Cloning with Colour; retain image texture and detail

Photoshop has many tools to repair image detail; the clone stamp, patch tool, the healing brush, the list goes on. However, all of these are only effective when there is source detail to copy from, using them with minimal source material can actually negatively alter image texture, creating ‘smooth’ telltale patches.

So to preserve texture and clone with minimal to no source data where do you turn? To cloning with colour. With this technique, the brush and colour stamp tools can be combined in a very simple way that involves copying colour data and painting this where there’s low source material.

Where Cloning Won't Work

In the image below, the flower is mildly over-exposed from the harsh Thailand sun. Whilst it’s retained some texture, the tonal gradient looks inherently wrong, there’s no graduation in tone and the petal detail is suffering. To approach this with the clone tool would be near impossible; there’s zero detail to clone from so any attempt to do so here would lead to telltale step and repeats, or a too uniform texture.

Cloning with colour; image missing texture detail

However, we can facilitate are repair by sampling the correct colour from elsewhere on flower and painting this onto an empty layer over the overexposed area, then bringing back the texture retained in the original layer. Let’s get started.

Create a new layer

First, create a new layer above the imported image.

Cloning with colour, create new layer

Cloning with colour, create new layer

Sample colour detail

Grab the eye-dropper and set a broad sample distance -- say 5 by 5 pixels. This will ensure the sample we use as the basis for cloning will be representative of a wider area and less likely to be influenced by the colour of any one pixel, which should give us a more even result. In the case of the example image, I sampled the front area of the flower, the area in partial shade.


Cloning with colour brush selection

Cloning with colour brush selection

Painting the Colour On

Now we have our layer to paint on and a matching colour to paint back over, we can select the brush tool. Ensure the airbush is turned off and choose a feathered edge to aid with the blending.

Start evenly applying the brush to the area being mended. To get the most natural result, ensures an even distribution of colour throughout the working area. Concentrating too much on a single area results in overly dark or light patches, which are not desirable.

Using a low opacity -- say 30% -- makes it easier to get an evenly painted effect, layer up colour on colour which makes the blend more seamless. Also try to keep passes of the brush fluid to avoid repeatedly applying colour to one area, which will create unsightly darker patches.

Keep the source and the working layer active so you can see the effects of your brush work in realtime. When you’ve finished if you switch off the image layer, your brush layer should look something like this

Brush layer view

Brush layer view

Bringing back texture

Our cloned colour layer doesn’t have any inherent texture, so we need to bring back in the sensor noise or film grain inherent in our source image to prevent the ‘smooth’ or airbrushed look. We have a few options.

Reduce the brush layer’s opacity; incremental drops will bring through the shadow and texture detail and help to blend the colour layer into the source image.

Or, we can explore setting the blend mode to Colour. This keeps the grey tones defining the texture and shading in the source image unchanged (the luminance) whilst allowing the colour from our new brush layer to influence the base image (masking the original defect).

Personally, I prefer to use opacity as this allows the cloned colour layer to pass through the texture from the source layer helping blend new and old more favourably. A colour blend mode does preserve natural texture from the scan / digital file, but isn’t as forgiving at helping to blend the source and new layer I find, though it will depend on the makeup of the image; some trial and error is needed.

The End Result

In the example, you can see that the colour is now correct for the surrounding flower, blending in quite naturally and the underlying shadow detail and petal texture is retained making a more believable repair.

Cloning with Colour, texture brought back

Cloning with Colour, texture brought back

This is high effectively cloning technique to add to the armoury for certain retouching scenarios. Personally, I like this technique as it has a retro aspect harking back to the hand-painting days where all retouching really began, but most of all I find it easier to achieve more natural looking results despite the fact you’ve duplicated none of the detail from the image.

Check out the work of Tony Kyper for more on this technique.

Paul Marsden

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