One of the most useful tools in the digital photographer's toolbox is the Clone tool - it's also known as the Rubber Stamp or Clone Stamp. In simple terms, all that happens is the Clone Stamp tool picks up, or samples, pixels from one place and drops them somewhere else. It’s one of the most used devices to remove or add detail to a digital image.
This tutorial will take you through the basics of using the Clone tool, but also give you more advanced help to ensure your cloning skills improve tenfold.
To many, this shot would be a fairly tricky image to work on, but with the right knowledge you'll see how easy it actually is. It's a shot of a sheep behind a barbed wire fence. You may have a similar shot taken at a zoo of a caged animal or a stunning piece of architecture hidden behind scaffolding, or even a famous tourist spot cluttered with people.
Follow these steps on your own picture and you'll be surprised how easy it is to tidy up a messy photo. We're using Photoshop but the tool works the same way in many other programs.
How It Works
To use the Clone tool you place the cursor over the sample point, hold down the Alt key and click the mouse. This locks that point ready to clone. Then move the cursor to the point where you want the sample to appear and click the mouse to dump the cloned pixels. If you hold down the mouse button and drag you’ll paint from the sample area over the new area. There are several ways to tailor the effect of the clone tool.
For starters it acts like a brush so you can change the size and, sometimes, shape, allowing cloning from just one pixel wide to hundreds or from neat to a ragged shape.
You can change the opacity to produce a subtle clone effect and you can change the edge sharpness giving the clone a hard or soft (feathered) edge.
With Photoshop, and some of the more advanced editing programs, you can even select any one of the Blend options to alter how the cloned pixels appear on the pixels below. And, most importantly, there’s a choice of how the sample point is sampled between Clone align and Clone non-align. Select Aligned and the sample cursor will follow the destination cursor around, keeping the same distance away. When unaligned the sample cursor always starts from where you initially sampled. Both choices have their advantages as you'll soon find out.
Now to practice...where's the sheep?
Starting With The Sky
We'll take the top left first. You may think intrusions in areas of sky would be easy to clone, but that’s not always the case. As tones subtly change you could easily end up with an obvious line.
To illustrate this I first sampled using a hard edged brush from the point at the end of the arrow (left). I then took a sample from the same point, but used a soft brush (middle). The blend is now better, but the tone is still different. The third version is the best (right) and shows you need to sample from an area as close to the area that you're cloning over as possible.
When cloning an area like this it's better to select Clone Align from the menu bar as you'll see in the examples here:
|Here's what happens when clone align is not selected and you clone the wire in three sections. The clone point remains at the left spot where you initially picked up the sample.
||With clone align selected the sample point follows your Clone tool so the patch up job is more accurate
The Face Area
Now we move onto the face. It's fairly easy to clone over this as there's lots of irregular patterns in the wool that will look convincing when sampled. The process was made easier by keeping a steady hand, by following patterns in the wool and by selecting Clone non-align so we could sample from a useful point several times.
Can you spot any difference between the top and bottom shots of the wool above? Look at the pattern in the sheep’s wool in the area circled. It’s repeated in the top shot while in the right version we sampled from a different place.
In this example you have to look hard to spot it, but that could have been a real obvious cloning error on some images.
Patterns And Detail
In the shot on the left, we sampled from the edge of the rock and followed it up in the direction of the arrow. Sampling from anywhere else would have broken the rock's stratum. Keep this in mind when you're cloning areas of a similar nature as if you don't follow the pattern of what ever you are sampling from, it can end up looking very obvious that you removed something from the shot.
When cloning fine detail look around for similar areas and try and follow a path that will make the sample look natural. In our example, the areas under the arrow shaft in the photo on the right. These are where the sample points are made and the direction of the arrow is the direction we followed. See how we were looking to extend branches or patches of sky over the wire where appropriate. You can use this technique to extend bricks, foliage or similar parts of other objects when you attempt your repairs.
Two More Tips
Zoom in - Open your image up and use the magnifying tool or if you're working on a PC use the Ctrl and + keys to zoom in on the area you want to use the Clone tool on. It can make it easier to remove unwanted items. When you've finished press Ctrl and – to zoom back out.
Undo - If you go wrong at any time you can undo your mistake (Ctrl + Z) or if you want to go a little further back look in your history tab.