Remove Elements From a Photo in Photoshop CS4

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If you’d like to download the images used in this tutorial to practice these techniques, visit and navigate to the Magazine section. All files are for personal use only.

Disappearing Act

Let’s face it: no matter how carefully you try to compose your image, in some photos there’s something in the shot that just has to go! In this tutorial, we’ll review some key techniques for removing elements from a photograph using cover-up layers and the new live brush preview for the Clone Stamp in Photoshop CS4.

The Clone Stamp and the Healing Brush are both great for retouching and, in some cases, removing smaller objects from an image. But for larger items, especially in areas of more complex detail, you often have to use another approach that involves copying sections of the background onto separate layers. In order for this technique to work, there needs to be enough “extra” background information that can serve as a patch to cover up the unwanted object. Both the Clone Stamp and the Healing Brush can be used to fine-tune rough edges after the main cover-up layers have been created.

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In the image of the girl walking through rain puddles, our goal is to remove the white fence post. It’s a bit distracting and the image will be more pleasing without it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of background that we can use to cover the post. It’s also slightly out of focus, which will make it easier to blend over the post. Use the Lasso tool (L) with a 2-pixel Feather in the Options Bar to drag a loose selection around the fence post. It’s okay to have irregular edges, as this will help camouflage the cover-up. (Note: You can download this image from

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With the Lasso tool still active, click inside the selection, hold the Shift key down, and move the selection over to the left to an area of background detail that will provide good image information for covering up the fence post. The use of the Shift key will constrain the movement of the selection to keep it aligned horizontally with the original position. In some images, such as this one, this is not that critical, but in others it may be important to have precise alignment of the data you’ll be copying.

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To create the cover-up layer, choose Layer>New>Layer via Copy, or use the handy shortcut Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J). Select the Move tool (V) and, holding down the Shift key again to constrain the movement horizontally, move the new cover-up layer back to the right until it covers the fence post. So far, so good. Now we need to zoom in for a closer look, adjust the positioning so that the fence wire matches up as well as possible, and touch up other areas with the Clone Stamp or Healing Brush.

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Double-click the Zoom tool to view the image at 100% (you can also choose View>Actual Pixels). It’s clear that the fence wire does not line up perfectly in some areas. Make the Move tool active (V), and use the Arrow keys on the keyboard to nudge the layer in 1-pixel increments until the wire mesh is better aligned.

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With the cover-up layer active, click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it’s the third icon from the left). Choose the Brush tool (B), press D to set the default colors, and then X to exchange them to place black in the Foreground color swatch. In the Brush Picker in the Options Bar, choose a 45-pixel, soft-edged brush. Double-check to make sure the layer mask is active. Now check for any hard, obvious edges on the cover-up layer and brush over them to add black to those areas of the layer mask and hide or soften those edges.

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The cover-up layer is now working quite nicely; however, because we copied a section of the background, we now need to double-check to see if there are noticeable repeating elements. In this case, there are¬ some grass patterns at the base of the fence that are obviously the same in two places. This needs to be retouched to hide the fact that it’s the same chunk of grass. You can choose to retouch either the cover-up layer or the original place from where the data was copied. For this example, let’s retouch the cover-up layer. Click the layer thumbnail to make it active instead of the layer mask.

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Choose the Clone Stamp tool (S), set the Sample drop-down menu to Current & Below in the Options Bar, and Option-click (PC: Alt-click) to sample some of the dark green grass. Now retouch the lighter yellow strands of grass to hide the fact that it’s the same image information as elsewhere in the image. In Photoshop CS4 the Clone Stamp cursor will show you a preview of the data that you’ll be stamping, which makes it very easy to correctly align the data you’re cloning with existing image information. For this photo this is not that critical due to the slightly out-of-focus background.

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As a final step you can use the Clone Stamp tool to remove the short white pipe near the upper center of the image. Keep the cover-up layer active so the retouching can be added to this layer and separate from the Background layer. Because the Sample drop-down menu is still set to Current & Below in the Options Bar, you’ll be able to clone the information from the Background layer to the cover-up layer.

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So the key is to look for background detail that can be copied onto cover-up layers. When photographing, if you notice something that needs to be taken out, be sure to take extra shots containing good source material that can be used for a cover-up. For wedding group shots, take a shot of the background with no one in front of it. That way you can use it as source material in case someone needs to be removed from the group (hey, it happens!)

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  • JerkJack says:

    …or you could have spent that extra half hour with your daughter instead of removing some ugly but irrelevant object in the background of her photo.

  • Udo Schmitz says:

    Great tutorial, but what about the “patch” tool? Wouldn’t that be the tool of choice in a case like this? Or is there a specific reason it wouldn’t work as well in this case?

  • Jimmy says:

    Good tuitorial for people who are experienced with this.. but cloning, vanishing point, and anything of this sort would be much more appreciated in video for the beginners.

  • Steve says:

    Very easy stuff. Too basic

  • Mike says:

    Only basic if you know it… Helpful tips for the beginner.

  • Michael says:

    Wow, some people can’t help but complain 😐

    Great stuff guys, I’m sure a lot of readers got a lot out of this so keep them coming.

  • Julian says:

    I appreciate the step by step attention to detail. Thank you.

  • cliff says:

    Great information, thanks for taking the time to share!

  • Kathy says:

    yes, please keep it comming as some of us need it. Help that is. Thank you for the time it took to prepare it so clearly for the rest of us.

  • Jimmy says:

    For the person who thought I wa complaining.. I was not..
    I’ve watched more tutorials than you can imagine..
    this site
    andrew Kramers site.. (very best for after effects)
    And the list goes on

    I was simply saying that based on people that I have taught.. If they are beginners.. This is not a good tutorial to read.. Better off taking the time to use the 59 dollar program to capture on screen and record it.. It would probably take less time that cutting and pasting and typing it all out to be honest with ya.. Thats all
    No complainging.. Tutorials of all kinds rule..

  • Jimmy says:

    Jimmy, you complained

  • Loren says:

    “…or you could have spent that extra half hour with your daughter instead of removing some ugly but irrelevant object in the background of her photo.”

    Literally Laughed Out Loud.

  • Dan says:

    Jimmy, Hate to say it but you’re still complaining even in the second reply. Foot is already firmly planted in your mouth….keep it there.

    Anyway thanks to the editors for the great tutorial. You effort is much appreciated….keep them coming.

  • poop cooper says:

    Here’s the thing, if you have a naturally high visual awareness then you’ll figure out a way to make something look realistic using the tools you know and trial and error. This is just one of a million ways to go about taking an object out of an image in photoshop, and the technique will never be the same because every photo is different.

    dont rely on tutorials to learn how to do something, nor believe a tutorial is the proper way to do something, instead, read tutorials to expand your knowledge of photoshop as a tool, eventually, you will be able to skim through a tutorial and figure out what and how they are doing something, and decide if its even worth trying out.

  • Derek says:

    I just discovered this site.

    Great stuff, keep up the level of detail. Its hard to find truly comprehensive tutorials without having to watch drawn out videos (I just dont have the patience); your content is a true asset.


  • Steve says:

    The title is a bit misleading. “Remove Elements From a Photo in Photoshop CS4”. The approach your using isn’t very specific to Photoshop CS4, you could do that in photoshop 4 over 14 years ago ( CS4 is version 11). How about just “Remove Elements From a Photo”

  • bonoes says:

    Fuck you Jimmy.

  • Justin says:

    Um…why don’t you just take some more time to plan your shots out instead of relying on photoshop. You can totally see where you copied from to make that patch

  • buddhistMonkey says:

    Excellent tutorial, Sean. Very thorough.

    I’m a big advocate for doing everything nondestructively in Photoshop, so I usually use a method similar to what you described, with a cover-up layer and mask. I have a few variations that I use, though, depending on the project.

    For example, once I get to Step 6, and add the layer mask to the cover-up layer, I’ll then fill the entire mask with black, so that the layer disappears. Then, I switch my brush color to white, and paint into the mask with a feathered brush, over the area that I want to conceal.

    Another variation is to forego the layer mask for the cover-up layer entirely. Instead, with the marquee tool selected, I “select all” on the cover-up layer and hit delete. Then, I go to my history palette, and set the history brush source back one step, right before the deletion. Then, I paint into the blank cover-up layer with a feathered history brush.

