Craig Stocks Arts Fine Art Photography and Artwork Duplication Services in Peoria and Central Illinois


September 9, 2009

Workers before and after PhotoshopSaving a photo for iStockphoto

This post was a winning entry in Adobe's "How Photoshop Saved the Day" contest.

This example is one of salvaging a photo. On the surface, it looks like an easy fix, but it's actually very challenging when the end result needs to be completely believable.

I wanted to get started doing stock photography, and this was one of my first photo shoots expressly for that purpose. The subjects here are my son Chris (on the left) and his friend and co-worker Danny, standing by the rig they use to drill wells for geothermal heating and cooling.

I'd read through the material on iStockphoto, so I was aware of the requirements. Basically, the photo can't include any copyrighted material, and the most common problem is company logos, but you also have to be careful with signs and symbols.

I thought I had taken care of those issues, but the inspectors at iStockphoto are very good at their jobs, meaning that they can find even tiny problems. In this case though, the problem wasn't so tiny. The design on Danny's T-shirt constituted an artistic design, and had to be removed. Oops!

Well, those inspectors are also very good at spotting clumsy Photoshop work. It's pretty easy to retouch a photo like this so that it looks good as a small web browser image. But, iStockphoto's inspectors go over the full-size image magnified to 100%, so they would quickly spot sloppy work. In fact, I nearly just gave up without trying.

(Roll your mouse pointer on and off the photo above to see the "after" version of the photo. Click on the image to see a large version in a new browser window.)

The challenge here is to remove the design without removing the texture. Simply using the clone stamp tool would never work.

Photoshop CS4 to the rescue! I realized that the pattern was mostly color and tone, but it had the same texture as the rest of the shirt. What I needed was to make the pattern the same color as the shirt without changing the texture. What I needed was a curves adjustment.

I started by selecting Danny's chest area and then used Select / Color Range to focus the selection on just the gray pattern. Then, using that selection as a layer mask, I created a curves adjustment layer to darken the pattern. That, in itself, did 90% of the job. Most of the design then just blended into the shirt, but the edges, mud spots and wrinkles needed some finishing touches.

The next step was the clone stamp tool, but now I only needed to clean up the rough edges that the curves adjustment didn't get. I also cloned some additional mud spots to help hide the changes. Next, a little selective lightening and darkening (using a layer in Soft Light blending mode) to put back the contours that had been lost.

The next challenge was to recreate the vertical wrinkle in his shirt. A wrinkle in a shirt is mostly just light and dark graduations, so I added a new layer again in Soft Light blending mode and created a layer mask in the shape of the wrinkle. Then I simply painted the light and shadow using a combination of the gradient and brush tools.

At this point, it looked good from a distance, but at 100% magnification, I'd lost most of the T-shirt fabric texture. The last step was to add a noise layer (again using Soft Light blending mode) and selectively paint noise onto the image using the layer mask to simulate the T-shirt texture. As an added feature with Photoshop CS3 or later, you can convert this layer and apply the noise as a Smart Filter so that the amount can be adjusted later if needed.

When it was all done, I was surprised at how easily I had pulled it off. Roll your mouse over the image to see the before and after, or click on the photo to see a larger copy. You can also see it online here at iStockphoto.