Weeellccooomee back to another episode of Lizzy’s Concert Photo Editing 101! (Just kidding… sorta…)
I’m going to get the usual caveats out of the way before I start. Mic stand removal is often a controversial subject in the rules of photojournalism. If this type of editing goes against either your ethics or the ethics of your publication, then I do not recommend doing it.
Secondly, my program of choice is Adobe Photoshop. Reiterating things I’ve said before: it looks daunting, but it’s really just Lightroom on steroids with a different interface… give it a try, you might like it!
Finally, if you missed the first tutorial I wrote, you’ll probably want to check out: How to Edit Concert Photos: Basic Mic Stand Removal. I’ll be using the main technique used there (Spot Healing Brush) in this tutorial, as well. Now, you might be wondering: what makes this tutorial “intermediate” vs. “basic”? The simple answer is: the Clone Stamp tool.
How To Remove A Microphone Stand: Intermediate Level
1. As usual, the first step is fairly simple – open up your photo in Photoshop.
I’m going to be working with a more recent shot of Bullet For My Valentine from this year’s Welcome to Rockville festival. I’m working on the background layer in this file, but I HIGHLY recommend duplicating your background layer and working off a copy (right click on the layer and select Duplicate Layer, then hit OK) until you’re confident with your clone stamp abilities.
Dropping my usual note about in camera composition: there are many times when concert photographers get put into a position where perfect composition really just isn’t possible. Anyone who has shot BFMV knows Matt Tuck doesn’t often leave his place behind the mic. I do my best to wait for him (or similarly positioned artists) to pull away from the microphone and get it positioned off the face and away from his body, purposely putting it in a place I know I can edit out later.
2. Select the Spot Healing Brush tool (shortcut: J).
If you hover over the icon for this tool in the Toolbar, you’ll see a little preview for how this magic works.
Screenshot below for a reminder of my brush settings. The most important parts here are setting Hardness: 100%, Spacing: 25%, making sure Type is set to Content-Aware and ensuring that Sample All Layers is NOT checked.
The size of your healing brush is going to be variable. For ease of use, try the brush shortcuts: Bracket Left [ to decrease size and Bracket Right ] to increase size.
3. (Optional) Do a quick spot healing for any small distractions.
This step is not at all necessary and completely up to personal taste. I tend to prefer a clean look and I know the spot healing brush will only take a few seconds to knock out all of these spots… You’ll notice this makes a pretty big difference right off the bat.
4. Use the Spot Healing Brush (shortcut: J) to start the mic stand removal.
One of the secrets to the spot healing tool is to start small. You’ve probably noticed if you use it on a larger area, the margin for an ugly heal increases drastically. In this case, I started at the top, spot healing just the area circled in red over the microphone itself first.
Next, I removed the part of the stand with the guitar picks on it.
…Then the portion that extends toward the head stock.
Basically just inching my way closer and closer to the guitar without actually letting the spot healing tool touch it.
Now, I’ve skipped over the part of the mic stand that actually overlaps the guitar neck. I usually save the hardest for last, so we’ll come back to that in a minute.
In this case, I was even able to spot heal over Matt’s pants without any trouble, though results are not always this reliable.
5. Time to break out the Clone Stamp tool (shortcut: S).
Again, you can hover over the icon for this tool in the Toolbar to see a little preview of how it works.
Below is a screen shot of the settings I use for my stamp. Important things to check: Mode: Normal, Opacity: 30%, Flow: 100%, ensuring that Aligned IS checked and Sample: Current Layer.
Like the spot healing brush, the size of your stamp will vary. You can use the same shortcuts: Bracket Left [ to decrease size and Bracket Right ] to increase size.
6. Use Clone Stamp to clean up messy spot healing.
The trick to this tool is that you will be specifying a “source point” to clone. Zoomed in, you can see that the spot healing left some fairly obvious nicks in Matt’s pants, so I’m going to clean those up.
With the Clone Stamp selected, hold down [Alt]. You should notice the cursor change from a circle to more of a crosshair looking icon. With [Alt] still held down, click on a spot of the image you want to clone, then release [Alt]. You’ll notice now that when you move the cursor around, it’ll show a preview of the source point area over your image. When you click again, it will start cloning that area in over top of your image.
This probably makes more sense when you reference my image above – the red crosshair is where I used [Alt] to define my clone source (on a smooth part of Matt’s pants) and the yellow circle (where the spot healing tool left remnants) is where I clicked to clone in the smooth line of Matt’s pants.
I repeated the same thing on the bottom side of Matt’s pants, holding [Alt] down to set a new source at the red crosshair and then clicking over the yellow circled area to paint in a smoother pants line.
If you haven’t used this tool before, it’s going to take some getting used to. You’ll probably have to click and stamp a few times to get it to look natural. Personally, I use 30% opacity so that the cloning will blend seamlessly with the rest of the image. I highly recommend experimenting and adjusting settings to what works best for you, though.
7. Back to the Spot Healing Brush (shortcut: J) to get a little closer to the guitar neck.
With everything else cleaned up, it’s time to move on to the hard part. I switched back over to the spot healing tool and zoomed in to do a little more automated healing.
8. …And back to the Clone Stamp (shortcut: S) tool.
When I’m cloning in something like a guitar neck, I usually start by stamping the missing edges back in. You can see I positioned my [Alt] source point (red crosshair) over a guitar fret and lined it up with the little piece of missing fret (yellow circle).
You’re probably going to have to redefine and change your [Alt] source point a couple of times through this process. I could tell things weren’t lining up perfectly as I cloned in further down the guitar neck, so I changed my source point to a different fret.
When I felt satisfied enough with the top edge, I repeated the same process on the bottom edge.
Same issue of mis-alignment started happening again, so I reset my source point.
Hey! Starting to come together!
With the edges cloned in, the rest is kinda like coloring in the lines. I can now see approximately where the missing position marker should be, so I’m going to use one of the other ones as my next source point.
Now I’m going to do the same exact thing to fix the right side of the position marker that’s getting partially covered by a guitar pick. Here, I use the position marker from the lower end of the guitar neck.
From this point out, it’s just cleaning everything up along the fretboards and making sure the strings align.
This process involves continual redefining of the [Alt] source point. I’m not going to show screenshots of that entire process as you should be getting the gist now. In general, I try to use the strings and the frets as my source points so that I can make sure things line up accurately.
At this point, I can still see a little bit of misalignment in the strings. Even blown up to print though, this image isn’t cropped in tight enough that it would be noticeable. You have to decide how much time you’re willing to spend perfecting your mic stand removal. This was good enough for me.
9. Clean up the tuners.
Keeping the Clone Stamp selected, I set my [Alt] source point to be something that’s similar toned to what’s around the guitar tuners. I then zoomed in and used a very small stamp size (~10) to clone in around the top of the tuner.
This is almost passable, but I’ll take one more step further to get a little more of the tuning knob back.
Set the [Alt] source point to be one of the other tuners. I chose the one that looked like it was in the most similar position. Clone in over the piece of missing tuner.
You may have to adjust the source point a few times, but you should be able to get something like the above.
10. Final clean up.
Zoom in and out and use the Clone Stamp (shortcut: S) and/or Spot Healing Brush (shortcut: J) to clean up any remaining artifacts. I decided to get rid of that gap in the backdrop right behind Matt’s head as one last clean up.
Apply any other edits… (possibly more secrets to be shared in future blog posts…)
And you’re all set! Congratulations on the successful completion of an intermediate level mic stand removal! (Can you believe there’s actually more advanced than this…? Coming Soon!!!)
Looking to level up your music photography?
Check out more of my concert photo tips and tutorials!