Touching up blemishes

One great use of the rubber stamp tool is to touch up a scanned photo. Figure 7-6 shows a Photo CD image desperately in need of the stamp tool's attention. Normally, Kodak's Photo CD process delivers some of the best consumer-quality scans money can buy. But this particular medium-resolution image looks like the folks at the lab got together and blew their respective noses on it. It's too late to return to the service bureau and demand they rescan the photo, so my only choice is to touch it up myself.

Figure 7-6: This appallingly bad Photo CD image is riddled with blotches and big hulky wads of dust that didn't exist on the original 35mm slide.

The best way to fix this image — or any image like it — is to use the rubber stamp over and over again, repeatedly Alt-clicking at one location and then clicking at another. Begin by selecting a brush shape slightly larger than the largest blotch. Of the default brushes, the hard-edged varieties with diameters of 5 and 9 pixels generally work best. (The soft-edged brush shapes have a tendency to only partially hide the blemishes and leave ghosted versions behind.)

Alt-click with the stamp tool at a location that features similarly colored pixels to the blemished area. Be sure to Alt-click far enough away from the blemish that you don't run the risk of duplicating the blemish as you clone. Then click — do not drag — directly on the blemish to clone over it. The idea is to change as few pixels as possible.

If the retouched area doesn't look quite right, press Ctrl+Z to undo it, Alt-click at a different location, and try again. If your touchup appears seamless — absolutely seamless, there's no reason to settle for less — move on to the next blemish. Repeat the Alt-click and click routine for every dust mark on the photo.

This process isn't necessarily time-consuming, but it does require patience. For example, although it took more than 40 Alt-click and click combinations (not counting 10 or so undos) to arrive at the image shown in Figure 7-7, the process itself took less than 15 minutes. Boring, but fast.

Figure 7-7: The result of Alt-clicking and clicking more than 40 times on the photo shown in Figure 7-6. I also cropped the image and added a border.

Retouching hairs is a little trickier than dust and other blobs because a hair, although very thin, can be surprisingly long. The retouching process is the same, though. Rather than dragging over the entire length of the hair, Alt-click and click your way through it, bit by little bit. The one difference is brush shape. Because you'll be clicking so many times in succession, and because the hair is so thin, you'll probably achieve the least-conspicuous effects if you use a soft brush shape, such as the default 9-pixel model in the second row of the Brush drop-down palette.

At this point you might wonder, "Why go to all this work to remove dust and scratches when Photoshop provides the automated feature Filter ^ Noise ^ Dust & Scratches?" The reason is — and I'm going to be painfully blunt here — the Dust & Scratches filter stinks. No offense to the designers of this filter: They're wonderful people, every one of them, but the filter simply doesn't produce the effect it advertises. It mucks up the detail in your image by averaging neighboring pixels, and this simply isn't an acceptable solution. Do your photograph a favor — fix its flaws manually (not to mention lovingly) with the rubber stamp tool.

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Photoshop Secrets

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