Tutorial 4: Retouching the Unclonable
Painting away big problems

Most of the pieces I work on will include a bit of difficult retouching that goes beyond what can be done with a cloning (Rubberstamp) tool. Not only can you perform miracles by painting away large problems with Photoshop’s painting tools, but you’ll be surprised at how fast it happens.

The above picture shows a detail of a car, and the photographer asked if I could remove the license plate. This is a big image that is to appear in a book, so the retouching has to be invisible. Usually you would approach a task like this with a clone tool, but this is a pretty large area, and the problem is severe. Light moves across a car in a few different directions at once, so cloning from point A to point B won’t work. Let’s paint the license plate away. I can describe the basic process in four steps:

1) Mask an area.
2) Pick your colors directly off the image.
3) Paint.
4) Add noise.

You are going to want to paint on a new layer that can be deleted in case you want to start over.

Here I have used the Line tool to create the mask that I’ll paint inside. (If you have never used Photoshop’s Line tools, there’s a tutorial on how to use them on this site.) Now that we have a mask in place, I’ll use the Eyedropper to pick a color from the image, and the Brush tool to paint the problem away. I use soft edges on brushes because I like the soft transitions they produce. To paint away this license plate, I’ll pick up the dark color next to it, and paint it out.

This is starting to look pretty good. The small area that remains is even trickier than the first part because the tone changes in that area. I’ll use the Gradation tool instead of a brush. The colors used in the gradation are chosen from inside the masked area. The correct gradation, when used inside the masked area, should paint away the remaining part of the problem.

Choosing the correct colors makes the retouching unnoticeable. I always add noise to my painted layer to add the photographic quality that the rest of the image has. This is done with Photoshop’s Noise filter (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). It doesn’t take much noise to break up the painted layer – an amount of 1 or 2 will usually do it. The idea is to make the painted layer blend in with it’s photographic surroundings.

Below are two more examples of difficult problems that could never have been solved by cloning. Befores are on the left. Afters are on the right.

I was asked to extend the base of this mannequin. Painting in the entire thing provided fast results.

For this example I had to remove the unit on the ceiling. It was easier to paint in the entire ceiling than to try to retouch
the problem away

David Phillips, July 2004.

Copyright © 2004, David Phillips. All rights reserved.
No part of this document may be reproduced without permission from the author.