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Peter Fenech

Utilise this specialist tool for essential photo corrections

The Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop is a feature many photographers may never think to experiment with. Introduced back in version CS5, the tool is designed to manipulate shapes on a local level, warping edges without altering the overall nature of the image. While it may be more closely associated with digital art creation and design, or even portrait photography, it can be a valuable asset when attempting to correct complex geometric distortions.

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In this image, there are some subtle, yet distracting anomalies. Mild converging verticals are present, as are some more challenging barrel distortions. While many of the major issues can be dealt with using regular tools, Puppet Warp comes into its own when one alteration does not fix every flaw.

Step 1

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Perform your first round of corrections using the standard methods. In this case the Lens Correction Filter in Photoshop was used to apply a lens profile, for rapid improvements to be automatically added. Alternatively this step can be done at the RAW editing stage, in Capture, Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

Step 2

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If you have been working with RAW files up to this stage, open your images in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer. Since we will be manipulating pixels, the edits we will perform are destructive and cannot be easily undone. By placing the Puppet Warp edits on their own layer, we can simply delete this should we make a mistake. Make a selection around an edge if you’d like to limit edits to a more localised area of the shot. To call up the Puppet Warp tool, follow Edit > Puppet Warp.

Step 3

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The tool will apply a mesh over your image. This can be manipulated to alter the location of pixels within the file. The tool works around the concept of edit Pins, which are added to define the area to be warped. To make changes, simply click once to add a Pin and then continue to add more along the distorted edge, ensuring you leave adequate space between them – if pins are placed too close, Photoshop will issue an alert and will not permit another pin to be introduced.

Step 4

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Zoom in for greater accuracy and begin to move pins to alter the contours of distorted vertical lines, correcting anomalies that global lens corrections cannot affect. While more pins allow for greater precision, too many can result in noticeable kinks in the direction of lines, which are virtually impossible to correct, without deleting your changes and starting the process again. If other surrounding areas become warped, try placing additional pins, for micro-adjustments. Each edit should be conducted in moderation – make pin movements small, otherwise your use of the tool can become very visible.

Step 5

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Next we’re going to work on reducing the appearance of wave-type distortions, impacting on the horizontal lines of the image. As in the previous step, lay pins down the length of each line, leaving them relatively widely spaced. Place a new pin at each point where the direction of the distorted edge changes and manipulate the mesh until the contours are aligned. It is advisable that you make a fresh selection for each new local area of the file you are working on, to protect nearby features from the warping effect.

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The alterations may be subtle, but Puppet Warp has allowed complex corrections to be made in an interactive way, resulting in more uniform vertical and horizontal lines.


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