Healing Entire Images in Photoshop

Almost anybody who uses Photoshop at all is familiar with the Spot Healing Brush. Photographers know it as one of the basic items in the Photoshop toolkit, and everyone needs it, usually sooner rather than later. Rent a camera with a dirty sensor? I think you want spot healing brush. Look — is there a smudge on the wall behind where you took that family portrait? Fortunately, spot healing brush fixes it. Over and over again we use it to heal mundane little problems. Once I used it to get rid of a ball floating in a lake. Levels might be too complicated for beginners. Spot Healing Brush is understood by everyone.

But I always wondered why it was called the spot healing brush, because it really seems to be a spot removal tool. Nobody wants their spots “healed,” they want them gone. So why was it called the spot healing brush? Along those lines, I noticed that Photoshop’s sibling Lightroom calls the same tool the Spot Removal Brush. Aperture calls its version “Retouching,” as does iPhoto. So what is this “healing” about? It seems so new-agey and holistic when you just want some bleach.

Well I put those thoughts out of my mind but they kept nagging me. Finally I decided that maybe there was something holistic and truly healing about this. Really, what if you could use the tool the “heal” an entire image? So I started investigating, and playing with key combinations, and found the following.

First let’s start with a basic unedited image that I took of Mesa Arch last April. It’s a great scene, but I had trouble figuring out just how to process it and full-image healing really saved the day for me.

I loved the image but I wasn’t happy with the light, and I had trouble with the color balance and a few other things. Everything I tried seemed wrong. So let’s start with the process.

First, select the Spot Healing Brush tool. It will probably look something like this depending on how big the brush was last time you used it:

Now you make the brush bigger with the right bracket “]” key, and smaller with the left bracket “[“. But when you try to make the brush big enough to cover the entire image, it stops. It seems as if it does. At some point the circle disappears and all you see is the point that represents its center. But it does not really cover the entire image, as you can see when you click. Note how nearly the entire image is being processed,but two corners are uncovered.

If you let this process run you will just end up with a mess. What you need to do is to cover, and then “heal,” the entire image.

Here is how it works: If you are on a Mac, select the Spot Healing tool, make it as large as you can normally, then press Option-Shift-Tilde-ESC-M. For a PC, press Function-Logo-Shift-Q-Backslash. Now when you press the Right Bracket or ] key, keep pressing about ten times after the brush seems to disappear. now, when you click the mouse to activate the tool, it truly covers, and heals the entire picture:

This is where you have to be patient, in two ways. First, this process can take a long time to work over the entire image. Two to three minutes is normal, and I’ve had it take as long as four-and-a-half. Second, because sometimes it just gets it wrong. You might have to try 2 or 3 times before getting a result you like, and on a small handful of images, I’ve had to give up and revert to manual edits. But on this image, which I ended up first publishing last June, I think the result was spectacular.

So the next time you have an image that you know has potential, but you’re having trouble getting it to the final result you see in your head, try this trick, to heal the entire image. It just might be the right tool for the job.

UPDATE: I think it’s a bit unfair to catch people with April Fool’s Day pranks when the day has passed so — to be clear — this post is an April Fool joke.

Also, I’m currently having site issues when posts have more than 3 images so if you cannot see the last images, including the final “result” of the technique here, I hope to have that fixed soon.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. That is an approach I would have never thought of Mark. I will have to try it. As far as the term “healing” brush, my guess that it was named that for editing portraits.

  2. Should the date of the posting be taken into account on the viability of this procedure? 🙂

    1. James you might want to look closely at every sentence in the first paragraph.

  3. I have never heard of this.
    Incredible transformation, Mark.
    Thank you for sharing here.

  4. Well played. Well played.

  5. Fabulous tip, Mark. I look forward to using this on every single image I ever shoot moving forward! I’m fairly sure you’ve just destroyed the stock photo market in a single blog post, though – how will everyone handle the influx of great pictures that we will all be creating now?

  6. Works like a champ! Well, maybe not a champ, but works as intended IUKWIM… 🙂

  7. Nice work. With results like that I think I’ll try it on all my photographs.

    1. Thanks Armando. I know you’re quite a Photoshop/processing maven so praise like this from you means a lot!

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