Arthur C Clarke’s third law of prediction states – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” and if you’ve ever used the clone stamp tool in Photoshop, you’ll know exactly what Arthur was talking about. Using a very simple technique of allowing you to sample areas of an existing image and use them as a brush, you can create amazing effects with very little effort.

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The clone stamp tool works by allowing the user to select a point in an image, and then copy it in real time to any other part of the image, it’s particularly effective if you have a complex organic pattern or texture and want to seamlessly cover over or expand an area elsewhere in the image. You can also, of course, clone part of a completely different image, so it’s also a very quick and simple way of mixing elements of different images into one. It is also often used for removing blemishes on photographs, something I’m sure we’ve all been tempted to try.

The real trick of using the clone stamp tool is to master juggling opacity and brush hardness, so open any image of a face and try doing the following to get to grips with this new toy.

Nine items down on the left-hand Photoshop toolbar is what looks like a hand inkstamp, this is where the Clone Stamp and Pattern Stamp tools live. Right click and make sure the clone stamp tool is selected.

On the top toolbar where it says Brush, there is an arrow pointing down, click this to open the Brush parameters and alter the size of the brush to about the size of the eye on your face image and set the hardness to 40%. This means that whatever you are cloning will have a nice soft blended edge. Now move your cursor any area of the face that has a large area of skin, so probably the cheek or forehead. Press and hold the ALT key and left click on the centre of this area, this is where your clone stamp will sample. Move the cursor over a facial feature like the eye or nose, and use the clone stamp, it will brush the same image you sampled over the new area. Experiment with this and see if by sampling different areas you can produce a featureless face. If you find the cloned area does not blend well, try sampling a different area that is nearer the portion you are replacing until you get a better match.

Now try something subtler, open the original image, and this time also set the opacity to 70%, now find a blemish, a mole, spot or discoloured area on the face, sample a clear area using the ALT key and brush over the blemish, the opacity setting will smooth over the skin, very useful for tidying up photos and something magazines do as a matter of routine.

Since you have mastered the basics, try sampling more outlandish features, try an opaque soft brush sampling a leopard and brushing over another animal, give it a leopardskin makeover. You’ll soon be working magic.

[ Image via Russ Payne]