How to remove annoying objects from your photos

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How will TouchRetouch manage with this delicious breakfast?
How will TouchRetouch manage with this delicious breakfast?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

We’ve all taken the perfect photo, only to have to have it ruined by some unwanted element. A pole sticking out of someone’s head. A passing car in the background of an otherwise-perfect street scene. Or a political enemy in one of Stalin’s portraits.

But whereas the Soviet regime employed a team of photo retouchers to chop the gulag-bound dissidents from Stalin’s selfies, iPhone apps can remove clutter in seconds. Today we’ll see how to use my favorite: TouchRetouch.

TouchRetouch

For me, TouchRetouch is easily the best of all the object removal tools. It works as a standalone app, or as an editing extension in the iPhone’s own Photos app. That’s the way I use it. When editing a photo inside the Photos app, you can quickly remove an object, then carry on editing with another extension, or use the built-in filters.

TouchRetouch has several modes, but they all work in essentially the same way. You paint over any objects or people you want to remove from the image, and the apps use picture information from the surroundings to cover up the offending items. Let’s see it in action:

TouchRetouch is pictorial magic.
TouchRetouch is pictorial magic.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

What you see in these screenshots is the original image (left), which I then painted over to select the number 5. Make sure to catch any shadows or other related parts of the target object. Step three shows the result. If you look carefully, you can see some artifacts — the background dirt pattern repeats, for example — but it’s more than good enough.

Fork off

Here’s another example, taken from an image I used to illustrate yesterday’s post about Twitter. Take a look:

That fork has to go.
That fork has to go.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

I wanted a picture of a little birdie to illustrate the post, but this is a picture of a bird and a plastic fork. As a photo, I prefer the fork version, but as an illustration, the fork is a distraction. So I fired up TouchRetouch and got this:

twitter bird screen time metaphor
This little bird is an easy metaphor for wasting time on Twitter.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

That’s scaled down to 2,000 pixels for the web, but even on the original, you can’t see any artifacts. Now, let’s give TouchRetouch a trickier task — removing dissidents from Soviet propaganda photos.

The Stalin test

Here's a photo of Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov. Let's see if we can do better than the Soviet dictator's photo retouchers.
Here’s a photo of Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov. Let’s see if we can do better than the Soviet dictator’s photo retouchers.
Photo: Public Domain

This is one of the most famous examples of Stalin’s chilling policy of removing enemies from photos (as well as removing them from real life). In the version above, Soviet secret police chief Nikolai Yezhov is still in favor with his boss. Below we see the airbrushed version.

Where's Nikolai?
Where’s Nikolai?
Photo: Public Domain

Not bad. Now let’s take a look at TouchRetouch’s efforts.

Here's the object I want to remove.
Here’s the object I want to remove.
Photo: Cult of Mac
The final result.
The final result.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Pretty good. Lots of artifacts, but a surprisingly good handling of the background. The river wall continues, more or less, and the water looks acceptable. I’d say that Stalin’s retouchers win this round, but then again, they were probably working under a lot more pressure than I was.

TouchRetouch comes in two versions, one for iPhone and one for iPad, and supports Handoff between the two. Oh, and don’t shed a tear for Nikolai Yezhov. He falsely accused and ordered thousands of innocent people executed, so you could say this was justice, however screwed up it might be.

Price: $1.99

Download: TouchRetouch from the App Store (iPhone)

Price: $1.99

Download: TouchRetouch for iPad from the App Store (iOS)

This is what TouchRetouch did to my breakfast.
This is what TouchRetouch did to my breakfast.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac