An Introduction to Retouching in Photoshop

Posted by Rachael Towne on

If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely an amateur photographer who is serious about taking the steps to educate yourself on photo editing. Maybe you’re making the gradual move to becoming a pro, or maybe you simply want to be able to take your photos from good to great. In this tutorial, I’ll show you a few simple ways to retouch images, remove objects, and repair imperfections. These methods will work on portraits of faces just as well as they will on interiors or landscapes. I’m using Photoshop CS6, but the newer CC and even some older versions will have many of the same features and functions.

Retouching in Photoshop


Firstly, let’s talk about some common uses for retouching. For portraits, this can mean anything from removing pimples and blemishes or stray hairs, to whitening teeth and smoothing pores. When dealing with landscapes, you’ll often encounter things like electric lines and telephone poles that you will want to remove, or maybe you have a great shot except for that one person walking in the distance. Photoshop can help in all of these situations.


Let’s start with one of the oldest tools in Photoshop, and one of the most used: the Clone tool. The Clone Stamp tool looks like a rubber stamp, and is sometimes referred to as the stamp tool. Cloning is a fairly simple method to take a sample of one area of your image and transfer, or clone it, to another area. The photo below is a crop of an interior shot of a bedroom. The shot is great except for that pesky plug in the wall and that phone charging cord on the ground. The wall plug is a perfect candidate for the Clone Stamp tool, as the paint on the wall surrounding it is fairly even in tone, making it easy to grab that area and clone over the plug, making it disappear.

Remove element in Photoshop

 The Clone Stamp tool is found in the tool bar and as mentioned earlier looks like a rubber stamp. To use it, you simply choose the area you want to sample from, hold down the Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) button and click in that area. Then you release the Option or Alt button and “paint” away what you want to remove with the area that you’ve samples from. Here you can see the plug successfully cloned away:

Cloned in Photoshop


You can adjust the size of your Clone brush, as well as the type of brush, hardness, opacity, mode, and flow. This lets you fine-tune the tool, making it easy to change its function for your various needs. One drawback to the Clone Stamp tool is that if you’re cloning something that has a pattern, you will often see the repeated pattern, making it apparent to even an untrained eye that the photo has been Photoshopped. So be careful with this tool, and use it only in the correct situations.


In the same image, you can see the phone charger cord just below the wall plug. Because of the pattern of the carpet, this is challenging to clone away without looking bad, as you can see in the image on the left. The image on the right took a lot more effort, and while it still isn’t perfect, but it will suffice for a large shot like this.

Clone object in Photoshop 

The next tools that you can utilize for retouching are the Spot Healing Brush and the Healing Brush. These tools work best for small spots, like those caused by dust on a camera’s sensor (or negative), or pimples and blemishes on a face. They are also great for touching up scans of old photos that have wrinkles, cracks or other imperfections in the paper.


The Spot Healing Brush is an automatic re-sampler, meaning you simply place the brush over the spot, click, and Photoshop does it’s best to re-sample nearby pixels to remove the spot. Most of the time this works like a charm, but sometimes you’ll need a little more control, which is where the Healing Brush comes into play. This acts much like the Clone Stamp tool, where you click Option or Alt to choose the area you wish to sample before healing the spot. This usually does a better, more natural looking job than the Clone Stamp tool, because it uses an intelligent algorithm rather than simply copying and pasting the sampled area.


Here is an example of an area of a forehead that I’ve retouched. The first is the original, the next is using the Clone Stamp tool, and the last is the Spot Healing Brush. You can probably see that some of the spots are clearly not blended correctly when using the Clone Stamp tool, and there is a different tone where I cloned than the surrounding area. This is a time when the Spot Healing Brush is crucial for a well-retouched image.

Remove acne in PhotoshopSmoother skin in PhotoshopAcne gone in Photoshop


Beneath the Healing Brush Tool is the Patch Tool, another great way to retouch your images. This is best used for areas larger than a small spot, that also have varied patterns. You simply draw around the area that you want to patch, drag that selected area to the location that you want to sample from, and Photoshop will do an incredible job making the patch.

Distracting element in Photoshop

Distracting element removed in Photoshop


By changing the Patch selection from Normal to Content Aware, you can see how easily this beautiful Mosque tower was removed from the image, which afterwards looks like I just took a shot of the blue sky. This is great for removing unwanted items from an image, such as telephone poles, people, or anything else that might be a distraction.


I hope this introduction to these common retouching tools has opened your eyes to just how simple retouching can be. Of course you can go into much more complicated applications of each tool, however this should be enough to get you started with some great retouching skills.

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