67 Power-Line Vanishing Trick

Power-Line Vanishing Trick

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The Clone Stamp in Photoshop Elements is a pretty good tool for removing unsightly wires from your scenes. Photoshop 7 and CS have an amazing piece of magic called the Patch tool. Either way, wires be gone!

Wires, wires, everywhere wires. Most folks might not realize just how many wires are strung around the landscape. But if you have a photographer's eye and enjoy shooting landscapes, you understand what I'm talking about. It can be challenging to find an interesting roadside shot that doesn't involve wires. Have you ever found that nearly perfect shot: nice landscape elements, beautiful colors, intense sky, and some magic light illuminating the entire scene? You hit the brakes, grab the digicam, and start clicking the shutter button. It's then you notice the wires crisscrossing the horizon. What do you do? Lament the unspoiled vistas of times past and give up?

Keep shooting! There's a Photoshop CS tool to save the day: the Patch tool. Prior to Photoshop 7 and still in Photoshop Elements, the Clone Stamp (rubber stamp) was the savior of choice to eliminate distracting elements. Even though it's amazing, photographers found it difficult to match subtle tone differences, in skies, for example, where power wires often reside. Then, Adobe added the Patch tool to enhance this type of retouching. And what a good addition the Patch tool is. It's faster and much better at blending subtle tones.

In this example, I was out for a roadside walk and heard the geese before I saw them. They were headed my way, in formation, on their way to their next feeding grounds. I started shooting, looking through the viewfinder, following them with the lens. After I loaded the images onto the computer, however, I noticed that some shots included unsightly utility wires, as shown in Figure.

Distracting wires, marring the shot's appeal

Now, I have a few options for dealing with this image. I could just crop the wires out. But I don't want to do that, because I would lose precious sky real estate that I want to preserve. When there's motion in a composition, it's best to leave some room in front of the motion so that it has a place to go. If I were to crop out the sky in front of the geese, you would experience a feeling of claustrophobia when viewing the picture. Subconsciously, you might think, "they don't have any place to fly."

If I were working in Photoshop Elements instead of CS, the Clone Stamp would be the tool of choice. You'd think that those little ole wires would be easy to remove, but blue-sky tones are subtle, so they're difficult to retouch seamlessly.

The trick with the Clone Stamp is to Option-click (to choose the area to clone from) as close to the wire as possible, as shown in Figure, to match your tones. Sometimes, this takes a bit of trial and error, but it can be done. In fact, for years, that was our only option.

But if you have Photoshop 7 or CS, select the Patch tool, which is located in the Healing Brush (Bandage) menu. Click and hold your mouse on the triangle in the Healing Brush tool to open the menu of hidden tools. Select the Patch tool, as shown in Figure. In the Tool Options bar (in the top menu) select Source. Place the Patch tool cursor near the area to be retouched and click, hold, and drag to select the entire adjustment area, just as you would make a selection with the Lasso tool. For best results, keep the selection area as small as possible, but make it large enough to include all of portions that need to be eliminated, as shown in Figure.

Patch Tool selection in Photoshop CS

Once the area is selected, place the cursor within the selection area (the source) and drag it to another area of the picture (the destination) that is a similar match in color and texture. Release the mouse button to replace the source area with your destination area. Then, choose Select/Deselect. Photoshop doesn't just paint over the source area with the destination area; it actually blends together the qualities of the two areas—texture, brightness, and color—all while eliminating those unwanted wires. It's almost magical.

Alternatively, you can use the opposite process. Select Destination in the Tool Options bar. Drag the Patch tool cursor around a clean area, drag it to the area to be retouched, release the mouse, and deselect. The source area covers and blends into the destination area. This process is helpful when there are several similar areas to be retouched.

The Clone Stamp tool is still probably the better choice for areas with patterns, multiple colors, and textures. But when you can select similar source and destination areas, the Patch tool provides a quick, high-quality result. Try it the next time those dreaded wires intrude into your masterpiece.

Jan Blanchard

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