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.
1 [CONCEPTUAL OVERVIEW]
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.
2 [SELECT THE AREA TO BE COVERED]
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 www.layersmagazine.com.)
3 [MOVE SELECTION TO GOOD DETAIL]
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.
4 [CREATE THE COVER-UP LAYER]
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.
5 [FINE-TUNE THE LAYER ALIGNMENT]
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.
6 [ADD LAYER MASK TO REFINE EDGE]
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.
7 [CHECK FOR REPEATING ELEMENTS]
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.
8 [RETOUCH REPEATED ELEMENTS WITH CLONE STAMP]
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.
9 [REMOVE OTHER ELEMENTS]
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.
10 [SHOOTING TIPS]
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!)
ALL IMAGES BY SEÁN DUGGAN UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED