Digital Eraser



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by Jim Doty

It would be nice to have a magic digital eraser to remove unwanted objects from photographs. Just click on the object and it is gone.

It can be done, it just takes lots of clicks, some time, some skill, and the "digital eraser" tools that come with most image editing software. The photo above was edited entirely with Photoshop Elements 2, excellent software that you can get for less than $100. (I have the full version of Photoshop CS but didn't need it for this task.)

I was asked if I could remove the hands and arms from this photo. The task was more challenging than the usual digital removal request, but I decided to give it a go.

Simple removals, like taking a power line out of blue sky, are easy. Just use the CLONE STAMP tool, click to select some blue sky pixels next to the power line, then click again to drop the blue sky pixels right on power line. Voila! That part of the power line disappears. Simple. Repeat up and down the power line until it is gone. The same is true for removing a small skin blemish from a face. Click on some clear skin nearby, then click on the blemish and it is gone.

The challenge with this photo was the need to create whole new areas from scratch, or so it seems.

Part of the hands and arms were easy to remove. Grab some orange from the tiger costume, some burgundy from the caballero costume, or some of the dark shades from the background, and clone them right over the adjacent hands and arms.

In other areas, using the CLONE STAMP tool was more like free hand drawing. Grab an orange and black edge and drag it over the hand, extending the existing line. This works well if you don't have to drag too far. If you make a mistake, simply undo the last step, or back up a few steps in the history palette and try it again. It takes a steady hand and a bit of an artistic touch. The more you do this, the better you get.

The trickiest part of this photo was creating the missing one and a half fingers  on the right hand. Use the CLONE STAMP tool and drop or draw pixels from the fully visible fingers.

For larger sections, instead of using the CLONE STAMP tool, it is easier just to grab a "selection" from somewhere else in the photo. The missing part of the right shoulder was taken from the left shoulder. This is easier than the description of it sounds.

Using the LASSO tool, draw a SELECTION around the area to be borrowed from the left shoulder.  From the menu go to LAYER > NEW > LAYER VIA COPY. This turns the selection into a new layer. Pick the MOVE tool. Hold down the ALT key, left click, and drag the left shoulder layer over to the right shoulder area. The shoulder is backwards so you will need to flip it. From the menu choose IMAGE > ROTATE > FLIP SELECTION HORIZONTAL. 

To make minor changes, go to the menu and pick IMAGE > TRANSFORM > FREE TRANSFORM to resize or make slight changes in the rotation of the layer so it fits the new location. Change the OPACITY of the layer to see what is underneath it.

Once your layer (shoulder) is in place, change the OPACITY back to 100%. Use LEVELS (under ENHANCE > ADJUST BRIGHTNESS AND CONTRAST) to match the layer brightness  as closely as possible to the new location. Then go to LAYER > FLATTEN IMAGE. Use the CLONE STAMP tool to do any necessary blending and matching of colors where the new selection was dropped in place.

The same technique took the left sleeve to  create the right sleeve. The area under the right sleeve (next to the yellow cloth) came from the area under the left arm.

Using selections and layers to take one area of a photo and use in another is a lot easier than trying to create the area free hand. This works for small touches too. The star on the caballero costume was selected, turned into a new layer, distorted in shape (IMAGE > TRANSFORM > SKEW) and moved to two other places of newly created costume.

There really is a magic digital eraser. The tools in the image editing software provide the eraser. You provide the magic!

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November 30, 2005

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