Some things are easy to clone; some things are really hard. It all depends on the photo. Cloning a speck of dust from a blue sky is a piece of cake, but the same speck on somebody’s face can be a nightmare.

In this post I want to discuss cloning something out from behind something else. When an undesirable object directly intersects behind your subject, it takes some careful work to ensure a realistic result. BUT … most people assume that the careful work has to be performed with the Clone Tool itself. Not so.

The secret – if laziness can be called a “secret” – is to be really loose and rough with your cloning. The careful part comes with the subsequent masking.

Here I’ve got a cute photo of my son. With all due respect to my beautiful wife Lara, she’s not really adding anything to this image, and at the risk of sleeping on the couch, I’d like to remove her.

Imagine for a moment trying to clone around those fingers, and that hair? Not an impossible task, but pretty close. That’s why I choose the easy, lazy route.

I start by duplicating the Background layer and naming it “Clone”:

Then I take a big ol’ clone brush, and loosely clone all over the necessary areas. Sure, I’m covering parts of Rowan too, but it doesn’t matter:

Once the cloning is done, I add a black mask to that layer, and hide all my cloning:

Now the precise stuff starts. I zoom in and carefully reveal the new background where it’s needed:

See where I’m going with this?

I keep going until Lara is realistically masked out. (If I mess up the mask, I simply switch to black and paint back the error. That’s the beauty of working with masks, rather than cloning.)

Realistic? Not quite – there’s still a shadow behind Rowan’s head. I don’t want to remove that entirely, but I do want to soften it, so I reduce the opacity of my brush tool, and gently soften the shadow:

Because of the mask I’ve used, it’s easy and quick to burn a bit of shadow behind Rowan’s body, too:

And I’m done!

For interest’s sake, here’s what my mask looks like:

So, I hope that makes sense. Obviously this won’t work, or be necessary, in every situation. But wherever possible it’s a good idea to recruit masks to help you with your tricky cloning.

By the way, I recommend taking a couple of minutes to read my Alternatives to Cloning, if you haven’t already.