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How's my cloning technique?

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  • How's my cloning technique?

    Hi folks, it's me again.

    I've been spending some time recently scanning in a few old slides and negs, and trying to clean them up a bit. One of the ones I came across (these are about 20 years old) was a grabbed shot of a dog in Kos having a stretch. I quite like the pose of the dog, but - wouldn't you know it? - there's an annoying branch spoiling the picture.

    The full image (scaled down a bit) is here.

    Now, I've been steering clear of major retouching so far: lack of confidence, mainly, but I thought, "OK, let's have a go at getting rid of it". It took me a while, but here are the results (I've cropped it to the relevant area, so I could make it larger):



    The technique I used was:

    1. Duplicate the background layer.
    2. Remove the branch using clone brush (lots of short clones needed), but over do it slightly, because I find that, no matter how soft the brush, you end up with visible lines.
    3. Add a "hide all" mask and then paint with a soft white brush over the branch to put the cloning back.
    4. A quick Gaussian blur on the mask to blend the edges.

    Oh, and I found that (on the dog's leg) another helpful thing to do was to do a 100% opacity clone from a (nearly) matching area, then go over it with a 50% opacity clone from somewhere else. This helps to reduce obvious boundaries and lightness mismatches.

    All in all, I'm quite pleased with the result. Could it be improved? Is there a better technique that I'm missing (I admit that I haven't searched the forums due to lack of time).

  • #2
    Another option, you can make a new layer (Blank) and check the "Sample All Layers" box and do your cloning there. That way you can break down the branches on one layer and the dog on it's own layer. That way you can adjust the masking and other stuff independently from the other.



    • #3
      hi bloodnok,

      mostly, you've got a good job there. you missed a few of the less obvious areas and you've also got some clone marks in the worst area. it's not real obvious and most casual viewers wouldnt even notice. so, that's good.

      cloning is one of those areas that is well worth the time learning. it's also why retouching and restoration and so on are more an art than anything else. like ronbrp said, using a blank layer with 'use all layers' set to on is probably the best way to go. it's much less destructive and much easier to correct if you make mistakes, which you're going to do. all of us do.

      i almost never use the clone at 100% opacity. normally, i start at about 80% and then only for the most gross work like a non-critical background. as things improve i move to about 60% then 40% and then down by about 8 after that.

      there's lots of little things to watch for. you normally want to overlap each clone mark with the next, slowly blending the area over with each step. direction is also important; come from more than one direction into the same area. this will pick up tones and textures from all the surrounding area giving a better blend/clone.

      it's sometimes ok to simply hold the left mouse button down and simply clone paint an area, but that's going to give you a repeated pattern that is obvious in a lot of cases so you usually want to simply click, click, click, over and over. you also want to change where you're sampling from quite often. this will keep from getting that repeat pattern also.

      watch your lighting too. you have to pay attention to texture, color and lighting all at the same time.

      the biggest problem most folks run into when first starting out cloning is over-doing it. you see to have handled most of that pretty well, but you did leave some marks.

      also, one other little thing i see in your cloning is that you took out the branches under the dog as well. that may not have been necessary. your choice, certainly, but because of the nature of the clone tool you may want to keep it to a minimum.

      and, to finish up and give your clones a less obvious look, there are a couple of tricks that can help. either on a new, blank layer over your clone layer, take your airbrush tool and sample the surrounding colors and with a very low opacity, like 2 or 3%, spray out any remaining clone marks or flaws. use the color picker to select appropriate colors from the surrounding area.

      and just to refine that even more, especially if you've done all airbrushing on a separate layer, do a very light gausian blur to that layer. how much will depend on other factors, but normally no more than a setting of about 5 or 10.

      Attached Files


      • #4
        Thanks for the tips, folks. I'll go back and practice some more, and let you know how I get on.


        • #5
          Is this better (attached)?

          Quick question: do you prefer to have "Aligned mode" (PSP X - dunno what the PS equivalent is) checked or unchecked?
          Attached Files


          • #6
            i had to look this up again. i almost never change the 'aligned mode' checkbox. and yes, i use aligned mode. unaligned mode keeps the set mark always in the same position. aligned mode moves the set mark to a new location each time yo move the mouse. in order to do overlapping cloning, which is what i use, you have to move the set mark each time. unaligned has a use, but i rarely use it.

            as to whether your last post is better or not, i'm going to ask that you do your own critique this time. so, you tell me. what's right and what's wrong with it? and i want both. no 'everything is bad' type critiques ever allowed by me so, post what's right as well.



            • #7
              Re: aligned mode. That's what I thought - although sometimes it's hard to find an area large enough to allow the "clone from" point to move without hitting something undesirable.

