Power Cloning

Instead of wrestling with tools that only can do part of the job, try this technique to clone color while maintaining the all-important texture in your image
power cloning

Photoshop provides many tools for cloning, the process of cleaning up small imperfections before printing. Dust on the sensor, contrails in the sky, twigs protruding into the frame or a cigarette butt in the scene are examples of things a photographer might choose to clone out. Several tools are provided in Photoshop to make easy work of these situations. The Rubber Stamp tool, the Patch tool, the Healing Brush and the Spot Healing Brush are the usual choices.

These tools do a great job of changing pixel color to match the surrounding area so that the spot is no longer visible, but they also tend to change the texture of the area. While this can be mitigated somewhat by choosing the right area to sample with the Rubber Stamp, Patch and Healing Brush tools, sometimes keeping the underlying texture intact and changing only the color is what works best, especially if the area is larger than a few pixels. There’s no specific tool to do this in Photoshop, but it can be accomplished in a relatively simple manner with only a blank layer and the Brush tool.

Figure 1
In this image of a slot canyon in the Colorado Plateau, you can see a close-up section where a pivotal area (circled in red) had just enough color difference to slow the eye down as it prepared to jump off into other parts of the scene. The texture of the area was perfect, but the color wasn’t quite right.

poer cloning
power cloning

Figure 2
To correct it, the Patch or Healing Brush tool could have been tried, but because they create their replacement color from adjacent pixels, the edge shared with the background area would bleed orange into the correction. Figure 2 shows the results of attempting to use the Patch tool. The orange color and the less-than-perfect edges are obvious. The texture also has been changed, but might be passable.

power cloning
power cloning

Figure 3
A better way to facilitate the color change is by adding the right color in a new layer over the texture that’s already present. The Brush tool is used to do this. Because the Brush tool can be finely controlled, even with a computer mouse, blending the correction into the scene is both easy and accurate.

However, before describing the procedure, it’s important to set up Photoshop to make the process work correctly. First, select the Eyedropper tool from the Tools palette.

power cloning

Figure 4
Go to the Options bar at the top and select a sample size of “5 by 5 Average” from the drop-down menu. This ensures that when color is sampled it will be representative of an area and less likely to be influenced by the color of any one pixel.

power cloning

Figure 5
If you haven’t already done so, make sure your painting cursor is set to Normal Brush Tip and your other cursors are set to Precise. These preferences can be found under Edit > Preferences > Cursors.

power cloning

Figure 6
The first step in the painting process is to make a new layer by clicking the “Create a new layer” button at the bottom of the Layers palette. A new blank layer will appear (Layer 1, in this case) above the active layer in the Layers palette. Generally, this layer should be the topmost layer, so if there are multiple layers in the Layers palette, drag the new layer to the top.

power cloning

Figure 7
A new layer also can be created with the menu command Layer > New > Layer and clicking OK in the default from the dialog box that opens. Once the layer is created, go to the top of the Layers palette and change the blending mode from Normal to Color.

8 power cloning

Figure 8
According to the Photoshop Help Viewer, the Color blending mode “creates a resulting color with the luminance of the base color and the hue and saturation of the blend color.”

With this procedure, the gray tones that define the texture in the image (the luminance of the base layer) will remain unchanged, but the color will match what’s placed into this new layer. Right now this new layer is empty, so there’s no color change evident in the image. The way to get the right matching color for the discolored area is to sample it from the surrounding area and then paint it over the area where color change is desired. In order to paint, click the Brush tool in the Tools palette.

power cloning

Figure 9
Again, go to the Options bar to properly set the Brush tool properties to facilitate the process. Click the drop-down menu for Brush and set the Master Diameter to make an appropriately sized brush for painting over the area that needs it. In this case, I started with a 75-pixel brush. Remember, once you close this dialog, you easily can adjust brush size on the fly using the right bracket key ( ] ) to make it larger and the left bracket key ( [ ) to make it smaller. Also, move the Hardness slider to 0 so that the brush will have soft edges to facilitate blending. The yellow highlights in Figure 9 show these adjustments.


power cloning

Figure 10
The green highlights in Figure 9 show other important settings on the Options bar for the Brush tool. The Mode should be Normal and the Opacity should be low—10% to 15% is usually a good starting point. The low Opacity setting means that color can be added incrementally with each pass of the brush over the affected area. This allows the color change to occur more slowly and also permits resampling to produce natural color variation. Finally, to avoid confusion, the Flow value should be set to 100%. This ensures that each time you click the mouse and pass it over the area to be retouched, the brush will lay down 100% of the selected Opacity percentage of the sampled color. This avoids unintentionally laying down additional color with subsequent passes while the mouse is clicked.

Now it’s time to paint. Make sure the blank new layer is the active layer and zoom in on the area that needs to be corrected. To sample a color for painting, press the Alt key (Option key on a Mac), and click on and release a color that best matches what the discolored area should look like. In this image, the rock adjacent to the discolored area was sampled. The “Set foreground color” area of the Tools palette will show the sampled color.

power cloning

Figure 11
To paint, place the Brush cursor over the discolored area. Click the mouse, hold the button down and move it around the area to paint the color into the new layer. It’s important to continue to depress the mouse button until you’ve made one pass over all the places you want to cover. If you unclick the mouse, painting stops. After doing this the first time, a very slight color change should be noticeable in the discolored area.

Sample another adjacent color and again paint over the discolored area. This color will be slightly different than the first color so it will add a little variation to the discolored area. Make the brush smaller ( [ ) to work the edge areas. Continue to repeat this cycle of sampling and painting, slightly changing the area that’s painted each time to create additional variation. When finished, the texture of the discolored area will be unchanged, but the color will blend much better with the surrounding area. By using colors sampled from different locations and varying the brush’s size to stay within the edges, it’s usually possible to achieve a color change that’s a perfect, neutral match to the surrounding area. Figures 12 and 13 show the image and a close-up of the formerly discolored area after painting in the right amount of color. Compared to the original version in Figure 1, the color has changed significantly to blend with the surrounding rock, but the texture is untouched.

power cloning
power cloning

Figure 12
While this technique works great on images with small discolored areas, it works equally well on areas of larger discoloration. Figure 12 is an example. The rock formation looks nice against the high clouds in the sky, but the amount of blue in the shadows on the rocks is too intense.

Figure 13
It would be nearly impossible to Clone, Patch or Rubber Stamp these areas back to normal. Painting color from the surrounding areas into the blue shadows, however, makes it quite easy and natural-looking. The key is to paint the color into a blank layer in which the blending mode had been changed to Color so that natural texture of the area is preserved. Figure 13 shows the results.

Tony Kuyper is a photographer and writer living in northern Arizona. His photography focuses on the light and sandstone textures of the Colorado Plateau. See more of his work at www.goodlight.us.


    Thank You!

    I tried this and totally removed a wine stain from a near-white jacketed Groomsman!!

    However, this did not seem to help remove the “shine” from an indivduals forehead and cheek-bones the way I had hoped to do.

    I do find Richard B.’s comment interesting also as there are two copyright names and a third mane when you look at the authorship credit…

    i tried the power cloning, but there was no result on the image. the layer showed the brush strokes, but the result was not evident on the image. What did I not do correctly?

    marty silverstein

    I just tried this thechnique with a photo that had some ugly color I needed to get rid of and had not been able to no matter what I tried. I must say this new (for me) method is something short of amazing. It did a marvelous job. I use Elements 7 and it worked grat.

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