Getting to know the Adobe Photoshop patch tool (and its family, the healing brush tools) is handy. You can eliminate pesky spots and marks easily.
The other clever thing about the patch tool is that you can replicate parts of a photo. This can create a great visual effect.
Read on to find out where to find the patch tool in Photoshop, and how to use it.
Where to Find Adobe Photoshop’s Patch Tool
You can find the patch tool on the left-hand side menu. The shortcut key for the patch tool on both Windows and Mac OS is J.
If you can’t see it, check to see if it’s hidden in the small drop-down menu when you click on the healing brush.
How to Use the Photoshop Patch Tool to Tidy Up Your Image
You have a beautiful photo taken at the right moment . . . but there’s a water spot visible which has you tearing your hair out.
The good news is you can remove it in a jiffy with the patch tool in Photoshop. And this is also quite a bit cheaper than replacing your hair.
You can also clean up distractions with the patch tool. These include stray grass, stones, wayward clouds, and graffiti.
My photographic vice is forgetting to clean the lens properly when I’m in a rush. The patch tool comes in handy for those annoying dust spots.
You can also use the Patch tool to remove larger areas that are distracting from your otherwise great image.
Step 1: Opening the Photograph
I’ve decided to tidy up a photograph of a reflection of the ‘Woods For Trees’ sculpture by Regan Gentry.
It’ll show you how to tidy up a scene in Photoshop CC 2018 using a Windows PC. If you’re using a version of Photoshop earlier than Photoshop CS6, then this method might not work for you.
You can use any other image though, from skylines to landscapes.
I open the raw photograph in Photoshop, and click on the patch tool. I also click on ‘content aware’ in the top menu.
Step 2: Selecting the Area You Want to Remove
I ‘draw’ around the stone I want to remove by clicking and dragging around it. A dotted line (‘marching ants’) appears.
This is similar to the lasso selection tool.
Step 3: Clearing the Space
I click in the centre of the shape I’ve drawn, and drag the cursor across to a nearby clear area.
You can see that the original shape is now ‘filled’ with similar content from the new area. The stone is gone.
To get rid of the marching ants, I click ctrl+d (cmd+d).
I repeated this process in about ten different areas of the photograph.
The finished result is a clearer puddle reflecting the surroundings with fewer distractions.
How to Use the Patch Tool to Replicate an Object
Another way to use the patch tool in Photoshop is to replicate part of a photo.
You can see my example below of giving a native New Zealand Pīwakawaka (fantail) a twin.
Step 1: Opening the Photograph and Creating a Layer
I open my raw photograph in Photoshop. On the lower right menu of my PC, I duplicate this image. Right-click on the layer, and select ‘duplicate’.
Now I have two identical layers. I clicked on the top layer.
Step 2: Copying the Shape
I click on the patch tool and have made sure that the content aware option in the top menu is selected.
This time, instead of drawing around something I want to remove, I draw a shape where I want to copy the Pīwakawaka to.
I click in the middle of the ’empty’ shape that I’ve drawn and drag it to the Pīwakawaka I’m copying.
I’m working with two identical layers. So I still have another Pīwakawaka flying underneath the one I dragged across.
Step 3: Moving the Shape
Seeing two identical Pīwakawaka flying in the exact same formation at the same time is not particularly natural. I’ve decided to turn one around.
Before I clear the marching ants (ctrl+d or cmd+d), I click ctrl+t (cmd+t) to use the transform tool. This enables me to move around the shape and adjust the size.
This is something to consider with nature photography. Exact copies of plants and animals look abnormal.
If you’re after a natural look, adjust the size and direction of your replica. If you’re after a creative and clearly ‘fake’ repeated pattern, then go for that exact replica!
Step 4: Final Touches
Sometimes the original area directly around the shape I’ve moved doesn’t quite blend with the surroundings.
The black tones directly around the Pīwakawaka here are a bit too dense.
Usually I use the spot healing tool to tidy up these areas.
Like all post-production techniques, using the Photoshop patch tool gets easier (and quicker) with practice.
Experiment with different photographs and scenes to see how it works best for you. The more mistakes you make to learn from, the better.
Also like all post-production techniques, less is more. Just because you can use the patch tool, doesn’t always mean you should. Stick to using the patch tool for small areas as a way to enhance your photographs.
Sometimes imperfections in a photograph help to tell the full story. Look at your photograph as a whole, and consider the narrative you want to tell . . . and always remember to clean your lens!