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Post-production: Removing temporary objects in Photoshop

From our digital-only Photography Magazine, we look at how to use the Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop

Post-production: Removing temporary objects in Photoshop
Image: Tristan Bejawn

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The above image was taken in Oslo in January 2016. After making my way to the roof of the Opera House, I noticed this wonderful triangular formation of buildings in the distance that grew toward the left of the frame. Unfortunately, there was no way to frame out the unsightly crane within the scene. I decided to take the shot as intended, and remove the crane using the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop. This was shot on a Nikon D700 at 24mm, f2.8, ISO 200 and 1/4000 sec.

The composition of the photograph relies on the triangle of buildings leading into the left of the frame — the woman who is photographing in that direction emphasises this. The crane breaks apart this composition, and may have ruined the shot, which is why I decided to remove it. Another reason for using the tool was that the clouds would provide a good canvas to work on, as they are non-uniform and easy to blend.

Once the crane is removed, the composition is much cleaner, and all that was left to do was a slight crop and a levels adjustment to increase the contrast.

How to use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop (CS6)

Step 1 – Creating a working layer

To use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop, you first need to create a new layer. I labelled this ‘Clone Stamp – Crane Removal’ and used it as my working layer. I wasn’t working directly on the background layer, as I wanted to work non-destructively. This gives much more flexibility further down the edit.

Step 2 – Selecting the Clone Stamp tool and configuring it

Select the Clone Stamp tool by pressing the S key or selecting it from the toolbar to the left.

I then used the drop-down at the top of the workspace, selecting ‘current and below’. This ensures that you will be sampling from the current layer and any below it.

This allows you to work on the top layer, while still cloning from the pixels from the bottom layers. Everything we paint on the top layer can be removed and altered without the background layer being touched.

Step 3 – Painting with the Clone Stamp tool

The final step is painting with the Clone Stamp tool. By selecting the ‘Clone Stamp – Crane’ layer, I created a reference point to paint from, done by holding the ‘ALT’ key and selecting the desired point in the sky that is the closest match to the sky behind the section of crane.

Now there’s a sample point selected, I simply released the ALT key and painted over the crane using the referenced section of sky. The aim of this step is to work subtly so that the cloned area blends into the image. To start this, select a brush that has a soft edge and set opacity to 100%.

Using 100% opacity, we see good results for the vertical section of crane. However, this is not always the best way forward, as the clone can look odd and out of place. Subtlety is very much the aim here, so I continued to paint but reduced the opacity of the brush, taking multiple source points as I went. This gives a more natural and evenly toned result.

Try to match the contours of the clouds, and, where sections are too dark, sample lighter parts and paint over. Play around with opacity until you achieve the desired result.

As this example shows, the Clone Stamp tool is a versatile and invaluable feature. It can salvage an image that you might have thought ruined, or help turn a good photograph into a great one. That said, with the current controversy surrounding manipulation in travel photography, it does alter scenes and therefore it’s viewed by many as a distortion of the final image. In this particular instance, I felt that the crane was a temporary obstruction, and that its removal would still be providing an honest portrayal of Oslo. This particular photograph was not intended for publication or competition, so the use of the tool did not conflict with any rules of submission.

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Published in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Magazine