Let's learn how to retouch shoes in Photoshop. In the following tutorials, I tried to cover as many typical shoe problems as I could.
Shoes are not a big deal as long as they can stand on their own. When we get to retouch long boots, especially those that cannot hold their shape, you will see what I mean. Another major problem is that in online stores, shoes are usually stored in boxes. There's a bunch of paper balls stuffed inside them, and there's also a large sheet of paper inside every box, too. This paper deteriorates easily. You don't really notice it with a naked eye, but if shoes don't get prepared properly, they will be all covered in tiny paper bits. It's a problem, too. But let's start with something that is really easy and simple and then switch to more complicated issues.
In case a shoe is standing on its own, keeps its shape, is not covered in paper bits or dust or fingerprints, retouching it is a piece of cake. All you do is just isolate it and restore the shadow if it's necessary. There's nothing else to do! Congratulations. But most of the time you won't be getting gifts like this one. And you know what, from now on I won't be doing any isolation to the images because we spent enough time discussing this already. Let's concentrate on retouching instead.
Look at this shoe. It's not really clean, the sole is covered in dust. It's these tiny paper bits I've told you about. And what's worse, there's also some glue hiding deep in the seam above the sole. You have to get rid of both dust and glue. When you have a lot of small dust particles on a relatively flat surface, do not ever waste your time using the healing tools. Use the Dust & Scratches instead, and it will be even better if you use it after resizing. It will save time, as the problem surface gets much smaller after resizing. As I said before, when we were discussing actions and the Dust & Scratches plus History Brush based action in particular, I told you it was reasonable to have several actions like this. One for really small dust after resizing, one really strong smoothing action for dirty background cleaning, and something in between. In object retouching, I mostly use the gentle version, and I do it after resizing. What I do is apply the Dust & Scratches with Radius 5, Threshold 11, set the History Brush destination at this step and then click on the step just before that in History tab. Now when I use the History brush, it applies the Dust & Scratches effect where I paint. It's really easy to remove all the dust with it, just make sure you don't touch any edges, as the Dust & Scratches has an unpleasant effect on them.
But what about the glue? I can't remove it with the same trick. Well, I can, but it will just look messy. Let's do it in a more subtle, but still quick way. I'll zoom to about 400% percent, or 800% percent if on a high resolution display so that I can see it really well. Then I'll switch to the Brush in Darken mode, make the tip small and soft, click on a sample next to the glue and then just paint it over. I'll be doing it in straight lines while holding Shift. When all the glue is gone I'll zoom back out and you'll see it looks pretty decent for something achieved in a few seconds.
Sometimes, especially if you're supposed to make worn shoes look new, you'll witness much more shabby soles. Like here, in this image. Is there a way how to retouch something like this in a minute? Well, yes. Sort of. Select the sole by any method that will allow you to do it quickly. I'll use the Quick Selection tool. It's okay if the lace also gets selected, I'll use the History brush on it later. Now what you have to do is go to the Filter menu and find the Blur group and click on the Surface Blur command. The Surface Blur blurs everything it considers a flat surface, and it preserves edges from getting blurry. In object retouching this filter comes in handy all the time, especially when you deal with metal objects or their parts. With Radius set to 30 and Threshold to 10, it will make the sole really smooth, and the lace – well, not much really. If that's not enough, better use the Mixer Brush on the spots that are still left. But smooth surfaces look weird, so we have to fake the texture by adding some noise to the image. With the selection still active, I'll access the Add Noise filter, which can be found in the Filter menu as well, but in the Noise group. I have both filters on shortcuts I have assigned by myself, and you should do the same. 2% seems to do the trick. Be careful not to add too much, or it will look even weirder than the smooth version. Okay, it's time to undo the whole effect on the lace, and there's still this little line on the sole that has to be preserved as well. Let's have a look at the before-and-after, and you'll see that it's not so bad. This kind of fake texture can be applied to similar smooth textures. Fortunately, this sole was smooth enough as it is.
