You can remove unwanted objects, skin blemishes and scratches using the Context-aware Spot Healing Brush tool in Photoshop CS6 and later. This brush allows you to quickly paint in the areas that need fixing. Its results are far from perfect from the first try, but with a bit of fine-tuning, you can make unwanted artefacts disappear in a couple of minutes. But what if you don’t have Photoshop? In that case, Snapheal Pro from Macphun is a nice alternative. In addition to making your models look skin-perfect, the app has the basic image adjusting tools. Snapheal Pro is a stand-alone app as well as a plug-in to Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture.
At a cost of €30.00 Snapheal Pro is a no-brainer if you don’t own Photoshop. It is a great image editing tool and one that can easily replace Photoshop’s basic features such as sharpening, exposure correction, toning and blurring. As a plug-in, Snapheal Pro is brilliant with Aperture. I don’t own Lightroom, so I can’t comment on that application.
I ran my tests of Snapheal Pro as a stand-alone application with six different images. The easy ones — like a ball on a lightbox — could be fixed with one tool in seconds. The most difficult one — a cathedral with a scaffold erected at its left — was a different matter altogether. I simply couldn’t make it work. The cathedral wall kept appearing as part of the “fix”.
Macphun insisted that I would send them the image so they could have a go at it. They fixed it successfully and explained why I failed:
– Any Content-Aware tool analyses the neighbouring pixels to take them for replacement instead of the image to be erased
– Objects that are situated on the edge of two or more totally different backgrounds are difficult to erase using standard tools as they are usually replaced by the most similar pixel-environment which was completely different in this case – it is either sky or a building that’s attached to it. So it replaces the empty space by the more similar environment – cathedral walls in our case, not the sky
– To avoid this problem you should choose a maximum enlargement and select separate parts of the object for erasing one by one, not the whole scaffold at once as it’s not homogeneous by nature — plus this way you create the background
– First take separate construction elements that are far from the building itself and mark them as lines to be erased. Then move closer to the building in small portions, not painting the parts that are attached to the cathedral directly, leaving at least a line of space
– The next important part – you won’t get it perfect without using the Clone & Stamp tool, so after you erased it all — is to go to “Clone & Stamp”, choose a quite big brush size, high softness, and while selecting the nearest sky colour as a sample for cloning accurately, mark the remaining area to fill it with sky samples.
Lesson learned: with such “difficult” images, fixing the objects that you want to get out of the image isn’t a straightforward matter. Even with images that have a clear, uniform blue sky Snapheal Pro left behind a visible ‘ghost’ of the removed object. This happened consistently and regardless of which of the three quality levels I set.
But when I tested the same images with photoshop CS6, ghosting would occur just as well. There was an exception to that rule: when I used the Context-aware Patch Tool, there was no ghosting on uniform areas at all. Even with the cathedral image, the Photoshop CS6 Patch Tool would work instantly, but would generate the same problems with the Context-aware Spot Healing Brush — and that’s the one that you can compare with Snapheal’s brush mode.
Furthermore, I expected more from Photoshop. After all, it is an image editing powerhouse costing a lot more than Snapheal Pro. And Snapheal Pro does also come with a good deal of fine retouching tools — complete with masking capabilities. The only tool I knew wouldn’t work well even before I tried it, was the denoising tool.
For starters, Snapheal Pro’s denoiser doesn’t have separate settings for colour and luminance noise, but even if it would have I wouldn’t have liked it anyway. The only denoiser that I was blown away by ever, even beating Noise Ninja, is DxO Labs’ PRIME system that you get in DxO Optics Pro 9. That one is the only one so far that removes noise without blurring or ‘liquifying’ the image.
The app exports to many different formats including JPEG-2000, Photoshop and OpenEXR. You can also send a Snapheal Pro image to Intensify or Fx Photo Studio (both Macphun apps; the latter lets you apply filters to your images).