Photoshop Quick Tips :: Dealing with scuffs

Before we begin: this post has to do with retouching product shots and is likely to be of little interest to the lucky majority of people who don’t have to deal with retouching pixel-size blemishes at 200% 🙂 If reading the title of this post makes you scratch the head and think “Whaaa…?” – you are the lucky one. The rest – please read on…

Now that we are done with the disclaimers, let’s get to the business. I’m sure every product photographer (and certainly every commercial retoucher) had at some point looked at the freshly shot image at full resolution and grunted at the sight of the tiny scuffs and scratches all over the place. Even the more expensive products often have tons of those micro-blemishes, and the cheaper stuff is almost guaranteed to be a retoucher’s worst nightmare come real.

Let’s take this golf club: at the price tag well over $300, you would expect people at the store would at least handle it with care. A quick examination reveals that it might not be the case – the head of the club is made of shiny carbon compound, which is easily scratched and scuffed. When we look at the club head close enough, it  looks less than pristine… Actually, it looks a bit messy; the fact that the material is shiny does not help either.

If the material was dull, we would simply used clone stamp or healing brush to eradicate those scratches but in this case it creates more problems than solves because the image has such a great variety of grey tones that cloning or healing becomes very challenging.

But fret no more – there is an easy way of dealing with the situations like this. What we will do could be described as “healing on the grand scale”. The steps are fairly simple:

  1. Identify the problem area, which needs to be smooth and free of edges, ridges, text of any sort and other high contrast elements
  2. Select around the area. You don’t have to be super-precise but the more accurate the better. Some people are really good with Lasso, for me personally, Pen is the tool of choice. So I’d pen around the area I’m about to fix and turn it into selection. Depending on how close the area to the edges of the object, you may want to feather the selection anywhere between 0.8 (far from the edge) to about 0.4 (quite close to the edge)
  3. Once you’ve got the selection, hit “Copy”. If you are dealing with multiple retouching layers or composite images, you may want to “Copy Merged” instead – just make sure to disable any adjustment layers on top of the layer you are working on so you don’t pick up any adjustments along with your selection
  4. Create a new document (File | New…). Photoshop will figure out the dimensions of the document based on the clipboard but you must make sure that the new document is 8-bit (sadly, some of the filters we need are not available in 16 bit, hence the hassle…)
  5. Now paste the clipboard into the newly created document. We are ready to start healing. First, let’s apply some blur. I usually start with Surface Blur (Filter | Blur | Surface Blur) – depending on how badly the surface is scratched, I may need to bump up Threshold a bit BUT – don’t go too far, it’s better to leave a few small blemishes behind than end up with an over-photoshopped image that looks like inch-thick layer of make-up. In short, please exercise good judgement. Sometimes, Surface Blur is not enough, then you may want to try Smart Blur, but I prefer to use it as the last resort because Smart Blur tends to be rather rough
  6. Once you blurred the surface to your likings, there is one more step – to bring back some noise. The reason is simple – blurring has eradicated the blemishes but it has also removed that natural micro-grain that prevents color banding and helps the colors look smooth. So we add the noise back – go to Filter | Noise | Add Noise. The exact amount varies depending on the surface but the typical range is anywhere between 0.3% (for very smooth and shiny objects) to about 0.6%. In some rare cases, I would go as high as 0.8% but if you need to go that far, you may be better off with adding texture instead
  7. Now we are almost done – copy the results back into the clipboard (Select All, Copy) and switch back to the original document. If the original selection is still active, it will save you the pains of fitting the piece back. Just make sure the original retouching layer is active and paste – voila! You are done! Reposition if needed, do some light blending if needed and then when it looks good – merge it into the main retouching layer.

Here is what the same area looks like afterwards. Much better isn’t it? And the whole procedure took less than five minutes from start to finish.

Happy retouching everyone!

Alex Stepanov


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