              Critiquing it. First off, I only redid the dog's legs - the wall is my original attempt. Looking at that, I can see a bit of "wallpapering" - there's a flaw in the top surface that's been replicated and it does look a bit obvious. There are a couple of "lines" where the twigs were that show up when you look closely - these need redoing, or maybe a tiny bit of blurring/lightening might help. There's a dark band on the stone between the wall and the leg, which I know is where the branch went. However, I don't think this looks unnatural, so I prefer to leave it like that rather than possibly spoil it by trying to smooth it out. There's a faint darker line to the left of the two flaws on the wall - this is a very out of focus twig that I haven't touched. I might be tempted to lighten it very slightly, rather than clone over it.

              On to the dog's legs: overall, I'm pretty pleased with them (thanks for the tips, using different opacities). There's no obvious patterning, and I think that the colour and lighting matching have worked pretty well. I added a new spot, created from two others, so it doesn't look obviously cloned. There's a slight colour discontinuity just below the large double spot on the dog's left leg, but I think that may be an artifact - it's not as noticable in the PSP original (and it's not an area I touched). Not part of the original problem, but there is an orangey/salmon colour cast from reflection off the wall in the darker areas. Although part of the original, I think it looks wrong, so I'm tempted to remove the cast. As for the bright patch by the dog's throat (collar? can't tell), I think it distracts the eye - possibly tone it down, rather than try to remove it.

              I'm off to france from Monday, so if I don't respond for the next couple of weeks, I'm not ignoring anyone.

              BTW - any hints on how to photograph bridges? Big bridges - specifically, the Millau bridge . This is a monster, and I would like to avoid the "get it all in from half a mile down the valley" cliche, if possible. If I can, I'd like to get down to the base, and take it upwards - it depends on access, I suppose.
              Last edited by Bloodnok; 08-05-2006, 10:10 AM.


              • #8
                bloodnok, good so, the point of getting you to critique this yourself was to point out that you've got a good eye. trust it. you can see what's there and what's right or wrong. (some cant, by the way). so, the trick then is to convert this to your hand, your workflow, your finished product. you know what you see but can you apply what you see to your image and that's the next step. keeping an integrity between the eye and the hand is probably the hardest part of what we do. we see what is wrong and what we want to fix but sometimes in trying to get there we tend to compromise or lose what we know shld be possible with what we've actually done. and trust me, it's something everyone doing this work has to come to grips this good enough? can i live with my work? would i feel like i'm cheating a client if i dont get this right? i can see that it's not quite right but can i get it to being right? these are all questions that can make or break a retoucher/restorer/artist.

                so, there's nothing wrong with your eye the next step is simply translating what you see into what you want. so, now that you've proven you have a good eye, let's see the next attempt (nasty, arent i )

                on the bridge picture, nice bridge. we've got a similar one that just went up near us, though not nearly as long. in the photo you've posted, the most obvious thing to me about it is all the 'dead' space on the right. typically, long expanses like this are shot as panoramas with several pictures being composited into one in the lab.

                the problem i see with shooting from the base would be similar to the problem from shooting it where it was shot from, the angles and distance. you've still got to contend with all that length, if you want the whole in there. generally, the best shot would probably be taken from slightly above and slightly to the side of the bridge. that's not always possible unless you have a helipcopter. the current shot is actually pretty good. it's nicely balanced with the folks in the foreground and so on and the only thing that's really wrong with it is the blown out sky. but, if you want to really show off the bridge itself then it's taken from too far away. a simple crop of the current shot shows what i mean.

                one way to cheat on these is to take it from close to the bridge but show the full length. you get that whole fading into the vanishing point look that way.

                i'd suggest a new thread for the bridge issue.



                • #9
                  Thanks, Craig. I'll have another go when I get back from France. The bridge picture's not mine, by the way (this will be my first visit to see it), it's just one I found on a Google image search.

                  Right, I'm off for 10 days of sun, sea, good French cooking and rugby. See you when I get back.


                  • #10
                    you're welcome. have a good trip (though you probably wont see this till you get back)



                    • #11
                      I've been busy since I got back from France (the Millau bridge is stunningly impressive, by the way), so I've only just got round to trying a bit more cloning.

                      The latest version is here

                      For Kraellin here's my personal critique: better, but still a way to go. I'm starting to understand the principles now of using successively less opaque "washes", but I need to work on the practice of it - blending edges into the surrounding area. This becomes (painfully) obvious looking at the clone layer in isolation - the brush stroke are still too... "well defined" is the only way I can describe it.

                      Overall, I feel that it would pass muster for most purposes, but the perfectionist still says: "keep practicing".


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