Erase Flaws with Photoshop Elements 3

iPhoto’s Retouch tool does a good job of removing blemishes and other minor flaws. But it’s no plastic surgeon. When an image needs serious retouching, wheel it into the operating room of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 (see Best Current Price ).

On a recent outing, for example, I took a photo of cliffs overlooking the ocean (see “Before”). The only problem was that a pair of utility wires sliced across the scene, distracting from and otherwise scenic vista.

But correcting such problems is easy in Photoshop Elements 3. I’ll show you how to quickly erase unwanted telephone polls, wires, and other image flaws using the new Spot Healing brush and the Clone Stamp tool. With just a few click of the mouse, you can revive the nature beauty in our ailing photo and no one will ever know the difference (See “After”).

Before

Before

After

After

Try It Yourself To follow along with this step-by-step tutorial, download our “Before” image. Go to Adobe to download a trial version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.

Before You Begin

You should perform image-wide tonal corrections—such as fixing lighting problems and color casts— before retouching smaller flaws (See “Image Editing Beyond iPhoto” ). Otherwise you may draw undo attention to your retouching brushstrokes.

Step 1: Use the Spot Healing Brush

The easiest flaws to erase are those set against a consistent background color or pattern. In our “Before” picture, for example, that includes the sky, water, and hillside. To remove these sections of the wire, select the Band-Aid-shaped Spot Healing brush in the tool palette.

The Spot Healing brush isn’t as effective on areas where the color or background pattern change significantly—for example, along the distant shoreline where land hits water, or in the craggy, offshore rocks. So you’ll want to avoid these areas for now.

Step 2: Adjust the Brush Size

Adjust the size of the Spot Healing brush so it’s slightly larger than the flaw you want to remove. Press the right bracket (]) for a larger brush, and the left bracket ([) for a smaller one.

Step 3: Paint over Flaws

Starting with the sky in the top portion of the image, carefully drag the Spot Healing brush over the wire until you reach the shoreline. When you let go of the mouse, Elements replaces the wires with colors from the surrounding area.

Vanishing Trick

For best results, use short strokes when painting. If a particular stroke yields bad results, choose Undo from the Edit menu (or press Command-Z). If you continue to have trouble with a particular area, leave it. You can come back to it in the next step.

Continue this process for the water and hillside portions of the photo. When you’re done you should have something that looks like this:

After Spot Healing

Step 4: Clean up with the Clone Stamp

The spot healing brush isn’t as effective on flaws surrounded by fine details, such as the offshore rocks and distant shoreline. To fix those areas, you need the Clone Stamp tool, which picks up pixels from one area of an image and lays them over a different area.

To correct these difficult areas, select the Clone Stamp tool (it resembles a rubber stamp). Use the bracket keys to specify a brush size that's a bit wider than the wire in the photo.

Step 5: Select a Source Point

Before you can use the Clone Stamp to paint over the wire, you need to tell Elements which pixels to replace it with. You do this by selecting a source point. While holding down the option key, click on a part of the image that you would like to use as a replacement. For example, to remove the wire from the offshore rocks, you’d option-click on a similarly colored area of rock.

Step 6: Stamp out the Wire

Once you’ve set your source point, release the option key and paint over the relevant sections of wire, being careful to use short strokes.

Cloning Around

As you paint with the Clone Stamp tool, Elements copies pixels from your source point (the crosshairs) and deposits them over the flaw (the circular stamp). If you make a mistake, use the Undo command.

To get the most realistic results, specify a new source point now and then by option-clicking in a slightly different area. This will make your work less obvious—and that's the goal of any retouching project.

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