Tag Archives: photoshop techniques

Use Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush to Heal Spots

Spot Healing Brush Tool

Sounds pretty obvious when you spell it out right? You have spots on your photo (from digital sensor dust) so use the spot healer. I’m not sure when the tool was introduced to Photoshop, but I’ve encountered more than one person constantly using the Clone Stamp to take care of spots, blissfully unaware of the Spot Healing Tool. Also, before anybody else says it I’ll say it first: the Retouch Tool in ACR (and probably Lightroom) is WAY better than the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop — so I’ll cover that one in another article. Back to the Spot Healing Brush…


  • On your tools palette just above the brush tool, click on the icon that you see in this post (it’s a little bandage with a spot under it).
  • OR press “J” to bring up the most recently used healing tool or “Shift+J” to cycle through the tools until you find the right one.


  1. Zoom your photo to an appropriate level so you can see the spots clearly.
  2. Make sure your Spot Healing Brush Tool is still activated.
  3. Set the brush size to about twice that of the spot.
  4. Set your brush hardness fairly low to ensure smooth blending.
  5. Click the spot.

That’s it. Bye bye. If you want to keep things non-destructive, throw an empty layer on top of your background and make sure you’re sampling all layers. This is a good idea anyways so you can erase stuff or touch it up.


No, it’s not the perfect tool, but it’s certainly faster than doing the sample click, click, sample click, click, sample click, click thing with the Clone Stamp. The Spot Healing Brush usually fails miserably around sharp edges. So if you have spots near areas of high contrast or sharpness, you might be better off reverting back to the clone stamp.

Anybody else have tips for getting rid of spots or working with the Spot Healing Brush?

Photoshop Technique: Digital Film Grain

Film has a distinct advantage over digital when it comes to grain: it’s the only natural way to achieve it. Digital cameras are great at producing noise, but it’s just not the same as grain. I’m in love with it — and I actually attempt to reproduce it in my digital photos when the occasion calls. If you need a refresher on when that might be, check out an article I wrote for Antoine called “Going With The Grain“.

Chit Chat

The technique outlined below is intended to be a starting point for applying additional grain to a photo. I’ll be using a section of the photo above to illustrate the method. It tends to work well with black & whites (especially those shot at a high ISO) and cross processed photos. You can follow along or download the Photoshop Action below. Either way, you’ll probably have to tweak the results to get it looking just right.


Note that this action set contains all the previous Photoshop techniques I’ve covered in addition to the film grain technique. For help with using these techniques, check my Photoshop Tips archive.


All of our noise will be non-destructive, so we need a new empty layer on top of the stack (Shift+Ctrl+Alt+N). Then we want to fill that layer with 50% gray (Shift+Backspace) — leave the blending mode set to Normal and the opacity at 100%. Now you should be looking at a gray screen. Wonderful.


I like to do these steps early in the game because it allows me to “see” how the grain is looking as I go through the rest of the steps, but you could just as easily do this at the very end. First, set the blending mode to “Overlay” — light tones get lighter, dark tones get darker — so 50% gray will cause nothing to happen (so you should see the original image again). When we add the grain, the dark spots will darken the shadows on image below while the light spots will lighten the highlights, while preserving the colors of the original image.

At this point, I also like to set my opacity to 65% and my fill to 70% — this will help soften up the effect once we apply the grain. If you use this at 100% opacities, you’ll end up with very harsh grain. If you go down below 70%, you’ll get a very light grain. These two settings are very important to achieving natural looking grain, and I’d suggest that you experiment with these values after the grain is applied.


Add Noise

Now it’s time to start making things look different on our photo. We’ll add some noise to the gray layer (Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise…), but don’t freak out when it looks really bad at first. I like to add Monochromatic Gaussian noise with a value of 50% — this gives pretty good hard edges between the whites and the blacks, but there’s still some transition between the two. What you should see in your preview is a really bad looking attempt at grain. It’s going to be very blocky and un-grainlike. You MUST use the monochromatic option if you want grain instead of digital noise (and all the colors that go with it. You could also try using the Uniform Distribution — I find that it tends to create smaller grains, while Gaussian creates larger grains.

If you set your blend mode to Overlay already, you can see how the grain layer affects the image. You should be able to see blocks of lighter and darker spots throughout most of the image. The mid-tones and darker mid-tones tend to show the largest change, while extreme highlights will have almost no change in their appearance.


Blur Noise

Now that we’ve added that terrible noise to the image, we’ll back it off and try to get a natural look from it. The easiest way to do this with some amount of control is by using the Gaussian blur (Filter >> Blur >> Gaussian Blur…). I’ve found that a value of 1.3 pixels tends to work well with the Gaussian noise, but this is definitely another setting you can adjust to your own liking. As you adjust the value, you’ll see the main image in Photoshop changing it’s appearance — which is why I set the blending mode prior to this step.

Experiment with the blur value and different methods of applying blur. Photoshop offers several ways to add blur, and none of them are necessarily wrong. See what works best for your particular image and taste.


If you’re happy with the size and edge hardness of the grain, you can now go back to the layer opacity and fill values to find something that meshes well with your particular photo. You can also try a blending mode of “Soft Light” to give a softer… lighter… grain. You might also try some of the other blend modes, but you’ll probably have to reduce the opacity WAY down to avoid any kind of bad distortions. Here’s a before and after image for you (feed readers will have to visit the site to see the effect).

Grain (shown), No Grain (mouse-over)

Like I said, this is just ONE way of creating grain in your images. There are a handful of methods out there, and they all give slightly different results. I use this method most often because it gives me control over many of the layer settings, and it’s totally non-destructive so it can be turned off if I change my mind later.

Anybody else out there like to fake the grain? Leave me some links to photos of yours that have fake grain in them — I’d love to check them out!

