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Real World Camera Raw: Spot Removal Tool

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The Spot Removal tool in Camera Raw is handy for removing the occasional sensor spot or facial blemish. Jeff Schewe shows you how and when to use it.
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The Spot Removal tool (Figure 4-75) lets you do local spot healing and cloning when you need to remove those nasty sensor spots or that blemish on a person’s face. In this regard, it competes directly with Photoshop for some quality brush time. But in reality, Camera Raw is not designed to offer extensive retouching capabilities; use it only to remove the occasional sensor spot or facial blemish.

Figure 4-75 The Spot Removal tool.

There is a fine line but it’s pretty definitive: If you have the exact same spot in the exact same location in a group of images, you will be a lot better off fixing it in Camera Raw if you can and then syncing it across the images that have that spot. However, if you need to spend considerable time spotting, cloning, or otherwise substantially retouching an image, you’ll be better off waiting for Photoshop to do so.

As shown in Figure 4-75, the Spot Removal tool lets you set points for either healing or cloning. Healing uses a texture-based source to apply Photoshop’s healing logic to adjust the tone and color to blend in the area surrounding the destination spot. Cloning just moves pixels without the blending logic. The image in Figure 4-75 has a lot of sensor spots on it. It was shot in Antarctica, one of the driest and windiest places on Earth. As such, it’s a great place to test the sensor-cleaning skills of photographers. As you can see, the sensor was not very clean (which makes it useful for this example).

After deciding whether you want to heal or clone, place the cursor over the area you want to spot heal and click. If you click and hold, you can drag the spotting circle to make it larger or smaller. You can also use the brush size control in the interface, but we rarely do that.

Camera Raw uses logic to try to find the best source from which to heal. It’s right about three out of four times. In this example, it was wrong. It located an area that was discontiguous with the gradations in the image. You can select the source circle and move it until the gradations align; select the edge of the circlet to alter its size. You can select previous spots by clicking on them to edit them. Pressing the Delete key will remove them. You can check your progress by deselecting the Show Overlay option at the top.

Healing and cloning are cumulative processes, which means that the order of the healing or cloning will build up the effect. You can start small and add additional larger spot points, or adjust the opacity of a healing or cloning spot. The Opacity slider allows you to adjust how much of the healing or cloning is blended into the resulting spot (see Figure 4-76). The Opacity adjustment is more useful for retouching than spotting because while you want to obliterate spots, when retouching a person’s face you may want to only soften a blemish or mole. The Opacity slider gives you that option.

Figure 4-76 Adjusting opacity.

Once you have the sensor spots cleaned for a single capture frame, you can synchronize those spots to additional frames. When doing so, Camera Raw follows these rules: If the Spot Removal tool has autodetected the area on its own, it will autodetect the area in subsequent images while allowing the autodetect to be based on that subsequent image’s unique parameters. If you move the source spot after autodetection, the Spot Removal tool will respect the moved destination and use those same coordinates for syncing.

In practice, this seems to work very well—most of the time. However, even if you let Camera Raw autodetect the optimal source location and it’s correct for one image, it may not be correct for subsequent images. So, make a habit of double-checking images that you’ve synced to confirm that the source and destination healing or cloning are both correct.

For spots that move around in an image (for example, a blemish on a person’s face), there is no way of syncing multiple images. That sort of job requires image-by-image evaluation and retouching. You should also consider whether the best results will be provided by Camera Raw or after the fact in Photoshop. In Camera Raw there is no manual blending or opacity control; either it works or it doesn’t. That said, being able to do parametric retouching is an impressive accomplishment for Camera Raw.

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