Adobe’s big announcement of Photoshop CS5 way back in April 2010 brought with it a new series of tools labelled “content aware”. Using highly complex mathematics, these tools appear to magically “understand”your images, allowing you to scale, move and fill parts of the image without the need to spend hours and hours cloning in missing details. The benefit of these tools cannot be overstated. They are extremely powerful in what they do, and the busy photographer can save potentially hours of post production time.

But what actually do they do? Let’s have a little look at some of the tools. The best way to do that is to use them.

We will kick off with the “content aware fill”. When Photoshop first introduced the clone tool, many of us were wowed by its ability to make extraneous parts of an image magically disappear. The novelty soon wore off, however, when we realized how much time some images could take. Content Aware fill removes much of the pain of cloning images, as we shall see in this example. What we are looking to do is to remove the two small boats from the background, leaving us to concentrate solely on the larger boat.

We will start by duplicating the layer so that we are not working on the original. From the menu, go to Layer – Duplicate Layer and give the layer a suitable name.

content aware - fill-duplicateDuplicate the layer

From the toolbar, pick the Lasso selection tool, and draw a selection around the object that you wish to remove; in our case, the boats. Make sure to stay fairly close to the edges of the object without clipping into it.

Now, go to the menu again and select Edit – Fill, and from the dialogue box that appears, make sure Contents is Content Aware. When you click OK, the boats are magically removed and replaced with the background. It is not always perfect, but for a high percentage of pictures it will work well.

Content Aware - Fill-LassoLasso the selection


Content Aware - Fill FinalFinal version

Let’s now take a look at the Content Aware Move tool. This tool is useful for moving objects very slightly within an image. For example, if you feel that a composition is slightly off, you can move the subject matter a little to improve the composition.

In this case, I want to move the small boat backwards slightly, more into the center of the image. As before, duplicate the layer before starting. To select the Content Aware Move tool, go to the healing tools on the toolbar. By default this is usually the Spot Healing Tool, but by right-clicking in that tool, you will find some further tools.

Content Aware Move ToolSelect the Content Aware Move Tool

Select the Content Aware Move Tool. On the tool parameters bar at the top of the screen, you will see a dropdown box for Adaptation. Make sure this is set to strict or very strict. Now, carefully draw around the section that you wish to move – in this case, the boat; remember to include the reflections of the boat in the water. Once the selection is made, carefully drag the object into its new position. In this case, make sure the boat still aligns with its wake.

Content Aware Move SelectSelect the area around the subject

Once you release the mouse button, the content aware tool does its calculations. In most cases, it makes a pretty good job of moving your subject.

Content aware Halong BayThe boat has been moved

The last tool that we are going to take a look at today is Content Aware Scaling. This is a powerful, but little-known tool that allows you to resize certain elements within an image. In our example for this tutorial, we’ll increase the size of the sky to add dramatic effect to the image. In order to do this, we need our canvas to be bigger than our image, so we need to expand it.

From the menu select Image – Canvas Size. Check the relative box and click the down arrow. We are going to add 400 pixels to the top, so enter 400 in the Height box and click OK. You will now see a new area at the top of the image.

Content Aware - Scale CanvasRescale the Canvas

Now, select the upper third of the image. You can use the geometric select tools if you have a simple image, or the more accurate tools such as magic wand or lasso if your sky needs more careful selecting. Once selected, choose Edit – Content Aware Scaling.

You will now see the scale handles enabling you to drag and scale the sky to your preference. If you hold Shift whilst scaling, the selection proportions will be locked to their current value. This helps prevent any strange distortions. Once you’re happy, you can click on the tick mark on the upper tool bar to confirm adjustment.

Content Aware - Scale SelectSelect the upper third of the sky


Content Aware - Scale resizedDrag the sky selection out to rescale it

Understanding Content Aware can save you hours of post production time. Whilst it is not perfect, it can get you close to the desired effect and leave much less editing to do than with previous incarnations of Photoshop.

About The Author

Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Odessa Ukraine. His work has been published worldwide in newspapers, books magazines and strangely on towels from a Turkish textile company.

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