|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
Each year, the number of visitors to our national parks grows, looking to see and photograph their favorite icons. That means more human elements are put in place to accommodate the increase—more buildings, signs, roadways and people are the consequences. This ultimately affects the natural setting of a park's beauty, so as nature photographers, how are we able to photograph these iconic spots without the inclusion of people and the heavy impact they leave behind?
|1 Increasing the canvas size provides more editing space.|
|2 Flipping the canvas horizontally with Edit > Free Transform removes the boardwalk.|
This can be achieved in postprocessing, and with the recent advances made in Photoshop, the task of removing elements from an image has become simple, yet effective in its results. In Photoshop, there's no one tool that can do it all in image cleanup; rather it's the combination of several tools when applied correctly that do the best job. The key to removing elements is moderation, brushing in increments that get credible results.
The main process involved in image cleanup is cloning and healing with a variety of tools. Depending on what's being removed or edited, the size of your brush and its hardness are crucial. In most cases, you want the hardness of the brush to be soft when healing and harder when cloning. The brush size also must be in proper relation to the selection being removed.
|3 Cloning removes telltale repeating patterns from the sky.|
In this example, the sapphire thermal pool was surrounded by a boardwalk and fence. I want viewers to feel like they could place themselves within the image and imagine they're the only ones present, so I chose to remove the boardwalk that surrounded the pool.
Before I work on an image, I previsualize what I want the final image to look like, so I always follow a few important rules when I begin my editing. The first step is to create a new layer from the background layer; go to the Layer menu and choose Layer > New > Layer Via Copy. Next, label this layer something that makes sense to you, such as "Clone Outer Edge," for use when returning to reedit layers. Never edit on the background layer, as this is destructive to the image and degrades the final quality. By duplicating the background layer, you create a buffer to protect the background layer.
4 The Heal tool gives you All Layers and clone sources options.
Always start with the most pressing problem and work your way from there. The size and nature of the boardwalk was the first thing I wanted to clone out. In this case, when substantial elements are going to be removed, like a whole boardwalk, it's vital to increase the canvas size in order to make editing space for the cloning. Go to Image > Canvas Size and open this dialog box. You'll be presented with a few options; the ones to be concerned with are Width, Height and the Relative box. Make sure the Relative box is checked and insert new numbers into Width and Height, allowing the new changes in the Canvas Size box to reflect the size needed for removing the boardwalk. In my case, I added five inches to the left-hand side. You can determine where you'd like the changes to occur by clicking on the arrow box just below the Width and Height options. Click on the arrow in the direction you want the changes to happen. Now you're ready to start cloning.
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|5 Spot cloning removes artifacts after flipping the canvas.|
To get realistic results, I needed to clone the outer edges of the thermal pool on the right side of the image and then replace the boardwalk with these cloned edges. The problem is that once I cloned the outer edges of the thermal pool, I had to find a way to change the angle so the edges would be mirrored. This meant I had to flip the area that was cloned horizontally so I could connect the full inclusion of the geyser. I chose to clone the right-side edges using the Marquee tool (M) in the Tools menu.
Once you've selected the Marquee tool, make a selection of where you'd like to clone. Try to make the selection larger than the boardwalk. Once you're happy with the selection, feather the selection: Select > Modify > Feather. Feathering eases the transition so there's a smoother gradient between the selected portion and the rest of the image. It makes the changes less obvious. Remember to do editing on a separate layer, then the background layer. Once you've jumped this selection to a new layer and labeled it, you're ready to start replacing the boardwalk.
|6 Repeating patterns in the foreground of the pool are removed.|
Hold the Command button (Mac) or Control button (Windows) and drag the selected layer over the boardwalk. Now that the layer is on top of the boardwalk, flip the layer horizontally. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest and most flexible way is to go to Edit > Free Transform. This brings up a selection bar with anchors located at the corners and the side. This tool allows you to transform the image by changing its shape and size. To get the image flipped horizontally, grab the right- or left-side anchor in the middle and pull it over, overlapping the opposite middle anchor so that you're left with the selection flipped. At this stage, I fine-tune the anchors so the edges of the thermal pool line up.
|7 Hue/Saturation matches colors and tonalities.|
We've cloned out the boardwalk at this point, but we've mirrored the outer edges of the thermal pool, thus repeating patterns in the image—an obvious sign of a clone edit. The next step is to clone in new patterns and textures to avoid the repeating patterns along the pool's edge. Three primary tools can be used for cloning. Which ones you should choose depends on the properties of the areas that need the cloning. The first is the Healing Brush (J) in the Tools menu. (Make sure All Layers is chosen in the Options bar and that you're working on a blank new layer properly labeled as something to do with the process of healing.)
|8 Unnatural elements are removed from the background.|
The key to the Healing Brush is to use several clone sources when sampling. The more areas you sample, the better. To sample or clone an area, hold the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key and click on a source point; the size and hardness of the brush depends on what's being cloned. (You can quickly change the size of the brush by clicking on the left and right Bracket keys on the keyboard; the left key makes it go smaller and the right, larger.) For healing to be effective, alignment and angle are important. Another consideration is to avoid areas of high contrast or uneven areas of luminance. Sampling of these areas can cause bleeding and obvious signs of editing. If you must do cloning in these areas, be sure to adjust color and tonality afterward so that the sampled areas match their new surroundings.
Once you're finished with the healing, zoom in to the image at 100% to get a better look at your editing; make sure to pan around the image for smooth transitions between the edits by holding the Space bar down and dragging around the image. Lastly, zoom out and take another look for the consistency of the image between edits. In areas where healing must be done on high-contrast edges, simply follow the edge by repositioning the content so that everything lines up.
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|9 Final adjustments include midtone and contrast.|
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.
10 A 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.
|The Ethics Of Retouching
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.