Photoshop Intro Course: Photo Retouching

Get Started Photo Retouching Video Tutorial

Learn some of Photoshop's retouching features so that you can remove unwanted elements from your photos.

Video Transcription

I'd like to introduce you to some of Photoshop's retouching features so you can remove unwanted elements from your photos. For example, this photo is a good photo, but there's a few distracting elements that I'd like to remove, such as the bright parts near the deer. The deer is the primary subject and what we want to be drawn to, but the bright parts behind it are distracting. There are also a few other bright parts over here that are distracting.

Before I get started, I would like to work on a copy of this so that it is non-destructive. To make a copy of the background layer, I can drag it down onto the new icon below or go to Layer > New > New Layer via Copy (Command J on Mac or Ctrl J on Windows). I'm going to rename this copy "Retouching" so I remember what it is.

I'm going to start with the Clone Stamp tool, which is the oldest of the retouching tools. It is a literal copy and paste and it is important to choose an appropriate thing that you think belongs in that section. There are other tools which are more intelligent and can help blend in the retouching.

I'm going to choose an appropriate size brush, generally about the size of the area I want to remove, and make sure I have a soft brush. Then, I'll Option/Alt-click to define the source I'm going to copy from and start to paint. If it does not match, it won't look good.

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Let me undo that. I want to find something that I think belongs there, so I can Option-click or Alt-click on that to define it as the source, and then I can come in and paint it in. But if it doesn't match exactly, I get some edges that might not be desirable. So there's no extra blending happening, it's literally just me copying and pasting. That can be good if you're trying to define an edge of something, but when you're in the middle of something where you don't want distinct edges, you need to make sure that you get everything matching.

So while you can do the work with the Clone Stamp tool, in cases like this, it's going to be easier done with one of the Healing Brushes. Whenever you see a tool with a little triangle at the bottom right corner (which is almost all of the tools, except for the Zoom Tool), click and hold anywhere on the tool - you don't have to aim at that tiny triangle - and there will be hidden tools similar to the tool you're working with. Here, we have the Spot Healing Brush.

The Healing Brush works similarly to the Clone Stamp in that it's a copy and paste, but there's an extra blending step that the Clone Stamp doesn't do. So this is copy, paste, blend. When you switch tools, you do have to choose an appropriate brush size and edge hardness. Now I'm going to sample something that I think belongs there, and if I'm a little bit off, it's still going to blend it in and make it look okay.

The Healing Brush will blend in the colors and brightness of the area you're putting it into, so you're really looking for the same textural quality. Ideally, if you can try to match the color and brightness and texture, great, but it will blend it into the colors and brightness of the area you're putting it into.

So one more time, I can let's zoom out a little bit here and slide over here and zoom in. I'm using the keyboard shortcuts for zooming in and out, which are Command+ and - on the Mac or Control+ and - on Windows. I'm also using the Space bar to move around using the Hand Tool. Let's say for example, if I was trying to use the Clone Stamp and Option-clicking over here to sample some of this and painting this in, if I didn't quite match it exactly, it's not going to look so good.

If I'm using the Healing Brush however, let's say I grab something from over here by Option-clicking and then I come over here and start to paint that in, it starts to blend but once you cover over the whole area, it starts to blend into the surroundings. So it tries to blend everything in. One of the things that's important about the Healing Brush is to cover the area that you want to remove completely so that it will blend into the surrounding edges. So let me just undo that a couple of times, because that was not good work there. What you need to do is you need to just keep going and remove the whole area and once you brush over that whole area, you'll see that the whole kind of feeling of it changes, because now it knows that you want to remove that light area and it will start to blend it into the surrounding areas in a much better way. So you need to paint over the whole area that you want to remove and then you can let go, do it in one step rather than in lots of steps.

When I see people trying to paint away lots of tiny little strokes, they get frustrated and it's just not meant to work that way. It's meant to work in kind of a broader stroke, so do it in one go, don't do it in multiple pieces. It's going to work much better if you do it all in one step.

Now, I'm going to go over to my History Panel here. I can see that little icon here that I can click on to pop open the History Panel and see the history states that I have. If I didn't know that that was the icon for the History Panel, I can always find the History Panel under Window, go down here to History, and that can show me that panel as well. I'm going to go back to before I did any of these healing brushes.

So the Healing Brush will do a copy-paste and then a blend step whereas the Clone Stamp is just copy and paste. The Spot Healing Brush is another useful tool and with that you're going to let Photoshop decide what to put there. You do not have to decide what to put there. Again, anytime you switch tools, if you switch tools, you got to change your brush size and just so you can see, I'm actually going to leave this on a hard edge brush just so you can see that even though we have a hard edge brush, this Spot Healing is going to blend things in as much as possible. With this tool, you do not determine what goes there -- Photoshop's intelligence, their machine learning, they're going to figure out what they think should be there.

