So you’re out searching for a few shots to use as a background photo for a project. You find what you’re looking for, a tree backlit by the late afternoon sun, but it isn’t quite perfect given that it doesn’t have many leaves.
What do you do? Some photographers might actually pick a few branches from another tree and tie them to their chosen subject. But you can’t do that: You have no string, no ladder, and the tree isn’t yours. But, by using Photoshop’s Patch tool, you can enhance a setup that nature may have shortchanged and make it look just as you think it should. And hey, you might even want to revisit your image archives and reconsider those shots that seemed just shy of worthy before, say, because they lacked a cloud here or a patch of grass there. A few minutes with the Patch tool might save you the expense of another shoot or an online stock shot.
Since it’s important to clearly see how the Patch tool works, begin by opening a practice image that has good color contrast and well-textured areas, such as the one shown in Figure A. To follow along using our example, download the file patch.zip from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract and open the file patch.jpg. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) Next, make a duplicate layer of your original image by selecting Duplicate Layer from the Layers panel’s pop-up menu. Then, in the Duplicate As text box, enter patch and click OK. We want to create a duplicate layer so we can compare the two by switching back and forth between them.
Patch tool options
Let’s next see how the Patch tool works. Select the Patch tool from the Tools panel, and you’ll see the tool options bar, as shown in Figure B. The Patch tool and the Healing Brush tool share the same location in the Tools panel. To access the Patch tool if the Healing Brush is visible, click on the Healing Brush tool and continue to hold down your mouse button until the flyout menu appears. Then, select the Patch tool from the menu.
Select Window > Options from the menu bar if the options bar isn’t already visible. Compared to many of the other tools in the Tools panel, the Patch tool has only a few options to select from, which are as follows:
Practice repair with the Destination option
Since the terms Source and Destination for the options are somewhat confusing, let’s select the Destination option button first, as it’s easier to understand the process. For the record, the Source option works just the opposite—it works counter intuitively to its name. Because of this, we suggest that you step through our example using the Destination option first, and then go back and practice using the Source option.
In our example, there’s an open area in the upper-left quarter of the image, as shown in Figure C, we want to fill with a few sprayed graffiti symbols. If you were to select pixels from the area right above it, it would be rather obvious that the open area has been repaired. If you select pixels from another similar area, it’s less apparent. The symbols from the lower-right side of the image have a similar color balance and would be a good area from which to select pixels. The Patch tool selects pixels with a lasso marquee, so click and drag around the pixels you want to use for your patch, as shown in Figure D1, and drag the selection to the area to be repaired, as shown in Figure D2. The patch will be applied, and like the Healing Brush tool, the Patch tool matches the texture, lighting, and shading of the area to be repaired to the selected pixels, as shown in Figure D3.
After applying the patch, you’ll notice the marquee around the patch is still visible. That’s because you can once again move the selected pixels to another area and apply the Patch tool, as shown in Figure E. You can do this as many times as you like, and each time the Patch tool matches the selected pixels to the area to be repaired. When you’ve finished, position your mouse pointer outside the marquee and click to apply the patch.
Repairing with the Patch tool
If the selected pixels have a distinctive shape and are applied multiple times, as shown in Figure E, the Patch tool repair will have a rubber-stamped look. It’s best that with each repair application, you select a new set of pixels, even if it’s from the same area. You’ll also notice that you might have to apply the Patch tool a number of times in the area to be repaired to build up the selected pixels to achieve the proper visual density, as shown in Figure F.
Note: A little retouching goes a long way, so it’s best to stop before you think you should or the Patch tool repair will look artificial.
Patch tool control with the Free Transform feature
Let’s go to the tree example we mentioned earlier, as shown in Figure G. Notice that in the top section of the image, there are open areas that we’d like to see filled by leaves. The problem is that there really aren’t many pixel choices in the photo you can use to repair. The leaves immediately below and to the left and right match the color and the lighting, but if you select them, the finished repair will look as if the leaves have been rubber-stamped. The answer is to use that area for pixel selections, but manipulate the selections before applying the repair to vary the repair using the Free Transform feature.
To start, open the red_leaves.jpg file, which is included in the download file. Make a copy of the Background layer to work on as we did for the graffiti image. Next, select the Patch tool from the Tools panel and select the Destination option button on the tool options bar. Now, select the repair pixels from the section below the braches, as shown in Figure H1. Now, choose Edit > Free Transform from the menu bar and an object frame appears around your pixel selection, as shown in Figure H2. Now, you can transform the pixel selection as you would any other object. Rotate the leaves and scale them down by dragging the lower-right frame handle with your mouse pointer, as shown in Figure H3. Now, press [Enter], and the repair pixel selection is transformed.
Applying the repair
Next, drag the pixel selection to the area to be repaired, as shown in Figure I1, release your mouse button, as shown in Figure I2, and the patch is applied, as shown in Figure I3. As before, you may have to make a number of pixel selections to fully repair the area, as shown in Figure I4.
When you’ve finished, step back and view your photo as a whole. Does the Patch tool repair look natural, matching its surroundings? Is there logic to the lighting, color, and texture? If so, your repair will be hard to detect, as shown in Figure J.