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Chapter 4. Retouching Techniques > Repair and edit your images with the Patch t...

Repair and edit your images with the Patch tool

So you're searching through your image files for a few shots to use as a background photo for a project. You find what you're looking for, a tree backlit by the late afternoon sun, but it isn't quite perfect given that it doesn't have many leaves. Using Photoshop's Patch tool, you can enhance a setup that nature may have shortchanged and make it look just as you think it should. A few minutes with the Patch tool might save you the expense of another shoot or an online stock shot.

Practice, practice

Open a practice image that has good color contrast and well-textured areas, such as the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A.

Make a duplicate layer of your original image by selecting Duplicate Layer from the Layers palette's pop-up menu.

Enter patch in the As text box and then click OK. We want to create a duplicate layer so we can compare the two by switching back and forth between them.

Select the Patc tool from the Toolbox, and you'll see the tool options bar, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B.

Compared to many of the other tools in the Toolbox, the Patch tool has only a few options to select from, which are as follows:

  • Source. Applies image or pattern pixels selected with the Patch tool to the image after first selecting the area to be repaired.

  • Destination. Applies the image pixels selected with the Patch tool to the area to be repaired.

  • Use Pattern. This is active only when the Source option is selected. After selecting the image pixels to be repaired, go to the Use Pattern dropdown list and select a pixel pattern with which you want to repair an area.

Select the Destination option button first, as it's easier to understand the process for this option. In our example, there's an open area in the upper-left quarter of the image, as shown in Figure C, which we want to fill with a few sprayed graffiti symbols. If you were to select pixels from the area right above it, it would be rather obvious that the open area has been repaired. If you select pixels from another similar area, it's less apparent. The symbols from the lower-right side of the image have a similar color balance and would be a good area from which to select pixels.

Figure C.

Click and drag around the pixels you want to use for your patch, as shown in Figure D1, and drag the selection to the area to be repaired, as shown in Figure D2. The patch is applied, and like the Healing Brush tool, the Patch tool matches the texture, lighting, and shading of the area to be repaired to the selected pixels, as shown in Figure D3.

Figure D1.

Figure D2.

Figure D3.

After applying the patch, you'll notice the marquee around the patch is still visible. That's because you can once again move the selected pixels to another area and apply the Patch tool, as shown in Figure E. You can do this as many times as you like, and each time the Patch tool matches the selected pixels to the area to be repaired. Position your mouse pointer outside the marquee and click to apply the patch when you've finished making your selection.

Figure E.

Repairing with the Patch tool

If the selected pixels have a distinctive shape and are applied multiple times, as shown in Figure E, the Patch tool repair will have a rubber-stamped look. It's best that with each repair application, you select a new set of pixels, even if it's from the same area. You'll also notice that you might have to apply the Patch tool a number of times in the area to be repaired to build up the selected pixels to achieve the proper visual density, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F.

Patch tool control with the Free Transform feature

Let's go to the tree example we mentioned earlier, as shown in Figure G. Notice that in the top section of the image, there are open areas that we'd like to see filled by leaves. The problem is that there really aren't many pixel choices in the photo you can use to repair. The leaves immediately below and to the left and right match the color and the lighting, but if you select them, the finished repair will look as if the leaves have been rubber-stamped. The answer is to use that area for pixel selections, but manipulate the selections before applying the repair to vary the repair using the Free Transform feature. To start:

Figure G.

Open the image you wish to work with and make a copy of the Background layer to work on as we did for the graffiti image.

Select the Patch tool from the Toolbox and select the Destination option button on the tool options bar.

Select the repair pixels. We chose them from the section below the branches, as shown in Figure H1.

Figure H1.

Choose Edit ▸ Free Transform from the menu bar and an object frame appears around your pixel selection, as shown in our example in Figure H2. Now, you can transform the pixel selection as you would any other object. For our example, we rotated the leaves and scaled them down by dragging the lower-right frame handle with the mouse pointer, as shown in Figure H3.

Figure H2.

Figure H3.

Press [Enter] and the repair pixel selection transforms.

Drag the pixel selection to the area to be repaired, as shown in Figure I1, release your mouse button, as shown in Figure I2, and the patch is applied, as shown in Figure I3. As before, you may have to make a number of pixel selections to fully repair the area, as shown in Figure I4.

Figure I1.

Figure I2.

Figure I3.

Figure I4.

Step back and view your photo as a whole once you've finished. Does the Patch tool repair look natural, matching its surroundings?

Is there logic to the lighting, color, and texture? If so, your repair will be hard to detect, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J.

Patching up

The Patch tool is a great way to save yourself expense and effort by improving on existing images. A missing clump of grass or bunch of flowers, for example, will never again be a reason for giving up on an image. You can fix such issues with Photoshop to get the exact image you want.

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