Restoration of a badly damaged
image with the Spot and Clone brushes
can produce amazing results with some care and some time.
The Spot Healing Brush set to
Content Aware is one of the new additions
to Photoshop Elements 9 and it really is effective. What the
Content Aware setting does is examine the pixels around the brush
stroke and fill in the area under the brush.
This creates a nice seamless
transition (most of the time) that needs
to be seen to be believed.
The Clone Tool also acts
differently. After a Source is selected
you'll see a preview of what will be cloned moving around the
These two tools in combination
with a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos will
pretty much handle any damaged photograph.
In addition to the tools in
Elements and the Wacom tablet you will
probably find it useful to try and visualize the final product
especially when parts of the shot are missing.
The Damaged Photograph
Take a look at this picture -
apparently it's a school photo that was lost (but has since found a
I was walking out to my car
one snowy, slushy winter day and something
on the ground caught my eye. At first I figured it was a
discarded trading card but on closer inspection I realized it was a
badly damaged and abused photograph.
The photo was covered in slush
and dirt and, as you can see, it was driven over and probably dragged
along the ground.
I grabbed the photo, figuring
it would be a really great restoration example. After a good bath
the photo was ready to go - this was an absolute treasure for a restoration project!
I scanned the image on January
19, 2011 and spent the next 8 evenings (about one hour per session)
working on the picture.
The final image has 16 layers
(each of them is named) and the only technique I used, other than the
Spot Healing Brush set to Content Aware and the Clone Tool was one
This badly mangled photograph
has a variety of different challenges so let's take a look at them.
This is the area on the right
side of his head.
The hair has been pretty much
scraped and scratched away over a rather large area which necessitated
some hair re-building.
This is probably the area with
the greatest damage.
Large parts of the right
shoulder are missing as well as the boundary between his neck and his
In addition, there is some
shading on the right shoulder (the light was coming from his left).
There is also a large scratch
which ends up buried in the right shoulder.
That nasty scratch starting on the top
right and stretching down and to the left is a problem.
It starts in the background, crosses his ear, cheek, the left side of
his mouth and lower lip.
The scratch finally comes to rest in the badly damaged area on the
The scratch crossing the corner of the mouth and the lower lip was
The Background The background was much easier
The challenge in the background is where the subject meets the
background and scratch crosses the boundary.
The image has a slight amount of ghosting, especially next to the white
shirt and when a scratch was removed it messed up the ghosting (which
is probably what the photographer wanted).
Spot and Clone Using The Tools
Now that the worst areas have
been identified it's time to go to work.
Select and area that will be easy to work on just so you can do some
practicing with the Spot Healing Brush and the Clone Tool and your
You're going to need layers - lots of layers. If a project is
started on the background with a photo like this and you get a few
hours in and make a mistake - well - starting over is the only option.
Add a new layer above the Background, zoom in tight and start working
with one of the tools - the Spot Healing Brush set to Content Aware is
a good starting point. The Spot Healing brush size should be just
a bit larger than the area you are repairing. If it's too big
then you may have pixels included in the repair that shouldn't be there.
This is the tool I used most often.
started on the top of the photo working on the dark blue/black
background. This is a good starting point because it provides
good practice using the tools.
The first section was done completely with the Spot Healing Brush set
to Content Aware. This created a nice blending of the
photographers drop cloth.
The sixteen layers addressed different parts of the photograph.
In order the layers are ...
Forehead and Hair
Hair Right (Clone)
Face (Big Scratch)
Left Arm Background
Right Shoulder (Clone)
Right Shoulder 1 (Clone)
Right Collar (Clone)
The layer by layer
progression with comments can be found here
The difficult areas need the
application of both the Spot Healing Brush and the Clone Tool.
is a big area that needed help on the right side of his head. The
Spot Healing Brush just wasn't up to the job in the large areas so the
Cone Tool was pressed into service.
The problem is this - it's difficult to find a good, clean Source point
that will match the area to be cloned.
The solution is to remove the little specks and lines that are not part
of the big scratch with the Spot Healing Brush before Cloning.
