Erase an Unwanted Object from a Photo

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How to remove an object from a photoEver take a picture you love at first, only to discover it includes something you really wish you could remove? Then today’s your lucky day! I’m sharing a trick on how to remove an object from an image. The clone and patch tools in Photoshop are often helpful to remove objects, but here I want to show you an alternative technique — the “Horizontal Flip Trick.” It avoids the problems associated with cloning and patching, like fuzzy edges and repeating patterns.

At a recent wedding, I took the shot that you can see above of the bride and groom with some of their family members. I was a bothered by the light fixture sitting in the flowers on the left side of the picture. Not a huge deal, but I knew the bride would be happier with the picture if the light fixture was removed.

Whenever I am trying to remove an object from an image in Photoshop, it helps me to decide what should be there instead and where I can find the right material. In this case, instead of the light fixture, I’d rather have some greenery and yellow flowers. To get some greenery and yellow flowers, I am going to use existing material from the other side of the image. Here’s how:

Step 1: Create a duplicate later of the image. Open the image in Photoshop and create an identical duplicate layer of the image by selecting “Layer,” then “Duplicate Layer.”

How to remove objects from imageSelect “OK.” (Or, use the shortcut to create a duplicate layer: “Ctrl + J”).

How to make a duplicate layer

You now have two layers that are identical; one is called “Background” and the other is called “Layer 1.”

Shortcut to layersStep 2: Flip the top layer (“Layer 1″) horizontally by selecting “Edit,” “Transform,” then “Flip Horizontal.”

How to flip an imageYou’ll see that Layer 1 is a mirror image of the Background layer. The bride is now on the left side of the groom and the light fixture is on the right side of the image.

How to flip an imageTo see the difference between the two layers, click the eyeball icon next to the layer name.

See close up on eyeballStep 3: Add a black layer mask over the top layer. The layer mask allows you to use only part of the image. In this case, I just need the flowers that will cover up the light fixture. Select “Layer 1,” then click on the mask icon in the layers panel. It looks like a gray rectangle with a white circle in the middle.

How to edit imagesI now have a white mask over Layer 1.

Mask over layers in photoshopA white mask doesn’t do anything, so you won’t notice any change in your image when it is added. To change the mask from white to black, click “Ctrl + I” to invert the mask and create a black mask covering layer 1.

Layering in photoshopWith the black mask, the image appears to flip back horizontally (notice that the bride is back on the right side of the groom and the light is back on the left side in the above image).

This is because the black mask is hiding Layer 1. Both Layer 1 and the Background layer are still there, but only the Background layer is visible.

Step 4: Paint you the part of the mask you want visible. By adding the black mask, Layer 1 is entirely hidden. Carefully reveal the part Layer 1 that is useful. In other words, paint a hole in the mask so that part of Layer 1 will show, but the rest remains hidden. To do that, use a white brush on the black mask. What you paint in white shows on top of the Background layer; what is black remains hidden.

Select the brush tool by clicking on the brush icon on your toolbar (the shortcut is “B”):

How to use the brush toolSelect a small round brush with a just a bit of hardness; for example, a 150 px size brush at 20 percent  hardness.

How to select a brush size in photoshopPaint over the light fixture with the brush. The flowers from the top layer start appearing over the light fixture. (Zoom in on the picture (“Alt + scroll”) before painting to have a clearer view).

Close up on flower imageUsing the same brush tool, keep painting over the light fixture until it is covered completely.

How to paint over flowers with brush toolThe cover-up job is starting to look OK here, but some of the flowers are fuzzy around the edges because of the softness of the brush. Painting around the edges of the flowers rids them of that fuzziness and creates a natural look. Adjust the size and hardness of the brush if needed, using the sliders under the brush tool.

How to use brush toolAfter cleaning up the edges, here’s a close-up of the finished product:

Close up of finished brush toolHere’s the whole image where you can see a small white dot on the black mask. That is the part of Layer 1 that is showing through.

Image saved after brush toolFlatten your layers by selecting “Layer,” then “Flatten image.” This combines the two layers into one image. Then save the file.Image after the brush tool used

Here’s our before and after.

Before the light fixture was removed

After the light fixture was removed

The light fixture is gone!

This “Horizontal Flip Trick” is useful in many circumstances; for example, removing a sign on a wall or using a tree to cover up a building in the background. Of course it will only work if you have material on the flip side of the picture that will cover up what you’re trying to hide on the other side of the image. It doesn’t work in every case, but quite often, it’s the perfect solution and creates another tool to have in your Photoshop bag of tricks. It might seem like a tedious process at first, but once you get the hang of it, the “Horizontal Flip Trick” edit can be done in less than a minute with great results.

Photo Credit: Liz Hansen and Kristen Duke

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