In the 18 months since I first slapped this blog up on the www, I’ve bull-doggedly concentrated my articles on both the philosophical and physical aspects of photography — specifically, either how to see the shot or how to get it. In my articles, I strive to emphasize both the creative aspects of photography as well as the technical peculiarities of cameras and lenses.
But the fact is, unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool point-and-shooter, “taking” the photo only gets you halfway toward “having” a photo. Ansel Adams said the negative was the equivalent of a musical score, whereas the print was comparable to the performance. In other words, if you want your photos to come to life and be enjoyed by many, you need to roll up your sleeves and do a little processing.
In the old days, this meant choosing a developer, temperature, and time that would best optimize the latent image on your negative. It then meant selecting a good negative and pre-visualizing how to crop, dodge, and burn it into a suitable print — which you would then practice and eventually achieve under the dimly focussed light emanating from your darkroom enlarger.
In modern times, this basically means that you pop your CF or SD card into a computer, apply a few Photoshop actions and plugin presets to “punch up” the image, then upload it to Flickr.
Lately, I’ve been spending more of my time in the No Man’s Land that lies between these two methods. No Man’s Land is a little like one of those tourist trap “Mystery Spots,” where balls seem to roll up hill and shorter people somehow look bigger than taller ones. No Man’s Land, in photographic terms, is where photographers shoot and develop film but process and print their images digitally. I’ll be writing more about all this in the future but, for now, let me say just one thing: If you shoot film and scan it, go buy Photoshop CS5. Right now. You can finish reading this article later…
Photoshop CS5 has been on the market for only one month, but if you search Google for the phrase “Photoshop CS5 Review,” you’ll get 400,000 hits. Needless to say, I don’t see any compelling reason to add to that total.
What does actually compel me is the need to mention a tiny new CS5 feature called the “Content Aware Healing Brush.” It’s not one of the “gee whiz” features in Photoshop CS5 but, if you’re a photographer living in No Man’s Land, it’ll give you back many of the hours you would normally spend spotting and healing the dust and scratches on your scanned negatives.
The Healing Brush, itself, is nothing new. It made its debut with the release of Photoshop 7, way back in 2002. The Healing Brush was a revelation for two particular schools of photographers: portrait photographers who are forever zapping zits in High School Senior portraits, and film photographers who are forever cleaning up dust and scratches in their scanned negatives. Using the Healing Brush is a two-step operation. You must first option-click in an area that contains content similar to the area you wish to heal. This “loads” the brush with a desirable paint pattern. You then need to click the bad spot to “heal” it. It’s an extremely effective tool, but if you’re healing several hundred negatives — each with several hundred dust spots — you’re looking at a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome and a deadly dose of repetitive stress disorder.
Adobe came to our aid in 2005, with the release of Photoshop CS2. It contained a new type of Healing Brush, called the SPOT Healing Brush. This is a one-step brush. Unlike the original Healing Brush, which you must first “load” with a desired hue and pattern, the Spot Healing Brush loads itself by automatically selecting content in close proximity to the spot you click. This, too, works very well — as long as you’re healing dust and scratches contained within homogenous areas (like skies, walls, and skin). In these areas, the Spot Healing Brush can be a major time saver, since you simply click once on a spot to remove it. After removing all the easy spots, you then switch back to the traditional two-step Healing Brush to fix spots and scratches in textured and patterned areas.
Now, in Photoshop CS5, Adobe has given us a new option for loading up the Spot Healing Brush — content aware healing. Previously, the Spot Healing Brush had only two sampling options — proximity match and create texture. The new content aware option allows us to use the Healing Brush in the very sort of patterned and textured areas that previously required the tedious two-step Healing Brush.
Let’s look at how these three Spot Healing Brushes work. The following crop is from a very old scan of a cathedral photograph. Notice the big dust spot right on an architectural edge:
If I try to eliminate it with the Spot Healing brush set to proximity match, Photoshop basically clones a small section from above the spot and uses it to paint over the dust spot. The result is that the dust gets replaced with a cloned architectural detail that does not actually belong there:
If I try to eliminate the dust with the Spot Healing Brush set to create texture, I end up with an even worse “fix.” Again, this brush option is designed to work best in areas of homogenous content (sky, wall, skin), and not in a patterned area, like this:
When I use the Spot Healing Brush set to the new content aware option, Shazam! I get results almost exactly the same as if I used the clone tool or the original two-step Healing Brush, but without the tedium:
The new Content Aware Spot Healing Brush is, for me, the single most important new feature in Photoshop CS5. If you need to spot heal scans, it’ll easily pay for itself in the amount of time you save. It won’t completely eliminate the need for the traditional two-step Healing Brush but, from my experience, this new brush takes care of 90% of the dust problems in an image. This is particularly important for black & white photographers, since “digital ICE” (the infrared process used to automatically remove dust and scratches from color scans) does not work on silver-based black & white film.
The only problem you’ll likely have with this nifty little Photoshop CS5 feature, is figuring out how to occupy all that extra free time. Me? I’ll use the time I save spotting negatives for something more constructive like, say, taking photos that actually have something to do with the blog I’m writing, rather than just grabbing some old freshly scanned and spotted dog show photos from February 1993.
©2010 grEGORy simpson
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