This provides some nice clean areas to be the Source points of the
After cleaning up the little specks and scratches that were isolated
from the large damaged area the cloning job became much easier.
I started with a new layer, selected a large brush that was set to
change opacity with pressure on my Wacom pen, selected a Source point
above the big mark and lightly started cloning out the damage.
The Source was changed often and the brush size was decreased as the
damage went away. It is a good idea to keep checking to make sure
the shading and texture you are cloning in fits seamlessly.
If you have a large enough monitor then go to Window > New Window For (your filename).
This creates a second photo and you can zoom way in on one of them to
do the work and watch the results on the other one that's at full view
- this is a really handy command.
The right shoulder was quite a challenge. The problem is this -
there are three distinct areas all meeting where the major damage is
blue/black drop cloth
Fixing the area took four
layers, a lot of cloning with my Wacom pen and an artistic eye (which
is a challenge for me).
A good start to working
Notice the out of focus ghosting on the shirt - that must have been an
effect chosen by the photographer.
In the course of
working this area the out of focus area became much sharper.
This created other problems with the boundary between the shirt and the
background - the blur was eventually eliminated at the boundary.
at least the damaged area is pretty much gone but - there is something
wrong where his neck meets the collar of his shirt.
It just doesn't look right at all.
A close inspection of
the original provided a hint as to how the area should look.
A few more passes with the Clone Tool and now the neck/collar area
Every damaged photo will be different. This is meant as a
guideline as a starting point about how to think about difficult areas
of an image.
For the most part the big scratch was not particularly difficult to
remove. The Spot Healing Brush set to Content Aware pretty much
took care of the scratch against the background although it may take a
few passes to get it right.
The most challenging areas are ...
where the scratch
crosses the ear, and
where the scratch
crosses through the lips
The area where the scratch crosses the ear just needed some tight zooming
and some careful cloning. The Spot Healing Brush doesn't work
well in areas where there are two different colors meeting - like the
background and the ear.
This happens because the Content Aware generally brings in areas that
are close to the brush and it often grabs some of the color that is not
wanted. That's why it is best to clone in areas where two
different colors meet.
As it was with the neck and collar, it's best to do some preparation
work with the Spot Healing brush to clean up the area.
This was much more difficult. Spot Healing and Cloning cleaned up
the scratch where it crossed the lips the the corner of the mouth just
didn't look right.
No amount of messing around with Spot Healing and Cloning helped -
there was just too much damage.
The solution was to rebuild the left side of his mouth using the right
side of his mouth - in other words - we're going to make a lip
patch. A selection was made on the background image
like this ...
The selection was promoted to it's own layer (Ctrl-J/Cmd-J).
This is where the rulers come in handy.
To maintain the correct size of the selection the Rulers were activated
(View > Rulers). I
also went to the Preferences and changed the units to pixels.
This made it much easier to maintain the size when the selection is
The new layer was activated and then Image
> Transform > Free Transform.
I made note of the width of the selection by changing the zero points,
added a couple of Guides, grabbed the left middle
handle and dragged it to the right. It became smaller and smaller
and eventually crossed over the right edge of the
selection. I kept going until the
selection and stopped when the size of
the selection was correct.
When the size was right I accepted the transformation by clicking the
green check mark and then moved the selection into the right place with
the Move tool.
It looked kind of weird but a few easy adjustments (changing the
of the new layer and using the eraser with my Wacom pen set to change
opacity with pressure) blended in the lip patch.
One Last Thing
After it appeared that
everything was perfect I figured a last check would be useful.
What I did was activate the top layer in the stack and did an Unsharp
Mask set to the Maximum settings (Enhance
> Unsharp Mask ...) with the Preview checked.
What the Unsharp Mask
did was reveal places that were missed with the spot and heal
procedure. Before doing this I figured the project was finished
but just didn't feel right about it.
This seems to prove that while the eyes see one thing the brain sees
something else entirely and that's probably why I had that sense of
unease and did this step.
A new layer was added and the rogue damage areas were fixed.
Here it is - the masterpiece
after a lot of enjoyable spot and clone work ...