  • Jay says:

    I prefer this type of tutorial to the video type. In video tutorials I often find myself jumping back and forth to see things again, very awkward with most video players. With a step-by-step tutorial like this I can just scroll up and down to see something again.

    And I guess I agree that “some people can’t help but complain.” After all, there was the option of just saying nothing. This guy took the time to create a nice clear, well presented tutorial.

  • Ilmari Karonen says:

    Here’s an easier method:
    1. Download the GIMP (free).
    2. Download the Resynthesizer plugin (also free).
    3. Select object to remove.
    4. Select “Filters” -> “Enhance” -> “Smart remove selection”.
    5. Done. If not happy, try again and/or tweak the settings, but with an image like the one in this tutorial it should basically Just Work(TM).

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice tutorial and Photoshop is generally a pretty damn good image editor. But just every once in a while those pesky Free Software folks just manage to win hands down, and IMHO this is one of them. 😉

  • Eagletv says:

    Great tutorial!!! I have experience using photoshop (not a lot, just a little) but every little detail is important and useful.

    Thanks guys!!!

  • Matthew says:

    I have an even better idea – learn how to use your camera so that the shot taken doesn’t require being fixed on the computer. If you own a digital camera learn how to take photographs. Force yourself to learn – you’ll not only develop a keen eye but you won’t have to waste your time in front of Photoshop.

  • Dinesh says:

    Incredible told, with characteristic simplicity.Than you a lot for a wonderful tutorial.

  • Jimmy says:

    You can take the best photographer in the world.. You can always improve a picture in photoshop.
    If it’s already at 100% then you can make it 110%

    There’s no such thing as a picture you see in a magazine or picture see on television is not processed.. Even if it’s something such as a basic sharpening.

    And even though I was the first to “complain” as people stated it on this thread, even though I was giving a suggestion for the beginners…. I do think the idea was good. The shot was obviously used intentionally to explain how this tutorial is done

  • Lisa says:

    Thanks! I found this useful.

  • matt says:

    Its really helpful Thanks!

  • Bankruptcy says:

    punctilious post. simply one unimportant where I quarrel with it. I am emailing you in detail.

  • Art says:

    Very confusing, anyway to make this simple for us non photoshop geeks?

  • Dan says:

    Very useful! Great site!

  • Gray says:

    “Make this simple for us non photoshop geeks”? Call me crazy, but this is a Photoshop tutorial for Photoshop users.

  • SABOOR says:

    how r u
    bro plz help me plz
    how to my pic out of focus
    i m waiting ur reply;.. plz help me

  • Nila says:

    Thanks! Keep it coming

  • jonathan Ross says:

    I am having an issue with PS4 that has never happened in all the years I have used PS. When I try to use the clone brush I sample an area but when I go to apply the clone the images goes completely black. It doesn’t do it on any other tool but the pen paths tool. I have reinstalled twice with no luck. Is there something I am missing. This only just started on my new creative suite purchase, it worked fine this morning. Thanks to any and all for the help.

  • Tom says:

    Frankly, I struggled with this tutorial and still haven’t gotten it to work.It seems to be backwards. The red arrow in the photo points in the wrong direction. I can’t seem to get the mask element to cover the layer below without leaving a big whte hole. I don’t know what is going wrong. I’ve used many other tutorials with great success something is wrong with this instructions set. Sorry, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. It looks like it should work but a step or some important piece of information is missing.

  • Heather Johnson says:

    Great tutorial!! Simple and easy! I am hoping to use this in my newborn photography to remove unwanted hands from mommy that are holding baby in a position. This is perfect and looks great! Simple easy to follow instructions. Don’t understand the complaints.

  • wani says:

    nice!! ^__^

  • upthereinthesky says:

    Thanks a lot for putting forth the time and effort to present this tutorial. It’s quite helpful to a beginner like myself. I will have to go over it again to really understand the use of the layers. This tutorial is pointing me in the right direction.

    I’m sorry to see the complaints. Seems to me some people just want to boost their ego by complaining about others. Not all of us are expert in Photoshop. We appreciate your help. Thank you very much!

  • Hammer says:

    this is soooo confusing!!! its not helping me out any at all…

  • Ok, Sean. In CS4, when I make the selection initially and move it, I’m getting a blank (white) space after the move. Is this correct?