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Using the Spot Removal Tool in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

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Martin Evening explains the details of the Spot Removal tool in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, including Clone, Heal, click and drag, resizing or repositioning spot circles, tool overlay options, and more.
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The retouching tools in the Develop module (Figure 4.82) can be used to retouch a photograph in Lightroom without actually editing the pixel data. When you work with the Spot Removal, Red Eye Correction, Adjustment Brush, or Graduated Filter tool, these actions are recorded as sets of instructions and the pixel image data in the original master file remains untouched. It is only when you choose to export a file as a TIFF, JPEG, or PSD, or carry out an “Edit in external editor” command, that the retouching work is physically applied to the exported image.

Figure 4.82 The retouching tools are all located just below the Histogram panel in the Develop module. From left to right: Spot Removal, Red Eye, Graduated Filter, and Adjustment Brush. This screenshot shows the Spot Removal tool panel options.

Spot Removal tool

The Spot Removal tool(Image) has a Clone mode and a Heal mode. In Clone mode, the Spot Removal tool copies and repairs from a sample area but doesn’t blend the result with the surrounding pixels. It does so using a soft-edged selection and this is the most appropriate mode to work with when removing spots that are close to an edge. For all other retouching work, I suggest you use the Heal mode, which blends the results of the retouching with the image information that is just outside of the area you are trying to repair. The Heal mode is nearly always successful at hiding blemishes because of the way it invisibly blends the healed area with the surrounding pixels.

To work with the Spot Removal tool, you can start by adjusting the Size slider in the Spot Removal tool options (Figure 4.82) so that the Spot Removal cursor matches the size of the areas you intend to repair. A quicker method is to use the square bracket keys on the keyboard. Click or hold down the Image key to make the Spot Removal circle size bigger, or use the Image key to make the spot size smaller. Next, locate the spot or blemish you wish to remove, click on it with the Spot Removal tool, and set this as the target. If the cursor size is large enough, you’ll see a small crosshair in the middle of the cursor circle and you can use this to target the blemish you want to remove and center the cursor more precisely. Then drag outward to select an image area to sample from. This will be used to repair the target area. At this stage you’ll notice that the original (target) circle cursor disappears so that you can preview the effect of the spot removal action without being distracted by the spot circle. A linking arrow also appears to indicate the relationship between the target circle and sample circle areas (Figure 4.83). When you have finished applying a spot removal, the target circle remains as a thin, white circle on the screen for as long as the Spot Removal tool is active in the Develop module. You can quit working with the tool by clicking the Close button (circled in Figure 4.82) or by pressing the Image key.

Because Lightroom is recording all these actions as edit instructions, you have the freedom to fine-tune any clone and heal step. For example, you can click inside a Spot Removal circle to reactivate it and reposition either the target or the sample circles. If you click on the edge of the target cursor circle, a bar with a bidirectional arrow appears and you can click and drag to adjust the size of both the target and sample circles. Another way to work with the Spot Removal tool is to click and drag with the Image key (Mac) or Image key (PC) held down. This allows you to define a different spot size each time you drag with the tool; the sample circle will auto-pick anywhere that surrounds the target circle area. When using this method of spotting, the sample selection may appear quite random, but Lightroom is intelligently seeking an ideal area to sample from (this is similar to the logic used by Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush tool). You can also use the On/Off button at the bottom of the Spot Removal tool options (circled in Figure 4.83) to toggle showing and hiding the Spot Removal tool circles (or use the Image key)and the Reset button can be used to cancel and clear all the current Spot Removal tool edits.

In Figure 4.83 I have illustrated several of the ways you can work with the Spot Removal tool. On the next page is a detailed summary of the Spot Removal tool behavior discussed so far, plus information on how to manage the Tool Overlays behavior.

Figure 4.83 This screenshot shows a combined series of snapshots taken of the Spot Removal tool in action to illustrate the different ways you can work with this tool.