So you want to drag over and highlight the whole area of bad stuff that you want to remove -- highlight that all in this darkness and when you let go, Photoshop is going to figure out what they think belongs there. And in a lot of cases, it does a really darn good job of doing it. So you can just drag over an area and that area is healed. It's again important to drag over the whole area like I said for the Healing Brush, the regular Healing Brush. Don't noodle it, don't do a little bit and then a little bit and then a little bit -- because what's happening is when you click, it looks around in the surrounding areas and tries to kind of suck in and pull in different pieces and mix up something new, but it's looking around where the brush is to figure out what it thinks you want. You're supposed to highlight the whole area you want to remove, and when you let go, it'll look around and say, "Oh, that's the stuff you want to remove. Okay, let me blend in the surroundings into there."

So the Spot Healing, especially when you have little spots, little things here and there, it can do a really amazing job at figuring out what to put there for you.

Let me go down here and there's a little out of focus probably a leaf or something down here a bit distracting. Just because it's a bit brighter in color and the same color as a deer, I think I want to remove that as well. And I'm just going to highlight that whole area and see if Photoshop can figure it out. It really does a quite decent job. Now, if I think there was too much brown brought up there and I don't like that brown there, I could just drag over it again and see if it does a second shot and see if it figures it out, but it didn't.

So, if you want to have control, that's where the healing brush comes in, because you can take more control. I'm going to go in with a bit of a smaller brush, something that's not quite so hard edged, and let's say something like that. I think is good. I'm going to Option-click on some of the green that I like and I'm going to come in and start to paint that in and it's going to start to mix that in. So I get some say. Now it is still mixing it. So if you don't want that mixing to occur, because it is still kind of trying to mix in some of that brown, if you don't want mixing, go to the clone stamp. I want to make sure I don't see a hard edge so I'm going to make sure I don't have a hard edge brush, and let's say I like that. So I'm going to Option-click on some of this green (Alt-click on Windows) and then when you paint that in you can paint in exactly what you want and there's no blending.

So sometimes blending is good because it helps your retouching to look natural, but other times you need more of a say. So if you want a literal say of exactly what you copy and paste or copy and paint, that's the clone stamp. You have the most control, but also you're the most responsible. If it doesn't match, if it doesn't look good, that's on you. There's no extra help for you. The clone stamp is the most control in that sense. The healing brush is something I use a lot. I use both this and the healing brush a lot, the clone stamp when I need it, but in a lot of cases that blending action really helps. So the healing brush and the spot healing brush do work amazingly well and I use them a lot, but when I need more control I'll use the clone stamp instead.

The healing brush gives you some control, but to be honest if you can use the spot healing it's super quick. It does a really good job in a lot of cases so I will often go with the spot healing just to give it a quick hit first just to see if it works. If for some reason it doesn't, then maybe I just undo that and use the healing brush where maybe I need to give it a little bit more say, but both of them are going to have some blending done for you to help your retouching blend into those edges and look good.

So, in the end let me zoom back out, I'm going to say fit on screen and turn on and off the retouching layer. And you can see how those distracting elements now are gone and now we can focus more on the deer.

Now there is another way that you can get rid of unwanted elements which is also quite nice. I'm going to go into my history and I'm going to go back before I did any of those spot healings or anything, go back to when I just named that layer. So here I am back to my original with none of the retouching done and I'm going to zoom in on let's say this area right here. Use my hand tool by holding the spacebar and zoom in one more time. Another way is based on selections instead of painting. There are multiple ways you can make selections.

I think the lasso will work well. I can use the lasso tool to circle around an area that I want to remove. Then, I can go to Edit > Fill, and select Content Aware from the menu. Click OK, and it will fill that area with what it thinks should be there. It's kind of like the Spot Healing Brush, but instead of painting, you're using selections. If I want to do a regular delete, I hit the Delete key or Backspace. To bring up the Fill dialog, I do Shift Delete (or Shift Backspace). Then, I can hit Return without having to choose anything from the menu.

To show an alternative image, let's open up another image. We can use the Zoom tool to zoom in, and if we want to get rid of someone from the photo, we can either paint over them using the Spot Healing Brush, or use the lasso tool to select the area and then use the Content Aware Fill.

You can paint over all of this area here and you want to paint over all the area that you want to remove and have just a little bit of the background selected as well. Go a little bit beyond the edge of the thing that you want to remove and paint away all the insides. You could also use the Spot Healing Brush where Photoshop figures out what to put there as an alternative to using the painting.

To avoid losing information, always make a duplicate of your layer first. You can select the area, then say Edit Fill, hit Shift Delete or Shift Backspace, choose Content Aware, and click OK. This will take care of it and do a really quite amazing job. When finished, make sure to save the file and you will always have the original background to come back to.

These are some of the most common ways to remove unwanted elements from your photos and I hope you find them useful when retouching your own images.

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