Photoshop Sign Removal

I had to try it.


This photo of San Xavier Mission is somewhat marred by three signs. (The third is very small and hard to see in this size.)

While at Saturday’s San Xavier Mission shoot, I commented to the other photographers about how unsightly some of the signs on the outside of the building were. (Whenever possible, I’d actually moved portable signs before pressing the shutter release.) All of the photographers I was with at the time agreed, but one of them went on to complain that they were a pain in the neck to remove in Photoshop. When I asked whether he actually did that, he replied that he always used Photoshop to remove signs he didn’t want in his photos.

Of course, I knew this was possible and, in all honesty, I’ve done my share of Photoshop editing. Still, I was amazed that someone would go to all that trouble to remove elements photograph of a photograph in post processing.

You see, I’m a bit of a “purist.” I believe that a photograph should be created in the camera. The photographer should photograph what’s there, carefully framing the shot to create his image of what’s in front of him. Creativity comes with exposure, depth of field, composition, choice of lens, point of view. What the camera records on digital media — or film, for that matter — is the photograph. Editing beyond the removal of specks and scratches or minor adjustments to exposure or color balance is — to me at least — not photography. It’s image editing.

You could argue that a real “purist” wouldn’t edit at all. I’d have to agree with you. I didn’t say I was an absolute purist — although I’d love to be one. My photos, unfortunately, sometimes need a little help. Like most other photographers these days, I turn to Photoshop or another image editing application to get that help.

I think the difference is how much help I get from Photoshop. I draw a line before a lot of other people do. Maybe it shows — for good or bad — in my photos. I don’t know. But I’d rather get it “right” in the camera than “fix it” in Photoshop.


After a little sign removal. The photo certainly looks cleaner, but is it a true representation of what I saw?

But after the shoot, when I went back to my camper to relax for the afternoon, I started wondering what kind of difference sign removal would make and how well I could pull it off. So starting with the photo you see above, I used the brush and clone tools to remove the three signs that were visible. You can see the end result here.

I’m not sure how this would hold up if printed as a large photo. I’m confident that the closest sign, which appeared on a stucco wall, was neatly removed. The far sign was too small to be noticeable in the first place. But that middle sign…well, who knows?

Would I do this all the time? No way. I’d rather find creative ways to keep the signs out of the shot in the first place.

What do you think? Use the Comments link or form to share your views.

4 thoughts on “Photoshop Sign Removal

  1. For me – what I”m willing to do in post processing depends on what my intended use of the photograph is. For something that is intended to document as closely to what I saw as possible – I do minimal edits and don’t remove things.

    For photos intended to be displayed as fine art – I’m much more willing to do extensive editing. My goal is to share with the viewer what I saw and felt when I took the photo. And sometimes that means repairing a hole in leaf, removing a sign etc. I try to get it as close as I can in camera but don’t have a problem editing in photoshop. I’d just rather be photographing that working in photoshop :-)

    I spent some time talking with Alain Briot about what edits to do when I attended one of his workshops. What he said was that for fine art photography – if someone painting the scene wouldn’t have added whatever it is (the sign, the damaged leaf, etc) to their painting, why should I feel like I need to leave it in my photograph? This really made me rethink how I use photoshop.

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to what should or shouldn’t be done in photoshop or other editing programs. I think it’s more important that each photographer figures out what works for them and feels comfortable with their decisions.

  2. I’m up in the air on this issue also. I’ve photoshopped a few things out of my photos, like wires going to barns, etc. Can’t help you, but I’m always in favor of authenticity, but sometimes that can ruin a good picture. : )

    • Joan: I think I used the Shadow and Highlights adjustment of Photoshop on the retouched shot. That would definitely explain the washout, especially in the shadows. My bad.

What do you think?