Clone or Heal

In Clone mode, the Spot Removal tool copies the pixels using a feathered circle edge. In Heal mode the Spot Removal tool copies from the sample area and blends the copied pixels with those around the edge of the target circle area. You can also use the Clone/Heal buttons in the Tool Options panel to change the Spot Removal mode for any Spot Removal circle. Another important thing to be aware of is that if you simply click with the Spot Removal tool in Heal mode (or Image [Mac] or Image [PC] drag with the mouse), rather than just drag to set the sample point, the Spot Removal tool behaves like the Spot Healing Brush tool in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. That is to say, when you click with the Remove Spot tool in Lightroom, it uses a certain amount of built-in intelligence to auto-select the best area to sample from.

Click and drag

One of the standard ways to work with the Spot Removal tool is to place the cursor over the area you want to remove, center the cursor using the crosshair and then click with the mouse and drag outward to determine the placement of the sample circle. As you do this, the preview area inside the target circle is updated as you drag to set the sample circle. The target circle itself is hidden while you drag so that you won’t be distracted by the cursor circle remaining onscreen as you work with this tool. Note here that the visibility of the crosshair is dependent on the size of the brush cursor, the zoom ratio that’s currently applied, as well as the size of the image.

Resizing the spot circles

You can edit the Spot removal circles by adjusting the size slider in the Spot Removal tool options (Figure 4.82) and you can also use the square bracket keys to adjust the circle size of the cursor before creating a new spot: use the left bracket (Image) to make the circle size smaller and the right bracket (Image) to make a circle size bigger. The Spot Removal circles always remain fully editable. You can select an individual circle and use the Spot Removal slider to readjust the size. Or, you can click on the edge of a target circle and drag to resize. Note that as you click and drag, the thin circle cursor conveniently disappears, which allows you so see more clearly the effect the circle resizing is having on the photo.

Repositioning the spot circles

If you click inside a target spot circle, the thin circle disappears and changes to show a hand icon. This allows you to drag and reposition the spot circle so that you can readjust the target position. You can also click on or inside a sample circle and drag to reposition the sample area relative to the target circle so that you can select a new area to sample from.

Tool Overlay options

The Tool Overlay options can now be accessed via the Develop module Toolbar (Figure 4.84), as well as via the Tools menu. These options refer specifically to the Crop Overlay, Spot Removal tool, Red Eye Correction tool, Adjustment Brush, and Graduated Filter tool. If you select the Auto option the Spot Removal circles only become visible when you roll the cursor over the preview area. If you select the Always option, the Spot Removal circles remain visible at all times. When the Selected option is chosen only the active Spot Removal circle is shown and all others are hidden. When the Never menu option is selected, all the Spot Removal overlays remain hidden (even when you roll the mouse cursor over the image). But as soon as you start working with the Spot Removal tool, the tool overlay behavior automatically switches to Auto Show mode. I think the most convenient way to work here is to operate in Auto mode and use the Image keyboard shortcut to toggle between the Auto and Never overlay modes. This toggle action allows you to work on an image without always being distracted by all the spot circle overlays.

Figure 4.84 The Tool Overlay options in the Develop module Toolbar.

Undoing/deleting spot circles

Use Image (Mac) or Image (PC) to undo the last spot circle. To delete a spot circle, click to select it and then hit the Image key. And to remove all spot circles from an image, click the Reset button in the Tool Options panel.

Auto source point selection

If you simply click with the Spot Removal tool, Lightroom automatically chooses the best area of the photo to sample from. As long as you don’t try to edit the sample point (by manually dragging the sample circle to reposition it), the spot circle will remain in “auto-select sample point” mode. If you therefore carry out a series of spot removals using, say, the Heal mode, and always click with the tool rather than drag, you will then be in a position where you can synchronize the spot removal adjustments more efficiently. If you synchronize a series of photos in this way, Lightroom auto-selects the best sample points in each of the individual synchronized photos. This does not guarantee 100% successful spot removal for every image that’s synchronized this way, but you may still find this saves you time compared to retouching every photo individually one by one (see the Synchronized spotting and Auto Sync spotting examples shown on pages 280 to 280).

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