Photoshop Techniques: Cross Process and Redscale

I gotta hand it to the film guys, they sure know how to have a good time. I’m fascinated by the many methods and techniques they can use to produce some very interesting images, all of which are only possible with film. As digital photographers, we can only try to mimic what they can do in hopes that our work will turn out half as interesting. Here are a couple of my favorite film photography techniques that can be (sort of) reproduced with Photoshop.

Base ImageGreen ProcessedRed Processed

Cross processing is a film photography technique whereby the film is deliberately processed in a solution intended for a different type of film. The effect is usually heavy color shifts, increased contrast, over-saturation, and a funky greenish-yellow tint.

Base ImageGreen ProcessedRed Processed

Redscale is another film photography technique whereby the film is loaded into the camera facing the wrong direction. This causes the red layer of the film to be exposed first, thus absorbing more light than it would normally. Blue now becomes the last layer to absorb light, so it’s nearly non-existent. These images have a very distinct red color shift, but can range from yellow to maroon.

Here are some of my previous cross-processed photos.

PED XING Piña Refresco Benched Smoker The Dog in the Bike Reading Material

Keep in mind that these techniques are highly subjective, so many cross processed and redscale images will have similar traits while being drastically different. I’ve put together a couple of Photoshop actions that will help start the process for these techniques. These have been added to the previous actions for LAB Sharpening and LAB Saturation.


These actions will lay down three layers to get you in the right direction, but think of them as more of a starting point than an ending point. Dig into it and start tweaking the layers until you find something that works for that image. Since the layers are non-destructive adjustment layers, you can edit one at a time, little by little, until you get the photo where you want it.


Cross Processing Steps

This is a fairly simple process, it just takes a lot of time if you don’t use the Photoshop Action provided. I picked this up at PhotoshopSupport.com, made a few tweaks, and wrapped it up in a Photoshop Action.


Cross Process Color Curves

A curves adjustment layer (Layer >> New Adjustment Layer >> Curves…) is typically used on the composite channel to boost contrast. We’ll be ignoring the composite channel and working on each of the color channels. As you get into the setup dialog box for the curves, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and leave it at 100% opacity for now. So here are what my curves look like in the red, green, and blue channels. This isn’t an exact science, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect — you’ll want to tweak on things differently for each image anyways.


Cross Process Color Fill

Here, we’re just adding a fill layer at a low opacity (Layer >> New Fill Layer >> Solid Color…). Again, in the setup dialog box for the fill layer, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and bring the opacity down to about 10 or 15%. Start off using the color “#E1FF00″ and work from there — it’s kind of a lime green/yellow. This will give us that green tint.


Cross Process Contrast

At this point, the image is probably looking pretty close, but a little dull and flat. We’ll use another curves adjustment layer to boost the contrast. Be sure to set the blend mode to “Luminosity” and leave it at 100% — this will ensure that we keep our colors and our brightness separate. Throw in a nice “S” curve and adjust to your liking. Don’t be afraid to blow out some highlights, since that’s fairly common in cross processed photos.


This isn’t usually necessary, but if you want to give the color a little more punch, run my LAB Saturation action (included in the download set) and adjust the parameters until you’re happy with it.


Redscale Steps

I based this one off of the cross processing technique by altering the colors and curves. It may not be the best way to accomplish this, but it works fairly well and it gives you great control over your colors.


Redscale Color Curves

Again, we’ll be ignoring the composite channel and working on each of the color channels. As you get into the setup dialog box for the curves, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and leave it at 100% opacity for now. So here are what my curves look like in the red, green, and blue channels. The main thing you need to know here is that the blue channel will give you the most control over the final color of the image. Drag the point in the middle of the curve up and to the left, and you’ll get more of a magenta tone. Drag the point down and to the right, and you’ll get more of an orange or yellow tone. These are all feasible outcomes of redscale film photography.


Redscale Color Fill

Here, we’re just adding a fill layer at a low opacity (Layer >> New Fill Layer >> Solid Color…). Again, in the setup dialog box for the fill layer, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and bring the opacity down to about 15 or 25%. Start off using the color “#CC4400″ and work from there — it’s kind of a brick red/orange. Most of the red will come from the previous layer, but this will add some. Here, you can also adjust how yellow or magenta the layer is along with the opacity.


Redscale Contrast

Redscales are typically less contrasty than cross processed photos, but this step will give you control over that and let you play around a little. We’ll use another curves adjustment layer to boost the contrast, just like we did with cross processing — but this one I’ve set the shadows to be less dark. Be sure to set the blend mode to “Luminosity” and leave it at 100% — this will ensure that we keep our colors and our brightness separate. After you’re done with this, you can continue to boost the saturation, sharpen the photo, etc.

So there are two techniques to mess around with. Use them sparingly, otherwise it’ll start to lose it’s magic with your onlookers. I’ve found that street scenes tend to work well with these techniques, but you’d actually be surprised at how many different images could benefit from a little artistic flare such as this.

If you use one of these techniques on some photos in the near future, leave a link in the comments below — I’d like to check them out!

Drag ‘n Drop Into Photoshop

Drag N Drop Cursor

There are several ways to open an image with Photoshop. One easy way is to grab the image file, drag it into Photoshop, and drop it into your workspace. This way you can skip the whole dialog box or the right click menu from within the OS. I know this works with Windows, but I’m unsure about this functionality with Mac users. The one hook to using this method is that you need to have Photoshop already up and running.

Another perk of this method is that you can place a new image into another image as a new layer. You just need to have one image already open in Photoshop, and you then drop it on the image rather than the Photoshop background. This is handy if you’re working on textured photos, composites, or graphics.

In addition to that, you can grab images from your web browser by clicking, dragging, and releasing into Photoshop. Then you don’t have to save the file to your computer before opening it.