Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Cloning


The goal of every photograph should always be to "make it right" from the camera. But there are going to be times when your end result is just not what you desired. Perhaps you were with a group and did not have the time to compose as you wished, or maybe an object fell into the frame unknowingly. In these cases, the clone tool can often be helpful to remove or correct the scene.

I am for doing as little post editing on photographs as possible. I always hesitate to crop an image and if it must be done, do so minimally. Too much post processing in my opinion is a bit like cheating, unless your goal is for something more of an art form.

The clone tool is perhaps the most misused photo editing tool in our box of tricks. Whenever I see an obvious area of cloning in an image, I always cringe. Correctly done, cloning should always, ALWAYS be invisible. The viewer should NOT be able to tell it was done, and there are a few keys to getting it right.


Good cloning takes time. If you are in a rush or trying to work too fast, you will mostly likely do a sloppier job than if you slow down and take your time. If you do not have the time at present to tackle a large area of cloning, then stop and do it later!

Use a large image

The fact is that the larger the image is, the more pixels you will have to work with. To reiterate the old cliché, in this case, "bigger is better". A larger image, whether it is taken with a digital camera or scanned into the computer, will give you a better collection of source points to choose from.

Zoom in!

Trying to clone while you are zoomed out in a photograph is doing so blindly. You cannot possible see all the detail that needs correcting, and you will definitely miss artifacts that you should have removed. But be sure to zoom out occasionally to see the overall effect of what you are doing. You can "get lost" in the photo otherwise.

Direction is important

Look closely at your image and notice the direction of the objects in the picture. If you are cloning areas of a building and your source point is a vertical line, for instance the corner of a building, or a horizontal line, like a window frame, then clone in that direction. Go left to right if the picture at that point is flowing left to right. Go up and down if the source goes up and down in the photograph. This will prevent your having areas that seem to move in a different direction. Trust me, people like myself notice.

Choose the right brush and alter your source point

These two keys go hand-in-hand. Don’t use a large brush for a small area. To misuse another infamous phrase, "less is more". A smaller brush will prevent you from disturbing objects in the image that need to be left alone. And by frequently altering your source point, you will prevent what I have dubbed "over-cloning". Over-cloning happens when you repeat the same artifact way too many times. Even a small spot, can become obvious to a critical viewer.

A couple of other points, I’d like to include are the use of transparency and Photoshop’s Healing Brush. I have found that cloning works better with the use of the Healing Brush. The Healing Brush will smooth out the edges and blend the new cloned area into the image. Especially when working with areas in a photo where the light changes, you need to assure that shadows remain as shadows and some strange light doesn’t appear where it should not be. If your software does not have a Healing Brush, the use of transparency, can achieve the same result. Lower the opacity to 50% and work the edges, constantly altering your source point. Then work them again at 25%.

By following these few rules and "practice, practice, practice", the clone tool can become a very helpful tool and a great way to enhance an image. Always be willing to admit you did some cloning. After all, the best compliment a viewer can pay is when they say they can’t see you altered it at all.


This example is a photo I took while on vacation in the Appalachian Mountains. There was just no way to take the picture without the telephone wires in it. So I instead got the exposure and composition I liked and removed the wires later. Left is before, Right is after.


Restoring old photographs is a great place to really work on your cloning skills. This image belonged to my grandmother. Left is before, Right is after.


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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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