The Patch tool can be a great tool to start off with, as it can get a lot done in a short period of time, leaving only small edits to be done later. With the Patch tool, the areas to watch for are repeating patterns within the clone, so after using the Patch tool, grab a smaller brush and clone in other areas of detail to remove duplicate patterns. I used the Patch tool to remove large uniform sections in dirt that were repeating from the image being flipped horizontally. I sampled from other parts of the image to avoid obvious repetition of patterns found within the landscape.
Next, I used the Content Aware Scale tool, which is new in CS5. Its results are mixed, but when it works, it does a great job. Again, this tool is most effective when dealing with larger areas that have to be removed. The Content Aware Scale tool analyzes surrounding areas outside of the selection, and based on that, fills in the selection with what was surrounding the selection. The key to this tool is that if it doesn't get you the results you're looking for the first time, try again, but make smaller selections until you get results you're happy with.
10A summary of the Layers used to finalize the image.
To get started, repeat the procedures to create a new layer, naming it and choosing All Layers. Use the Marquee or Lasso tool (L), and make a rough selection around the area you want removed. Remember to be generous in your selection and leave ample room around the area you want removed. Once you've made your selection, go to Edit > Fill. This brings up the Content Aware dialog box. Make sure to choose Content Aware within the Options box. Like the other image cleanup tools, this one is most effective when used in combination with other tools.
Once this is done, I do my final checks zoomed in to the image to look for dust spots using the Spot Healing brush, which excels with small blemishes and dust bunnies. The tool is quick and reliable as long as you follow the rules of editing on a new layer and labeling it. Check carefully to make sure the samples are clean and blend in without any noticeable changes to the image. I found several dust bunnies in the sky where most are easily seen. Removing the dust bunnies on a separate layer, I can return later to edit any mistakes the Spot Healing brush may have made due to high-contrast areas.
At this point, I've done everything in terms of image cleanup to remove any distractions, checked for mistakes in editing, and checked a "before" and "after" to see the changes. I also zoomed in and out of the image to check for consistency and seamless edits. I want to make sure that when I look at the image, nothing seems out of place. Spend extra time to double-check and make sure there are no repeating patterns, soft selections or inconsistencies in luminance and color. As my last step, I take some time away from the image and then return to take a fresh look for any mistakes.
Sometimes we come across a scene that's just too stunning not to photograph, even when that scene is plagued by distracting elements that diminish the aesthetics of the overall image. It often seems that the world of nature photography is divided on the issue of whether it's right or wrong to remove elements from an image digitally or otherwise. The answer may not be revealed in absolutes, but in the realization that the gray area is larger than one would at first expect.
Of course, as an historical document, an image should be as truthful as possible, but not every image is intended to be a natural history illustration. In many cases, we're trying to capture something of beauty for its aesthetic qualities and because the photograph is emotionally moving. In these cases, retouching distracting elements like a boardwalk is appropriate.
In the final analysis, as much as we wish it were otherwise, honesty isn't inherent in any medium, and photography is no exception. Honesty is inherent in a person. In your photography, if you strive to create an honest representation of what you're seeing and honestly convey the emotion of that moment, you're going to be on the right track.
So the question that we should be asking is, how much is too much? If it's subjective art, then the answer lies within the values of that photographer and, ultimately, photography is a unique vision relative to each photographer. That vision is what makes a photographer special and different from other photographers.
Thus, the answer is a personal choice that must be respected by all other photographers and the audience alike.