About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Problem with Wires Part II

In the Digital Darkroom
Last week I discussed ways to avoid or limit the impact of the wires that contaminate so many of our photographs. On happy occasions a few steps in one direction or another can be sufficient to chase the wires from the scene, without severely compromising the composition, but this "editing with your feet" is not always possible. Although, in Part I, I didn't discuss specific cloning techniques, I did talk about how more subtle changes in perspective can be enough to move the offending wires into areas that allow easier removal in the digital darkroom. The critical factor in all of this is to be conscious of the wires and do as much as possible in the field to reduce their impact making the eventual editing chores much less arduous and time consuming.

Sometimes the Wires Can't be Avoided

An Apology to Wires

Before diving into the digital darkroom, I feel I must make a brief acknowledgment of the roll of the entangling mess of wires in our environment. YES, I know that without wires, modern communications, my blog, and all those adorable pictures of cats would not be possible. Happily our visual cortex seems adept a filtering the wires from our consciousness and memory, but our cameras have no such synapses. Hopefully I can be excused for hating the cables with a passion that allows me to feel a wonderful glee as I spend the hours required to send them to oblivion. The good news is that progressive iterations of Photoshop have made the process more effective and easier.
Autumn Morning in Brattleboro Vermont,  Worth the Effort

Die Wires Die!!

Harrisville Library with Wires

Over the years my approaches to wire removal have evolved with the introduction of new tools in Photoshop. Early on, the Cloning Tool was the only reasonable choice, and with care it did a excellent job, but in recent versions of the software the introduction of the Healing Brushes and Content Aware capability has expanded the capability and ease of the process. As is always true with Photoshop, the addition of new option makes the selection of the best tool more complicated and the key to finding the best approach to any specific situation is to experiment with the various options.

Safe and Free To Experiment

As I work on an image I am constantly jumping among the Cloning and Healing Tools, varying the size and hardness as well as experimenting with Content Aware and Proximity Match Types and Normal and Replace Modes. I can often guess what approach will work best in a particular region of the image, but I'm never sure until I experiment. The only things I can be sure of is that no one technique will work best in all situations. Of all the buttons and keystrokes available in the editing process, the most important is the combination of "Back-Up" buttons. My left hand never strays very far from "Alt-Ctrl-Z" (PC) on the keyboard. The ability to back-up is critical to the learning process and this is enhanced by keeping your edits on a separate blank layer. 


My "Safe Editing" Rules are :

1) Perform edits to pixels and perspective early.
Non-global edits may not register correctly with changes in the pixels applied later in the process.

2) To avoid damaging you base image! place edits on a separate blank layer.Hit Ctrl-J to create a new layer and then set the tool to sample "ALL Layers" or Current and Below"

3) Keep your finger on the Back-Up buttons.


Where are the Wires
Wire removal can be considered to fall into two broad categories depending on the nature of the underlying background.

1) Backgrounds with a smooth texture, without significant detail, such as a clear sky or those with homogeneous detail such as a dense forest canopy can be the easiest to correct and it is here that Photoshop's automatic "Smart Tools" can be most reliably effective.

2) Backgrounds with varying and structured detail such as bare tree branches or the architectural detail in buildings often require more careful and time consuming editing, frequently with classics cloning techniques.

Smooth Backgrounds

Carlton Covered Bridge
Removal wires from a clear sky is the best and most frequent example of this type of editing. Photoshops Spot Healing and Healing Brushes can often work well, but the challenge is to find the tool that blends best with the surrounding sky to make seamless patch. In newer versions of Photoshop the Healing tool is available in a number of variety, the top two, "Spot Healing" and the "Healing Brush" are the most commonly used to clear wires.