Some shoes are not able to stand on their own. Photographers usually use wires or fishing line to give wobbly items some support. All you have to do is remove the stuff from the image. The best way to do it is the Spot Healing Brush, as it can do it pretty well, especially in the Content-aware mode. It might be also necessary to give such items a bit of lifting with the Liquify. But this kind of thing is easy.
Let's take it to the extreme and see how we can combine two images to make sandals with thin straps seem as if they are standing on their own. This will take more than a couple of minutes but can be still done fast if you know exactly what to do.
First of all, I'll isolate the upper part of the shoe. As it is quite contrasted with the background, I'll just use the Quick Selection tool to select it, copy and paste into the image with the rest of the shoe.
I'll resize this new layer so that it doesn't look so big. Then I'd better get rid of the straps on the Background layer as they really obscure the view. I don't need them at all. Now I want to warp the upper layer so that it fits the background layer. The easiest way to do it is use the Puppet Warp command, it's in the Edit menu, but I also have a shortcut for it. I'll place a few pins to lock some parts of the image, parts I want to stay still. And then I'll place another pin at the end of the strap and pull it towards the shoe, where it should be attached. Then I'll also straighten the top of the layer so that it looks nicer. After that, it's a good time to Liquify the strap so that it doesn't seem out of place.
Then I'll zoom in and erase the strap on both layers until I can Flatten the image and finish the attachment job. Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be a perfect fit, as no one's going to notice anyway. The image will be much smaller after resizing. Then all that's left is isolation. It can be easily done with the Magic Wand and the isolating action. After that, I'll restore the shadow with the History Brush and erase all the pins that are sticking out of the shoe. And we're done. If I didn't have the Puppet Warp at my disposal, I would have spent much more time on this image. Make sure you know how it works.
Pay attention to the fact that some boots might fall backward if they are too high. First of all, make sure the sole is parallel to the ground. If it's not, rotate the image. Then copy the image to another layer and use the Puppet Warp. I'll set three points to lock the boot in place, and then drag the top so that it doesn't fall backward anymore. And watch where you're pulling. Don't set the point on the edge, as it might get distorted. But if you set the point an inch above the edge, it will be fine. The Puppet Warp is the best way to bend something quickly.
Some boots are so high that they can't stand still without support. They are usually shot on models. Problem is, they are not supposed to be all wrinkled. But don't worry, it's a more or less extreme example, most of the time you won't get images like that. I did the isolation already as it was really straightforward, and now I'll show you how to turn this wrinkled accordion of a boot into a perfectly straight boot. I'll cut the bulge on the left side with the Pen Tool and then Liquify the area around it until it looks good.
Now it's time for the shape fixing. I'll grab the Pen Tool and make a curved line along the right side of the boot – not along the real edge. This curve will serve as a mold to shape the boot, so just pretend it's smooth and straight and draw this imaginary line. I'll select the background next to the boot first and fill the selection with white to remove all the bulges. Then I'll invert the selection and grab the Clone Stamp Tool. The tip has to be soft and big, and the most important thing here is to find a good source point. I will only use one source for most of the job. And make sure the Aligned box is checked before you start. Okay, this smooth area on the top looks like a good source. I'll Alt-click on it and start filling our selection mold with a smooth surface.
It's very important to move the pointer down from the source, not down and to the side, but straight down, to preserve the light and shadow pattern. Now I can start filling the wrinkles. As I move really close to the end, I might need to get another source, as it will start filling with some white background because it's so narrow. Before doing that, I'll make sure I've filled everything with even surface. Doesn't look so bad, huh?
Now it becomes pretty evident that the boot is falling backward. Time to give it a little twist with the Puppet Warp. As I said before, after locking the sole in place, pull the top carefully, but never set points directly on the edge. Pull from a distance, or the edge might get distorted. A quick glance at the before-and-after images and we're done. This kind of quick stamping will not work on a textured surface though.
