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I am importing my raw-images from a dslr in photoshop as a SmartObject. The first step I do in my workflow is removing the "dust & scratches" with the clone-stamp-tool and the spot-healing-brush.

To do so I am creating a new layer and sample from the current and layer below. This works perfectly and is kind of non-destructive.

But sometimes I do some changes in the raw-converter afterwards with the smart-object to adjust the color-temperature or the exposure of the image. Like one can imagine the sampled corrections of the clone-stamp-tool refers to the old smartobject and therefore I have a couple of spots.

Is there a possibility to use the clone-stamp-tool in a real non-destructive way? I know there is a similiar tool in the raw-converter itself but it is not as comfortable as the tool in photoshop.

Can anybody help?

  • Sure but not in photoshop, it would also be quite memory intensive to record all of the needed data. – joojaa Nov 12 '15 at 13:13
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    Why are you using the Raw Converter again instead of Adjustment Layers? – Ryan Nov 12 '15 at 13:28
  • It's a while since I used Photoshop intensively - can't you put the original and the stamp layer in a layer group, then apply your adjustments to the layer group? Can't remember if they allow that – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 12 '15 at 14:59
  • @user568458 you can do that or you can Stamp Visible and work on that if preferred. – Ryan Nov 12 '15 at 15:25
  • Hi Alex, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your question. If you want to know more about the site, please see the help center or ping one of us in the Graphic Design Chat once your reputation is sufficient (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site! – Vincent Nov 12 '15 at 17:52
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You can work on the original layer with the clone stamp tool. Actually, I'm tempted to think you will have less issues during your next manipulations than by using different layers or smart objects.

The technique I use and learnt in digital manipulation was (doesn't mean it's the best but there's good reasons why it's better for some stamping jobs):

  • Only stamp with a small brush with no hardness, even if it takes longer
  • Never clone the same area twice; it might make the blur more visible. That's why you need to select the right size of brushes and change sometimes to fit the area you need to correct. Big areas shouldn't be cloned with that tool.
  • Never "copy" a cloned area; again, blur effect, "spots".
  • Place your clone stamp brush in half the portion of the area you want to clone; that means you always stay within the same radius and you go in a circular motion around the area to cover. The extremity of your clone stamp should be in the middle of the cloned area, if you can imagine the 2 circles in your head. This is to avoid cloning areas that don't really belong to the pixels you want to cover; these imperfections are always more obvious when you adjust your pictures later! (See example below)
  • Unless you need to clone something very small, you shouldn't try to fix an image with a big clone stamp in one shot! It gives better results to do it with many stamping to mix all the pixels around the cloned area together
  • You can verify if you did a good job by having a look at your channels. Sometimes looking at the separations will show more details about areas that were not well cloned and that have different densities of colors

clone stamp tool technique

Other than these tricks, I don't know any other non-destructive ways to use the clone stamp tool! And yes, it does take a bit longer but it's worth it.

  • I do essentially this but while keeping an unedited duplicate layer. So it's non-non-destructive editing, but against a later that had a perfect unaltered copy preserved – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 12 '15 at 14:58
  • Why wouldn't you just Clone Stamp on a New Layer and then either make it a Group, a Smart Object, or even Stamp Visible it? – Ryan Nov 12 '15 at 15:24
  • @Ryan I don't know if the question is for me but I don't think using the stamp tool on a new layer isn't very precise since you lose your position every time you copy+stamp; that is, if you don't clone twice the same parts as I suggested above. Technically, that implies you cloned one part of a layer to the next. That might just be a preference, I only use extra layers for that kind of work when there's big areas to cover. Otherwise I do it on 1 layer and I take my time! And yes, keeping an unedited layer (not visible). Maybe the color corrections could be done before though... – go-junta Nov 12 '15 at 15:44
  • If I understand your reasoning then you could just get in the habit of using Alt+[ and Alt+] (or set an easier shortcut) to toggle between layers quickly. Alt+[ then Alt+LMB then Alt+]. Especially if you're going to advocate precision and taking your time, this seems the better method. – Ryan Nov 12 '15 at 15:52
  • @Ryan What my issue is... I think the stamp tool reacts differently depending on the texture it's stamping on, especially on the edges. But frankly, I haven't tried with that shortcut technique and compared! So I guess the best is to make some tests and see. Maybe I'm totally wrong. – go-junta Nov 12 '15 at 17:48
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There is, and always will be, a point at which you have to say "I've stopped working on the 'negative' and am now working on the 'print'". Even if you could, in some sense, do completely non-destructive pixel cloning or pixel synthesis (healing) all the way through the process, your cloning/healing source might no longer be appropriate after you've made adjustments to the underlying image.

That said, Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom and Capture One Pro all have at least basic spot removal tools (more like the healing brush than the clone stamp) that will allow you to get most of the heavy lifting done on the "negative" (provided that you're using a reasonably current version, of course). Those tools work at the raw image file level, and are applied before adjustments are carried out. No, they're not as precise as your subsequent work in Photoshop can be, but that shouldn't matter: you should be well inside the ballpark with your major adjustments long before you go off diving into details. That includes things like multiple developments, which you might orchestrate from inside of Photoshop using Smart Objects (to rescue textures, to fix or fake mixed lighting, and so forth). If you sand, stain and finish your rough lumber before you decide what you're going to build, don't be surprised if the sawing, drilling and routing messes that up a bit.

Once you're in the right ballpark, you shouldn't need to go back to ACR (or what have you) again; adjustment layers within Photoshop can reasonably large adjustments over top of your retouching work. No, they can't adequately manage a 2500K shift in colour temperature or rescue clipped highlights and shadows¹, but you shouldn't be doing pixel-level work on a picture you're not even sure can "work" yet. If you've spent four hours perfecting the silky fur on your glorious, world-beating cat picture before deciding that the image is two stops underexposed, the highlights over there are blown, the noise is unbearable, and the cat probably wasn't purple after all, then it's time to re-examine your process.

If the picture is roughly right and nothing important is clipped in the base image data, then there's little you can't do with adjustment layers over top of your detail work. Just remember to do all of that work beneath your "final touch" colour and contrast adjustments.


¹ If you're working in 16-bit mode, you can actually shift colours and tones quite a bit with virtually no penalty, provided that the data are there. It's not as simple as using the sliders in your Raw converter, and often involves individual colour curves, but there's a lot of power there nonetheless. Clipping, however, is forever.

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