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Photo Restoration with the Photoshop Healing Brush Tool

Written by Worth1000 - 2006, Thomson Course Technology PTR. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: I've Got a Human in My Throat: Create More Optical Delusions with Adobe Photoshop.

In our second photo restoration tutorial, we get some quick relief using the Healing Brush tool (for practice, see the Healing Brush tutorial in the first chapter). With a portrait photograph, your subject may be much simpler than a group shot and the Healing Brush will give you just enough control to beautifully de-age a family heirloom.

Step 1
My first step was to use Image > Adjustments > Levels and Image > Adjustments > Curves to lighten the original image and show the details. As you can see, this photo has a sepia tone and was printed on very heavy paper, resulting in a stippling effect, which I wanted to keep. When restoring a photo, you want to keep it as accurate as possible.

Step 2
I made a duplicate of the background layer. Then I chose the Healing Brush (hidden with the Patch tool and the Color Replacement tool). Keeping brush properties at Normal and Source as Sampled and selected Aligned, I started with the smallest brush possible, usually as wide as the scratch you are working on. Much bigger than this and the changes will be too noticeable. I started with the large crease on the nose.

Step 3
I sampled (ALT + clicked) an area near the crease. Using small strokes, I ran the brush over the crease coming down the nose. If you see a noticeable line where you worked, sample from a slightly different area and go over a few different areas of the crease, always using small strokes. The larger the stroke, the more noticeable the result.

Step 4
I continued on in this fashion throughout her face, hair, and dress. Some areas of a photo may work better with the Clone Stamp; again, use a very small brush and small strokes. Each picture is different, and it's up to you to decide what works best. The background and edges had some tricky spots, tears, and scratches that were too close to the edge to use either tool on, as I wanted to keep the exact oval shape of the original. My solution? The Circle Custom Shape tool, skewed to match the original shape, to create a perfect edge, and to hide any blemishes. Had this been a square or rectangular photograph, you could just crop, no need for any shapes.

Step 5
Finally, to fix the faded area of the background to the left, I made a new layer, under the shape layer. I took a color sample from the right, and using a normal paintbrush set to 40% opacity, painted over the faded area. I didn't get too precise; instead, I painted in the largest area, then selected Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. I finished it off by adding in some noise, about 6.5%, and presto! Finished background, with the same texture. For more information, see I've Got a Human in My Throat: Create More Optical Delusions with Adobe Photoshop.


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