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Correct imperfections in digital photos with the Healing Brush

Added on Wednesday 2nd of May 2012 04:50 am EST

by Jim Whitcomb
Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5
Operating Systems:
Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

The Healing Brush tool is a terrific helping hand in removing imperfections from an image you might otherwise find unusable. You’ll benefit by having a wider selection of subjects to choose from, you won’t have to spend additional time and expense reshooting or buying an image, and you can use this tool to fix imperfections in portraits and product shots.

To help you heal images with the Healing Brush tool, we’ll:

  1. Review just how the Healing Brush tool works.
  2. Select an image and identify the areas we want to alter.
  3. Practice on a problem area and note the cause-and-effect relationship of using the Healing Brush tool and its options.
  4. Look at our work and review our results.

Have you ever come across an image that would be perfect to use except for a spot located right in the middle of your subject? A speck of dust, a scratched paint job, or a smudge of dirt can all render your image less than desirable. But you don’t have to let a little spot ruin an entire image. Photoshop’s Healing Brush tool is a great tool for correcting these types of imperfections. With the Healing Brush, you can touch up a problem area, making it blend into the surrounding image, and avoid having to reshoot a subject or having to use a different image.


Select a practice photo
Before you start, go through your archives and find a good candidate for retouching with the Healing Brush tool, such as the example shown in Figure A. Next, launch Photoshop and open your file.


As mentioned earlier, take a few moments to analyze your image. Our example is a daffodil with a number of dirt spots and other blemishes. The surface of the flower is smooth and without busy detail. The flower is softly lit from the top with only a hint of shadow under the petals. Because the lighting is low-key and gradual, any retouching you do has to copy the color value of the petals and match the very subtle change in tone value as it graduates from top to bottom.


Why use the Healing Brush tool?
If you were to use, say, the Brush tool, you could match the color value at any one point, but you’d have to constantly resample it as you move across a graduated area. The process would be slow and tedious. If you were to use the Clone Stamp tool, you’d be able to stroke your image from a cloned sample. However, the Clone Stamp doesn’t integrate color into the image, so it can be hard to make cloned areas match with its surroundings. The Healing Brush tool not only matches a particular value, but it also blends your strokes into the surrounding image, matching lighting as well as shading.


Choose your options
To start, we need to make a duplicate of the Background layer to work on. By switching back and forth between the duplicate and original, we can check on the progress of our retouching efforts. Click on the Layers panel’s pop-up menu and select Duplicate Layer. In the Duplicate Layer dialog box, enter Healing Brush in the As text box. Since the destination for the duplicate layer is the file you currently have open, leave the Document text box unchanged. Click OK.
When retouching an image with many corrections, such as our flower example, it’s best to start at one edge and systematically work your way across the subject. This way, you leave nothing out that requires retouching. Start at the top and work your way down. You’ll want a closer look at the area you’re to work on, so go to the Tools panel and select the Zoom tool. Locate your mouse pointer over where you want to zoom in and click several times until you can comfortably see an area you want to retouch, as shown in Figure B.


Now, go to the Tools panel again, select the Healing Brush tool, and in the tool options bar, as shown in Figure C, set your tool options. Let’s break down each setting and its pur...


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