The shape is important, but it doesn't mean you have to make boots perfectly smooth and curved. Most of the time a bit of Puppet Warp and Liquify is enough. Remember: you don't have to work around the boot with a tiny brush, it's a waste of time. Start with a huge brush tip and make it smaller as you need it. This tool is not supposed to be used to make edges straight, it's done faster and more easily with the Pen Tool. Liquify is good for a quick shape fix, don't get carried away.
You can only stamp smooth surfaces. It won't work with patterns. So if you want to make the wrinkles not so evident, use the Frequency Separation instead and smudge the low frequency layer with the Mixer Brush. But do it gently, or it will look weird.
If it's a colored pattern, don't expect yourself to be able to do anything at all. You can't use the Clone Stamp here as it will break the pattern. And you can't use the Frequency Separation because it will break the color. What can you do then? Well, on patterns like this there's not much that you can do. Remember that we're supposed to work fast, and recreating the texture on a boot like this might take half an hour if that's even possible at all. It would be faster to just reshoot it after filling the boot with some spongy material or crumpled paper to give it a better shape. That is if it's supposed to look perfectly smooth because in most online stores it would be okay to just leave it as it is. But if you really need to do something about it, try Liquifying carefully with a small brush first, and then lightening the folds with the Dodge tool. It will make the whole situation look a bit better, but just a little bit.
Some of the shoes, especially stretchy kind of shoes and boots, will look weird after isolation. The upper edge will be curved. The deal is that it has to be straight in order not to look weird. Curved lines like this are also bad for the website consistency. Imagine there are 20 boots like this on the website. What if some retouchers make them straight, and some leave like this? It's not going to look well. This is why we make edges like this straight all the time, be it shoes or trousers or panties. Unless the edge is curved by design, it's not supposed to stay like that after retouching. And make sure the band on the top stays the same width, don't cut it. To fix the curve, I'll use the Liquify. After the first stage of correction, I'll switch to the Eraser and the Pen Tool for a while and cut the corners. After dealing with that matter, it's time for a finishing touch with the Liquify to make the edge straight and parallel to the ground. You can see how much better it looks now compared with the original image.
Stickers on soles
Shoes usually come to the photo studio from the warehouse, and they are not ready for shooting when they arrive. They are supposed to be cleaned, brushed, and filled with some shape-fixing material if necessary. Normally, assistants do all this work, but there are some things that they cannot do in order not to damage the goods. Some shoes have stickers on soles, and they are glued pretty well. It's better not to try and remove those stickers, as they get torn rather easily and leave a mess. I don't know what customers do with them, but for us, stickers are bothersome.
Fortunately, soles are not very interesting to customers unless we're talking about trekking shoes and boots. A sole shot is not really common in your average online-store. That's good because soles are always covered in paper bits from the box, and there are stickers, and who knows what else. But sometimes, stickers will be visible even when a shoe is shot in a regular way.
You might encounter stickers on some of the soles. Sometimes they will be sticking out, and you have to get rid of them. If the shoe is facing away from you, like on this image, this particular area will almost always be a bit out of focus. How to remove the sticker if it's out of focus? The most evident way is not actually using the Clone Stamp – it will be very tricky because of the complex light and shadow pattern. Just smudge the whole thing with the Mixer Brush, if necessary – by clicking it in a straight line while holding the Shift key. If there's some odd color as well, colorize it with the Brush in Color blending mode.
If it's too big to be smudged, use the Clone Stamp where it's easy, and then smudge the rest with the Mixer Brush. It is much faster than the Clone Stamp especially when you don't have to care about losing texture – it's not important there.
If it's basically a white piece of smooth texture on a dark smooth texture, use the Brush in Darken mode to make it as dark as the sole, and – yes, again, just smudge it with the Mixer Brush. There's no point in struggling with the Clone Stamp to preserve texture that no one will notice missing.
Now you know practically everything about how to retouch shoes. Let's move on to another popular kind of object – bags.
You can download the images for practice purposes from the gallery above. Each thumbnail is linked to the respective hi-res image, just click on the thumbnails you need to open them in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download images without having to open them first.