The 5 Most Used Photo Enhancement Techniques – Part 3

Out Darn Spots – Cropping

Beware cropping too soon. It is an easy way to get rid of problematic areas of the frame, but might bite back!

One obvious way to remove encumbrances is to crop them out. As tempting as it seems to crop the photo first, we generally leave cropping to the end of the effort for several reasons which we enumerate here:

  1. Sometimes clients (i.e. you) want an image in a different format. Instead of 14×11 you may want it in 20×16. If we crop it first, we are deciding the display format without thinking it through. Sometimes the ratio will be obvious due to the subject, but usually there is some room to play. We prefer to keep our options open until the end.
  2. By cropping out edges, we may be throwing away good sources for cloning out defects, or making cloning and healing harder because operations at the edge of the frame are not as neat.
  3. Care should be taken to not have details at the edge of the frame. What happens, for example, if you are asked to make a canvas wrap of your image (in our Half Dome example, the hiker would be perilously wrapped at the edge).
  4. More than once we have discovered that a portrait mode image worked better in landscape and vice-versa.

It IS true that if we do not crop early we may end up wasting effort on portions of the image we ultimately will discard. Sometimes it is obvious that a portion of the image is unusable and will be cropped. Once we cropped out two figures at the summit of Half Dome to focus attention on the landscape. We later discovered that a tiny figure at the edge of the scene provided both scale and human interest. The California Wine Institute probably would not have been interested in the person-less scene.

Dawn sky atop Half Dome [9753]

Closely related to the cropping problem, is the compositional decision when the photo is taken. We have learned the hard way that its good to leave room around the edges of the frame – one never knows how much space will be needed after cropping to a specific size.

We will not spend much time on cropping, except to restate our premise that cropping is something you should NOT do until you are ready to print or display your image. Secondly, you will find it advantageous to crop in a STANDARD ratio if you expect to frame or mount your images.

In Lightroom, the crop tool is found just to the left of the Spot Healing tool (see below). In both Lightroom and Photoshop the crop tool is overloaded. It can crop, rotate and straighten (and in Photoshop the crop tool also resizes!). Perhaps the best advice we have is to use a pre-set Aspect ratio. You can also add your own ratio(s).


Our next bit of advice with respect to cropping: in Photoshop we do not recommend cropping and resizing as one operation. Crop using a “ratio” and only later should you resize, that is, keep as much of the image intact as possible for as long as possible.

Our last bit of advice on cropping: if you DO crop an image in Photoshop, when you save it, include the image pixel dimensions.  Nothing is quite as frustrating as saving a cropped image and destroying the original! Our practice is to always save cropped images in a subfolder named “Exported”.

We could conduct a diatribe about “DPI” and “PPI” and explain why those are pretty useless things in most contexts, but we will not!

Healing Out Dust Spots, Hot Spots and Unwanted Things

Perhaps one of the easiest tools to use in Lightroom (and Photoshop) is the Clone/Healing tool. Unfortunately, you need Lightroom 5 to get the features shown here.


The “Spot Removal Tool” in Lightroom can Clone or Heal

Most of the time you will want to HEAL rather than clone.  Clone, as it sounds makes a copy of the source over the destination.  To heal or clone you click the spot healing tool, adjust the size and then click the area of the image with the problem. Lightroom will select what it thinks is a similar area from somewhere else in the photo. You can drag the “similar area” selection somewhere else if the selected area does not make sense (such as picking a fence to replace a grassy spot).  Generally it is best to make the brush only as large as needed. If a line is to be healed out clicking and dragging often works.

Heal out A Satellite Streak in Lightroom

Heal out A Satellite Streak in Lightroom

After dragging along the unwanted satellite trail in the photo above, Lightroom finds a matching area of the sky. In this case the area Lightroom chose will duplicate stars, so we drag the handle of the chosen area to a blank sky.  Note that the blob at the upper left indicates the area used to heal the area at the end of the white arrow.

Heal a segment, Lightroom

Heal a segment, Lightroom

Done Healing

After dragging the source area click Done to complete the healing

And when done, click “Done”. If the healing looks bad, you can delete and try again. Healing out spots in Lightroom is a little more tedious than doing so in Photoshop in part because having overlapping healing areas is difficult in Lightroom. (The only way to overlap healing/spot correct areas in Lightroom is to create a new spot and drag the source and destinations so they overlap a previous heal.  In Photoshop, we strongly recommend creating a separate layer to do healing on – but wait until near the end of your processing to do so!  The easiest way to create the layer to heal on is with the magic key sequence Control-Alt-Shift-E  (Command-Option-Shift-E on the Mac). That key sequence effectively does a “merge visible layers” but creates a new layer as a result.  If there is only one layer use Control-J (Command-J) instead.

Healing In Photoshop

Photoshop Spot Healing Tool

Photoshop Spot Healing Tool

There are MANY tools for “healing” in Photoshop.  There are also two flavors of the “Clone” stamp tool found under a separate palette. To choose the spot healing tool, click J (Shift-j) until it looks like a bandage with a dotted selection behind it.  You can also right-click the tool and select as shown above.  If you use the OTHER version of the bandage (healing tool) you must first select the area to use as the source using alt-click (Option-click on a Mac). In our experience it is seldom necessary to select the source so that extra step is wasted effort.  To heal in a straight line in Photoshop, click the first location then hold down the shift key and click the second region.  The shift-key trick works for most Photoshop operations like brush strokes, too. The shift trick does not work in Lightroom 5.2

There are some settings for the healing tool so if things get weird, double-check the tool bar at the top – make sure it is Normal mode.

Photoshop (CC) Healing Tool Settings

Photoshop (CC) Spot Healing Tool Settings

As a final step we regularly “heal” out hot pixels from our final night image. The Photoshop spot healing tool is very easy to use even if there are a hundred spots to fix. While it might be tempting to rely on noise reduction to solve the hot pixel problem, significant blurring occurs.

If you have a particularly difficult healing problem there are yet more advanced techniques, for example you can use the Clone or the Patch tool. Generally you will use the healing tool when you want to make the area being fixed look like the rest of the image and you will use the clone tool when you need to duplicate a texture or remove a larger hindrance.  For example I found it was easier to clone out the glowing orange highway safety cone that someone (or something) had cast into the brush just above where my name is in the image below.

Dream Highway [C_071601]


If there is interest we can cover how we handled a severely over exposed area in this image by using the patch healing tool.

The area at the left was over exposed so I used the "bump" rock in the right hand third to fix it. This is "rough"

The area at the left was over exposed so I used the boulder in the right hand third to fix it. This is “rough”

Looking for the prior two articles? Check Part 1 and Part 2.

2 thoughts on “The 5 Most Used Photo Enhancement Techniques – Part 3

    1. Steven Christenson Post author

      Thanks for your feedback. To be clear, there is no patch healing in Lightroom. In fact, the LR people will say otherwise, but there really is no content aware fill in Lightroom either. What LR does is find the “best match” – if it can. Photoshop allows much more significant options, like rotating patch content. In short, over what has already been said above, we do not see much power in Lightroom for patching.


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