Design & UX
By James George

Move Objects with Your Mind Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Tools

By James George
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Removing objects from images in Photoshop used to be an absolute nightmare to deal with. Just a few versions prior to Photoshop CS6, if you had an object or person that you wanted to remove from the background, you would have to use the clone tool and painstakingly paint the surrounding areas over the object that you wanted to get rid of. You could spend hours on complex cloning, and only highly skilled Photoshop experts could create a convincing blend. Thankfully, we now have a range of different tools that can erase and blend objects right out of an image in seconds! These tools are called Photoshop’s “Content Aware Tools,” and if you haven’t been making the most of them, you’re truly missing out.

Content Aware Fill

Content Aware Fill is an amazing tool that will allow you to remove an object from an image almost instantly. Let’s give it a try. Download this sample image and open it in Photoshop.


This is already a great image, but let’s suppose that you wanted to remove the leftmost tree from the picture. In older versions, this could take hours to clone the surrounding areas over the tree and align all of the edges. You would have to sample an area, then paint a little, sample another area, then paint in a little more. You can imagine how painful and tedious this could be, especially when working with something complex, such as foliage.

To use Content Aware Fill, make a selection with any of the selection tools, such as the marquee tool, the lasso tool, the magic wand, etc., and draw a selection around the object that you want to remove. Hold Shift and press “Delete” to bring up the fill dialog box. You can choose from patterns, gradients, solid fills, etc., but the choice we will make is “Content Aware.” Click “OK.”

Notice that in one motion, the tree is gone. There is one thing to note — if you look closely, the gap in the treeline (observed in the background) is repeated. You need to look out for this repetition when using this method, because Photoshop analyzes the surrounding areas in order to make a seamless blend. The downside is that unique artifacts, such as the tree and the shape of the shadow are repeated. This can be easily corrected by selecting these areas individually, in a small section, and using Content Aware Fill once again, just in a tighter area. The result is shown below.

Content Aware Move

Sometimes, you don’t want to remove a part of an image, you just wish that you could move it or reposition it to another area. For this purpose, Adobe added the Content Aware Move Tool in Photoshop CS6. This is very easy to use, and it can be found under the spot healing brush tool and the patch tool within the Tools Panel. It looks like two crossed arrows. To use the Content Aware Move Tool, you must make a careful selection around the object that you want to move. This time, let’s move the tree instead of removing it altogether. Make the selection as tight as you can around the object.

After you have made the selection, while the Content Aware Move Tool is still active, click and drag the selection to the area where you want your object to be. Try to place the object in an area that makes sense. Photoshop ends up doing a pretty good job of blending the surrounding areas and filling the area where the tree used to be. See the example below:

Content Aware Move isn’t always perfect, but it usually does a good job. If the results aren’t what you were hoping for, you might need to make the selection a little tighter to get better results.

Content Aware Scale

Content Aware Scale is another great tool that can help you alter an image to suit very specific needs. Suppose that you find an image that you like, but it is landscape, and you need it to be a portrait. The composition might not make this achievable, but with Content Aware Scale, you can scale an image and bring main objects closer together without any obvious distortions.

You don’t select the entire image all at once and scale it inward; that usually ends up “crunching” the main subjects that you are trying to bring closer together. The best approach is to make a selection that is the entire height of the image, but only contains one of the objects that you want to include, as well as most of the background space that you want to reduce. Notice in the example below that I have selected the full height and plenty of background, but I’ve only included one of the two trees in the foreground.

Now, let’s reach out and grab that other tree. Go to “Edit” > “Content Aware Scale.” Now, you can scale the image inward towards the other tree. Bring it in as close as possible without “crunching” the middle too much, which will make it look distorted and glitchy. Hit Enter/Return to commit to the changes. You can repeat the same process on the left side of the image if you wish.

After scaling the image inward as much as possible, select the crop tool, with the set proportions to 8.5 x 11 and you can crop the image to fit the portrait constraints. The final result is shown below:

Content Aware Mode in the Patch Tool

Within the patch tool, you have normal mode, and now in CS6 you have the ability to use Content Aware patching, which is meant to help you get better results from your patching efforts. Similar to Content Aware Fill, you have the ability to set the Adaptation from “strict” to very “loose.” “Loose” gets better results, because it tends to blend the edge more gracefully that “strict.” “Strict” produces harsh edges, so beware when using this setting. Make a selection, just like you would with Content Aware Fill, but when you move the selection to another point on the canvas, you are choosing where to sample the fill content from. Notice the tree in the example below and that the fill was sampled from the area just to the right.

Content Aware Mode with the Healing Brush

The healing brush is normally used for more refined healing and the removing of artifacts. Now, you can select Content Aware as the healing brush type. In the sample image below, notice the line of brush in the center. (By “line of brush,” I mean actual plants, not Photoshop lines or Photoshop brushes.)

Simply click and drag to paint over the brush. Make sure that your Photoshop brush is large enough to cover the thickness of thereal brush (that is, the plants), and simply trace the brush across the brush. (Get it?) You can also trace over the small fence in the distance. Below, the fence is gone and so is the brush.


The Content Aware Tools definitely make your like easier. They save you hours of time cloning unwanted objects out of the background, and in some cases, you can change a landscape image into a portrait image by scaling an image inward without distorting the key content. Using Content Aware is a smart tool that should be in any smart designer’s arsenal.

Do you use Content Aware Tools often, or do you prefer a more manual, meticulous approach?

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