Before and After using Healing tools

Restoring Trudie Ann Part 3

Cleaning with Healing and Patching tools

In Part 1, I used Camera Raw to make very basic adjustments on the original scan of Trudie Ann. In Part 2, I used the old, but still useful, Dust & Scratches filter to take care of a lot of very minor spots that film scans often have. But if Dust & Scratches could take care of it all, Adobe would never have bothered to invent the Healing tools. Sadly, these tools are fully manual. There is no way to clean a photo except to zoom in to at least 100%, put on your favorite music, take a calming breath and accept that patience is a virtue you’ll need to do this. There are, however, a few tips that can make cleaning easier:

•    Adjust your brush to be slightly larger than the spot or scratch you’re trying to remove. If it’s too close to the same size, there won’t be enough material from the surrounding area for the tool to analyze when blending the edges. Too large, however, will simply smudge a lot of the surrounding detail, if there is any.

•    If you’re using a healing brush on spots on a fairly plain area, try leaving the Use Pressure for Size icon in the Options bar turned off and click to heal. Turn it back on to drag along skinny scratches or across areas of high contrast so you don’t smudge the rest of the area. If turning off the icon doesn’t make a difference, check to see that Brush Dynamics is turned OFF in the Brush panel. Then the icon will control whether or not you’re using pressure for size.

Brush Options Bar settings
The three selected settings are, right to left, Brush Pressure for Size, Sample Source from composited data (use all layers), and Heal with Content Aware Fill.
Shape Dynamics setting in Brush panel
When you want to control how Pressure affects Brush size from the Options Bar, uncheck Shape Dynamics, if enabled for the brush, in the Brush panel.

If you don’t have a pressure-sensitive tablet and stylus to take advantage of using pressure to control brush size, why not? They’re wonderful things, are far more ergonomic than mice, and the cheapest Wacom is still a darned good replacement for a mouse.

•    Use Spot Healing with Content Aware turned on in the Options bar wherever possible. Heal on a separate, empty layer with the Sample source from composited data (use all layers) icon turned on. But if Content Aware is pulling in unwanted detail, try turning on the Heal With Proximity icon in the Options bar, restricting the brush to source material from the edges of the brush itself.

Heal with Proximity icon
Try Heal with Proximity if Content Aware is proving frustrating—it might help.

•    The Heal With Texture icon attempts to use the luminosity in the region to create a pattern from it that it applies as texture. I’m sure someone uses it with tremendous success, but if Spot Healing is turning my texture into cream soup, I normally switch to the Healing brush to sample the texture I actually want. I’ve tried blend modes for the brush as well, and it doesn’t appear to make the results for Heal With Texture any better.

Detail showing Heal with Texture results
Heal with Texture often generates too much texture to be useful, although if you want to add fake texture, you might try it.
Result from using a blend mode with Heal With Texture
Multiple strokes (left) often helps with healing brushes, but not so often when using Heal With Texture. Blend modes (right) don’t appear to work any wanted magic, either.

•    Detail that seems far away to you, but not to the Spot Healing Brush, is far less likely to get “cloned” into your empty skies or other nearly featureless regions if you switch to the Healing Brush and sample from an appropriate source.

•    With either of the healing brushes, scratches and spots that meet up with or cross over areas of high contrast can smudge. If you drag your brush from a light to dark or dark to light area, rather than stopping next to the contrasting area, the healing is likely to be more successful and smudge-free. You might have to take short drags across the boundary from both sides to even out any tendency to pull one area into the other, the brush acting as if it were the Smudge tool in Fingerpaint mode instead of a healing brush. Pressure sensitivity for brush size, using a very light touch, also helps to reduce smudging.

•    Don’t forget to use the Rotate View tool in order not to contort your hand while dragging along a scratch. The Rotate View tool is “spring-loaded.” Press and hold the “R” key, drag in the document to rotate the view, and when you let go of the key, any tool you had selected, such as the Healing Brush, will be active again. Hold the “R” key and click in the options bar to reset the view to normal. It’s a bit awkward to use the tool at first, but it really pays off to take the time to get comfortable with it.

Rotate Tool Options bar settings
Using the Rotate View tool takes a bit of practice, but becomes easy with time. Reset your view to its normal orientation by pressing and holding “R” and clicking on the Reset View button.
Rotate View tool used to change the angle of a scratch
Use the Rotate View tool to make it easy for your hand to draw while following a line. Here I’m rotating to make a horizontal scratch vertical.

•    Some people use the Lasso tool to select just the area they want to heal, while excluding the area they don’t want to touch. I don’t find that works very well for me, but I will try it before switching to the Clone Stamp tool if I need to protect an area and attempt to prevent smudging. The Clone Stamp tool, however, can be your best friend in these cases.

•    The Patch Tool is often quickest if you have large featureless areas that are spotty and scratched. Clean one area well with a healing brush, then use the Patch tool in Normal mode on a duplicate image layer. You don’t really need the Content Aware feature for this since you’re just cleaning up an area that should be empty and you don’t want to have any detail pulled into the area. You can set it to Patch source from destination in the Options bar in order to select the dirty areas to be healed with the area you drag the selection to, or, if it makes more sense to you, select the clean area and drag that selection over a dirty area.

Patch Tool setting in Options bar
The settings for the Patch tool in Normal mode different from using it in Content-Aware mode.
Patch tool settings in Normal mode
Using the Patch tool in Normal mode can clean up larger areas more easily than using of the Healing brushes.

•    Use the Patch tool in Content Aware mode if you’re working with distinct patterns or lines. You can work on a separate, empty layer in this mode, which I recommend, and you can line up the source with the destination before you let go of the mouse so the pattern is maintained. While the destination (the area being healed) is still selected, adjust the Structure and Color settings to make the best match. The lower the structure number, the less detail is preserved, the edges become increasingly soft, possibly, but not necessarily, blending better with the damaged area than using a very high setting. As the Color setting increases, more of the color around the area you’re healing is used in the blend, so a source with a light background will blend better into an area with a darker background. You can sometimes nearly mimic cloning with high Structure and low Color settings. It’s a good idea to play with the settings while the selection is still active.

Patch tool settings in Content Aware mode.
While the patch is still active, modify the Structure and Color settings until the source blends with the area being patched.
Image of scratch and healing the scratch
When the source for healing a scratch is lighter than the area around the scratch, adjusting the Color settings creates a better blend.

If using these tools sounds a bit complicated, it is. They have a lot of power, and a lot of computation is going on behind the scenes to make them work. But they can’t really see what we see, or know what is going to bother us and what isn’t. They do take time to get used to, but they’re worth it.

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