Being involved with a lot of photography, whether it’s my own or a client’s, I find myself using Lightroom over Photoshop more and more. The main difference is that Lightroom is optimized towards working specifically with photos, and working in batches. Photoshop can of course do everything Lightroom can, but it’ll take you longer in a lot of cases.
Aside from the general color correction and filtering, which alone can bring a photo from boring to “wow”, one other major tool that I’ve grown very fond of is the Spot Healing tool.
Now, most are familiar with the Clone Stamp tool. You find an area that is similar to whatever you’re trying to hide (say, an imperfection on a shirt or a spot on a road) and you quite literally clone it over. Sometimes that tool is very overused, and you can see the tell-tale patterns of overzealous cloning in the end result.
The Spot Healing tool is a bit different. It will automatically try to match the selected area in texture, shading, and lighting. In probably 90-95% of cases, it’ll work perfectly the first time. You can completely rid someone of their acne, get rid of dirt marks on a wall or floor, get rid of stray strings on a garment, you name it.
Here’s how to use this tool.
Find your photo’s imperfections
This part you’ll need to use your eyes for. Think about what you want to remove from the photo. This can be garbage, acne, or any unwanted part of the photo. Typically, photos with patters or lots of similar textures tend to work best due to how the tool works, so this photo of snow will work quite well. Clothes, roads, and so on are also great candidates.
Let’s say we want to get rid of all of the sticks on the ground here and replace it with some clean, fresh snow.
Select the Spot Healing Tool
It’s in the Develop module, and is second from the left. You can change the size (self-explanatory), opacity (how transparent the resulting texture is), and feather (how harshly or smoothly the resulting texture blends with the surroundings). Fiddling with these will usually give you a good result, if you can’t get one automatically.
Note that you can’t use two-finger swipe to move around the image in this mode, instead the swipe will change the size of the tool. This can be a bit frustrating as you try to move around the image, but you can still use the Navigator on the top left.
Select the area, either manually or with the handy inversion
This is after I’ve selected a bunch of areas, you can see how the tool brought over textures from the surrounding area to cover my selections.
You can also check “Visualize Spots”, and use the slider to have a better idea of where imperfections on the photo exist. Usually, I use a combination of this and the normal view to really get everything. On most high-resolution photos, you really don’t have to go in too deep. Unless you’re printing on a billboard, you can usually keep zooming out and seeing how the overall picture looks. You also don’t want to spend your time trying to get every speck of dust or dirt out if it doesn’t make a difference.
The Spot Healing tool works its magic
It will automatically find an area to sample from, and do its job. Again, if the sampled area isn’t good (sometimes it will contain a texture that it doesn’t need to, or just not match perfectly), then you can either press the / key (forward slash) or simply drag the donor area around until you see something that works.
Here’s the before and after. Even zoomed in, it looks like nothing was ever there. Zoomed out, you’d have no idea.
See? It saves a huge amount of time and makes photos look that much better. One caveat — it doesn’t perform too well with large areas selected, so you’ll potentially have to do a manual selection and fiddle with the feather and opacity to get the right result.
The tool works especially well with portraits, where you want to get rid of imperfections, acne, or blemishes from a person’s face or skin.
Adobe also has their own official guide here, but the example they use is basically witchcraft — don’t expect to get results that good on a consistent basis.
Try the Spot Healing Tool on your own photos. In general, I prefer to use Lightroom as much as possible in a retouching workflow, then going into Photoshop for the really tough jobs. In surprisingly many cases, Lightroom is able to handle the job fully on its own. That’s, of course, where it shines — when you have to work with a ton of photos at once.