are working on and readjust the size of the tool (use the keyboard square brackets) to make a more accurate job.

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In the picture above, you can see the source point cross and the clone stamp tool brush half way through the process of removing the offending jacket sleeve.

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In the next picture (above) you can see the finished result. A great improvement I think!


Next we are going to remove the marks caused by dust on the image sensor. These show up mostly when shooting against a clear background such as the sky here and particularly when shooting at a small aperture. They look like greasy, circular marks. You can just make out a few spots if you look carefully at the picture above. I have circled one faintly in orange. There are more in the sky to the right of the iceberg. Prevention is better than cure, so I have provided some hints and tips on how to prevent sensor dust at source.

The method of using the healing brush tool is identical to the clone stamp tool as described above. However, as you move the brush over the area to be "healed" it produces a temporary blurred effect until the computer has time to calculate the finished result. Be careful not to get too close to the subject edge when healing, or the subject pixels will bleed into area being healed and produce a mess. If this happens, press Ctrl + Z to undo and try again. If you can't achieve your goal, then you may have to use the clone stamp tool and sample from a clean source point.

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So here is the finished result - a beautiful image of a spectacular iceberg without someone's elbow in the way, and with a nice clean blue sky to set it off. Just how it looked when I originally saw it.

From Photoshop CS2 onwards, there is another tool available called the spot healing brush. This makes spotting out dust spots even easier as you don't even need to select a source point. Just select the brush from the toolbar - it looks just like the healing brush tool, but if you look very carefully you will see that there is a little circle of dotted lines around the elastoplast symbol to differentiate it (subtly).
All you need to do is pick a brush size (using the square bracket keys) which is just bigger than your dust spot, mover the circle over the dust spot and left mouse click - and the spot has magically gone - blended into the surrounding pixels.






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