In an ideal world, every photo would be perfect right out of the camera, but in reality, we often need to remove unwanted elements in an image. And when we say "remove" in Photoshop, that really means to cover something up, so it looks like it was never there.
Dave Cross shares his tips for editing in Photoshop using features such as Content Aware Tool, Clone Tool, Spot Healing Brush, and Layer Masks in a non-destructive way.
What is Non-destructive Editing?
Non-destructive editing is when you make edits to a photo on a separate layer, so both the edits and original image are saved separately. This way, you could go back to the original image at any time since it hasn't been edited directly.
Examples of Non-Destructive editing include:
- Working with adjustment layers
- Transforming with Smart Objects
- Filtering with Smart Filters
- Adjusting variations, shadows, and highlights with Smart Objects
- Retouching on a separate layer
When retouching using Photoshop, Dave Cross explains that we are not exactly removing details but rather adding pixels to cover up existing pixels. Here are a few tools you may use in Photoshop to retouch your photos.
The Spot Healing Brush Tool
This is Dave Cross's first tool of choice! By using the Spot Healing Brush, Photoshop automatically generates new pixels with brush strokes. It's usually a one-step process, so you could edit your problem area with one mouse click.
It is important to note that you must select the Spot Healing Brush Tool with "Content Aware" and have "Sample All Layers" selected for it to work with optimal results.
Sometimes the automatically generated pixels aren't 100% perfect, so you may have to try the Spot Healing Brush Tool a few times to get the desired effect. Each time you paint using the Spot Healing Brush Tool, a new edit result is generated.
The Clone Stamp Tool
The Clone Stamp Tool is a good tool to use to retouch photos. It samples existing pixels in one area of the photo and you could copy and paste those pixels to another spot on the photo using the brush tool.
This requires you to immediately make smart decisions, so it's recommended to use the Clone Tool as a later step to fine-tune edits rather than a starting point.
When selecting the Clone Tool, select ALT+click to pick your source area and then use the brush to copy and paste pixels.
The Healing Brush Tool
Similar to the Clone Tool, you need to press ALT+click to activate and select your source area. What is unique about this tool is that it doesn't simply copy and paste the area you select. It also self-generates pixels to match the new area better.
This tool focuses more on duplicating textures, lighting, and shading.
The Patch Tool
The Patch Tool is similar to the lasso tool. Select the area you would like to edit. After you select the area you want to edit, drag the mouse to the left or right to select another area in the photo to replace and "patch" your original selection. You will see a preview of the new selection as you move your mouse.
After you find a good spot for the edit, release your mouse to let Photoshop auto-generate the new pixels for the cover-up. This tool may also take a few tries to get the desired effect.
You may also fine-tune your Patch selection by using the Structure and Color options in the Toolbar. These options can help further blend your edit more effectively after you made your selection.
Content Aware Fill
Content-Aware Fill includes lots of great features designed to make removing unwanted objects from your photos easier.
Make a selection on the photo first and then select the Content Aware Fill via the Edit Menu. Photoshop will generate a potential edit in a new Preview window on the right.
You could select and deselect some areas in your left-hand window (also known as the Work Area) to fine-tune your edit. With every selection you make, the Preview Window will update to show the latest result.
Once you are satisfied with your new edit, make sure to click Output to New Layer so your edits do not save on the original photo layer.
Afterward, you could also fine-tune your edit with other retouching tools such as the Spot Healing Brush to help blend things in.
- Step Away From Your Work: Sometimes after viewing an image for a long time, it could be easy to become hypercritical of the results of the new edit. Make sure to save your edits, leave your work for some time, and come back to the project. Toggle between your Before and After images. If something stands out to you right away, then you know what you have to fix.
- Zoom Into the Details: Zoom into your image as well to make sure your edits are blended well. Sometimes you could find a few spotty areas that don't blend completely with your final edit.
- Avoid Repeated Patterns: This is a quick giveaway to show that an image was retouched. Make sure to avoid obvious patterns that do not look organic in your image. Tricky areas to edit include doors, tiles, and wall areas with splotchy textures and colors. Be wary of those lines and perspective areas throughout your photo.
- Use Existing Areas of Your Photo: If content aware fill doesn't work, it's safe to assume you will also run into difficulties when using the Healing Brush Tool or Patch Tool. In that case, try to come up with more creative solutions with existing areas in your photo. Instead of using Photoshop to generate new pixels, use existing ones in your photo.
Real-Time Photo Retouching with Dave Cross
In the below example, it was becoming a bit difficult to fully remove the blurred motorcyclist using the Content Aware Fill. Instead, Dave took note of the similarities with the doors in the photo.
Dave Cross uses the lasso tool to select, duplicate, and transform a door to cover the major problem area. Using mask layers, Dave is able to select the exact areas he wanted to reveal in the final edit.
This method helped generate faster and cleaner results whereas he was running into challenges with Photoshop's automated retouching tools.
Adobe Photoshop is a very robust program with many options for photo retouching and editing. With multiple touching tools at your disposal, you could make better creative decisions per case scenario.
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