Digital Focus: Erase Unwanted Elements From Photos

Feature: Erase People and Things From Your Pictures

Remember the old Twilight Zone episode in which the little boy could "disappear" anyone who made him angry? As a kid, I often wondered how I'd use the power to send people off to the proverbial cornfield anytime I wanted. Would it be for good? For evil? Would I use the power on a whim, or would I show maturity and restraint?

Now that I'm an adult, it turns out that I really do have that power--over my digital images, at least. I've long used the Clone Brush in my image editor to erase unwanted elements from pictures. Sometimes it's just a telephone pole or mailbox. Other times, it's an entire person. And now I know how I use this power: for good. At least, for the good of my photos.

I recently took a picture of my son in front of a sweeping mountain vista. It's not a work of art, by any stretch of the imagination. But my vision was marred by the presence of a light pole in the rear left of the scene. Can it be removed? You bet. I just used a little Clone Brush magic.

The Clone Brush Explained

The Clone Brush works this way: You choose a source location somewhere in the picture. When you paint with the brush, you paste copies of pixels from the source location wherever you click. In this way, you can "paint over" the unwanted element with nearby pixels from the background. When it's done well, you'll never know there was ever something in the background.

Let's review the steps I used to remove that light pole; you may want to download my original image and follow along in your own image editor.

Wielding the Clone Brush

In Jasc's Paint Shop Pro, the Clone Brush is accessed via the eighth icon down from the top of the tool palette. Since it shares this cubby with the Scratch Remover, you may need to pick it from the list. Just click the drop-down arrow on the right side of the cubby and select Clone Brush.

Now that you've selected the Clone Brush, look at the Tool Options toolbar at the top of the screen--it includes options for shape, size, step, density, opacity, and more. If you don't see it, turn it on by choosing View, Palettes, Tool Options from the menu.

Set the size. You can ignore most of the controls, but you'll definitely want to set the size, which determines the diameter of the paintbrush. If you make the brush too small, the cloning won't look natural and it'll take a long time to completely erase the unwanted element. If it's too large, you won't be able to get an accurate, natural-looking brush stroke. Start with a size that looks like it will allow you to erase in realistic looking "bites" (you can see the size of the brush after you put in a pixel value). For our sample picture, try a size of 20 pixels. As you get lower down on the pole, however, you may want to reduce the number of pixels as low as 10 to duplicate bands of color in the background.

Pick the source. Now it's time to pick the source. Move the mouse a bit to the right of the pole and right-click. Now left-click on the pole and you should see some of it disappear.

Erase that pole. Carefully move the mouse and click again, erasing parts of the pole one click at a time. You could simply click, hold, and drag, thus creating one long brush stroke, but that method would probably introduce noticeable irregularities.

It helps to zoom in for a better view and re-select the source occasionally. See the mountain outlined against the lake, for instance? Before you paint over that area, right-click with the mouse pointer positioned directly over the edge of the mountain. Then reposition the mouse to the left and left-click on the pole so the mountain continues perfectly through the spot where the pole used to be. Carefully painting with the Clone Brush in this way can yield professional results.

That's it! When your work with the Clone Brush is done, save the image and you'll have successfully sent a light pole to the twilight zone.

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