Spot Healing 

Healing Brush Line
The "Spot Healing Brush" is often used for correction of small "spot" defects such as blemishes or dust spots, but it can also be effective for wires. Set to a width just slightly larger than the wire, as it is dragged over the line, it samples the edges to create the patch. The
Patchy Result "Normal Type", Content Aware
size and softness of the brush will affect the smoothness of the blend and the results will also be affected by the choice of Proximity Matching or Content Aware Blending modes. Each protocol affects the way the program blends the
"Replace Type" Content Aware

repair with the surroundings. It is possible to drag the bush along the length of the wire or click on one end and then "Shift-Click" on the other end to "heal" the wire in one stroke. If this approach fails to smoothly blend with surrounding pixels, leaving tell-tale linear artifacts, I will often move the brush in diagonals across the wire creating a less regular and noticeable patch.


Healing Brush

The Healing Brush works similarly to the cloning tool. A source location must be defined and then the brush can be drawn along the wire, but with the Healing Brush it is the source pixels are blended with the surroundings again using a "Normal" or "Replace Modes. The results can be a smoother blend than with the Cloning Tool. With either healing brush, care has to be taken to avoid contamination from surrounding pixels. As the wires approach areas with contrasting brightness and color, the healing tools can smudge some of the contrasting pixels into the blend. In these situations I will frequently switch to the Cloning tool with a hard edge to fill in the closely adjacent areas Another option is to make a selection which excludes the problem regions and apply the healing brush to the clean selection.

Whichever brush is used, The number of options that can be applied for a simple "healing" can be distressing, but, again, the important thing is to experiment until you get the best result. For example the "Normal" type setting is routinely recommended, but sometimes I find that "Replace" leads to a smoother blend with subtle areas of detail Regardless of the approach, small areas of editing artifact may need to be touched up with the healing brush before a transparent repair is achieved.

In my first screen capture video, I experimented with various settings for the best result on wire removal from a largely clear sky. 

Click on the lower right of the player to expand to full screen

Backgrounds with Structured Detail
The great challenge for removal comes when the wires overlie or intertwine with areas of varying sharply structured detail. In these

Wires on the Harrisville Library
situations automatic "smart" tools quickly begin to fail and I find that the fine control of the cloning tool works best. The solution is not easy. It may take me 30 seconds to clear a large expanse of clear sky using a Healing Brush, but a small area of detail can take an hour or more of cloning to get an acceptable result. A classic example of this challenge is the mesh of wires that entangles the beautiful library at the head of the mill pond in Harrisville, NH. The first question which arises in theses situations is whether the image is worth the effort required to clear away the scars. If the Harrisville scene was less perfect, it would be easy to walk away, but given that it is so damn classic it becomes impossible to turn away. 

Wire Nightmare on the Harrisville Library
Cloning on the Blank Editing Layer

Wires Reasonable Removed, Whew!

At times the healing brush can be effective in areas of regular detail, but the cloning tool usually works best in these situations, since you have complete control over what areas are sampled and where they are placed on the image. As I look for areas to use as patches to place over scarred regions, I constantly vary the size and hardness of the brush and as always, it is crucial to have the back-up keys ready for the inevitable mistakes. The trick is to line up the patch to match the underlying pattern and texture. This used to be a greater challenge, but in recent versions of Photoshop, the task has been made much easier by the ability to see the patching pixels through the circle of the brush. The result is that it is much easier to line-up the pattern whether it is bricks, the edge of a roof or the intersection of branches.
Wires Cleared, Including Reflections in the Pond

Video of Cloning out wires across the Harrisville Library.

Click on the lower right of the player to expand to full screen


It is difficult to describe the techniques for effective use of Healing and Cloning brushes. Hopefully the short, screen-shot videos will better convey some of the approaches that I have found most useful, but there is nothing that can replace repeated practice. You will find the combinations of tools, brushes and settings that work best for you in the various situations that will arise in the editing process. As I said at the end of my first article on dealing with wires, "... New and refined tools within more recent versions of the program have made the process much easier. It still requires practice and a considerable investment in time, but your artistic vision deserves no less".


Problem with Wires Part I

Jeffrey Newcomer

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