About This Digital iDarkroom Primer

This Primer on the new digital darkroom is provided on this blog to arm new DSLR photographers with the fundamental knowledge needed to become familiar with the evolving digital technologies and be able to apply them to their emerging interest in the photographic art. To read this Primer in logical order, please begin with the oldest post and read to the most current. Click HERE for Table of Contents.

Along the way, you'll find, photography tips, photography techniques and an ample dose of solid photo basics to help you feel comfortable in your digital darkroom.

A sister site, Hub's Camera, covers the fundamental mechanics of using your new DSLR camera. Then visit Hub's Photography Tips for basic but essential tips on all things photographic. Links to both of these sites can be found in the right-hand column of this page. Happy shooting!

"Hub's iDarkroom" is a non-commercial, educational service of Hubbard Camera LLC.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Part 21 - Cloning

Without a doubt, it was the ability to "clone" that provided the initial boost to digital imaging popularity among professional photographers. In the early 1990s, digital imaging meant shooting traditional film and then scanning the negatives or slides to produce digital files that could be retouched in the first digital imaging systems. "Dust Busting", the elimination of dust, scratches and imperfections became the catch phrase of the 90s as well as the digital photo technician's primary tool for preparing images for publication.

Those early digital imaging systems were prohibitively expensive -- $100,000 and up. Today, sophisticated programs from Photoshop to basic Internet freeware/shareware imaging software make cloning and a wealth of other manipulation tools affordable and available to every digital photographer.

Basic cloning tools provide the ability to duplicate one area of an image and to exactly place the duplicate (clone) in another area of the same image. Today, most image editing programs include some form of cloning as a fundamental tool. This article will explore the basics of cloning that are common within today's imaging programs. Let's get started by viewing the brief introductory video below.

The Basics (click on Play button)

Below is the final example from this video and a summary of the topics covered:

  • Selecting the Clone tool
  • Hard/soft brush slider control
  • Brush size control
  • A simple clone example.
The cloning tool has evolved to become a very precise and sophisticated "copy and paste" tool for photographers.

Typical uses for this very flexible tool include:
  • duplicating picture elements within the same picture -- like the placement of the third water drop in the video above
  • eliminating imperfections
  • eliminating elements that distract from a photograph's composition.

Original unretouched image

The following video clip provides an example of eliminating imperfections in the informal portrait above.

Removing blemishes and imperfections (click on Play button)

Below are the enlarged "before and after" pictures from the video above:

Before retouching

After retouching with cloning tool

This video exercise demonstrates the basic cloning steps required to remove common imperfections and blemishes. Points to remember include:
  • Before attempting this type of retouching, enlarge the monitor image to 100% or greater.
  • Use a brush size that is close to the size of the object to be removed.
  • Set the brush hardness to 0% to provide a soft edge to the clone brush to allow the clone to blend smoothly into the surrounding image area.
  • The cloning source should match the tone, density and color of the area immediately surrounding the imperfection.
Most imaging programs containing cloning tools provide a method of stepping backward through the cloning steps. This capability affords us the luxury of making a mistake and easily stepping back in the process to try again. Remember: You have altered the original image during this process. Save this retouched file under a different name to preserve the original.

It's easy to see why photographers who specialize in people pictures find the clone tool so useful. In the past, a specially-trained retouching artist using brush and paints would have been called on to perform these corrections manually on the original negative or final print -- costly, time consuming and requiring considerable artistic skills.

The next example video clip uses the cloning tool to eliminate unwanted elements within the picture below.

Original image before clone retouching the green stem in the background

Click Play button to see video.

Same image after using clone tool to replace stem with additional background

To successfully "clone out" an element within a picture, here are the tips given in this video:
  • Enlarge the monitor image to 100% or more.
  • Use as large a brush as the surrounding picture elements will allow.
  • Don't clone a large area using a single source. Instead, use several sources to avoid establishing a pattern that can be detected by the viewer's eyes. Remember most patterns in nature are random.
Since the introduction of digital cloning, the process has grown to include an array of options giving the photographer more and increasingly sophisticated options. This article only covers the most basic common cloning features. As you expand your iDarkroom skills you will become familiar with all the options included in your imaging program's cloning tool.

The real secret to mastering cloning is practice. I know. I say practice often. But there is a knack to performing cloning in a manner that is truly invisible to the viewer. I'm definitely not an artist, but I'm pretty good at cloning. It's a knack that anyone can learn. It just takes practice. So, select a few of your images and force yourself to practice your cloning skills. You will eventually be amazed at what you and your mouse can do to improve your photographs.