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Things Fall Apart

Last update:  12-31-1969

Submitted by Doug Nelson

Use Photoshop to piece together a torn-up image.

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Overall Recommendation





Expertise     3.6
Utility     -
Clarity     3.5
Relevance   1.7

Itís a sad fact that bad things happen to good pictures. Age, poor storage, and frequent handling often take their toll on precious images. And one-of-a-kind images donít have copies to dilute the damage done. Photographs are fragile things, and can only take so much abuse before they fall to pieces. Luckily, Photoshop can help us put the pieces back together.


1          Assemble the pieces as best you can on the scanner glass and scan them all at once. Precise positioning isnít critical at this point, the only essential step is to leave a small space between each individual piece.



2          We need to replace the white background (the scanner lid) with transparency, but Background layers canít have transparency. We can solve that problem by converting the Background layer to a regular layer. Double-click on the Background layer and accept the default new name of Layer 0.


3          Choose the Magic Wand from the toolbox and set its tolerance to zero. Click on any of the white area surrounding the photo pieces. This will select only areas where the white flatbed lid shows through. Hit Delete and the selected area will be replaced with transparency. Notice the spaces between the pieces are also transparent (this is why it was important to leave some space while scanning).



4          Set the Magic Wand tolerance to 255. This will insure that all tonal values get selected (transparency has no tonal value, so it will be ignored). To constrain the Magic Wand to selecting only tones around where we click, check the Contiguous option box. Click on the piece of photo in the top left corner. Notice no other pieces get selected (this is because we turned on the Contiguous option). Use Shift-Cmd/Ctrl-J to cut the piece to the clipboard and paste it to a new layer, all in one step. Click on Layer 0 in the Layers Palette to make it the active layer and select another piece, then cut and paste it to its own layer. Repeat for the rest of the pieces, making sure you always click on Layer 0 before starting each time.




5          Now that every piece has its own layer, we can begin assembling them. Select the Move tool from the toolbox and check both its Auto Select Layer and Show Bounding Box options. Click on the piece in the top left corner and notice its layer is automatically selected and it gets its own private bounding box. Drag inside the bounding box to move the piece, and outside the bounding box to rotate it. Rotate the piece into the correct orientation and position it in the uppermost left corner and hit Return/Enter. Click on the next piece and move it into position relative to the first piece. Repeat with all the remaining pieces.



6          Once all the pieces are correctly positioned, go to the Layer menu and select Flatten Image. This will merge all the layers into one Background layer, so double-check that all the pieces match up first. Now you can use the Patch, Healing, and Clone Stamp tools to hide the tears.



Tip: When repositioning, use the image details as your alignment reference, ignoring the tears.