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2.4 Content Aware Tools

The Content Aware features within Photoshop are fairly recent technology. With these tools, Photoshop automatically samples the pixels surrounding an area to fill a selection. This can be a huge time saver. In this lesson we will explore the applications of this technology that feels more like magic than science!

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2.4 Content Aware Tools

Hello everybody welcome back to advanced Photoshop techniques. This is now lesson 2.4 where we take a close look at the Content-Aware features within Photoshop. The Content-Aware features of Photoshop are fairly young technologies for the program. It was only added a handful of versions ago, but in that time it has matured rather quickly. The best way to simply describe what the Content-Aware features do, is that they automate the process of sampling surrounding pixels to fill in an area, and therefore remove an object. So it samples the surrounding background pixels to cover up an object, much the same way you would use the clone stamp tool, but it does it much faster than you can do and a lot of times gives superior results. But not always. The Content-Aware technologies are destructive methods of editing, so before we go any further, I'm going to make a copy of this background layer for us to work on. The first and most prominent form of the Content-Aware is found in the Fill dialog box. And we'll deal with that first, but before we go there I'm going to make a very quick selection around this building. Now if I wanted to remove this, I could probably clone stamp this out and it wouldn't be all that difficult to do. But for the purposes of instruction I want to use the Content-Aware Fill. And that's found in the Edit menu under Fill. Not a place that you would probably think to look for it. It's not under one of the tools in the toolbar. Usually the contents for this is set to foreground, that's the default setting, but it is underneath this drop down menu, if you go to Content-Aware and hit OK, Photoshop will sample the surrounding pixels, and then fill in that selected area with what it hopes you want. Now in this case, it did remove that building, but it also added in a little bit of strangeness from the front of this building, too. And this is actually a pretty typical result that we tend to see with the content to where fill quite often. Sometimes, it's worth it to make another selection and try it again. Now, I can retrieve that fill dialog box quickly by tapping Shift+Backspace and it'll come right up. So let's try again with the Content-Aware and see, it just gives a slightly different solution there. And actually I'm glad that it did that because it gives us the opportunity to show how to resolve areas like that. One of the best ways of doing this is to actually use a layer mask to mask out the areas you don't want sampled. For example, if we want to make sure that this is sampling only from the sky pixels, we would create just a really quick, sometimes called a Garbage Mask, of the rest of the image. Very quick selections and then I'm going to invert mask that, which means that I'm holding down the Alt or the Option key while I add the layer mask. And the point here is that the content aware fill can not sample pixels that it can not see. Which means that, when we have this area selected, and now we use that content aware fill, it must use the pixels from the sky, because it simply cannot see the pixels from those buildings. Once that's done, we can throw away that mask. And we get a much cleaner removal of that building. Now the fill command is the first and the original and the most mature of the content aware technologies. But that same algorithm has been implemented into several of the other tools. Now I wanna quickly go through those and so you can see exactly what those do. The most notable is the content to where move tool which is hiding underneath the spot healing brush, that's this tool with the crossing arrows. And what this does, is it allows you to create a selection and literally move those pixels to someplace else. And the tool will then try to fill in that area with the surrounding pixels. So let's see what happens when we try to just move this building over to another part of the skyline. That was pretty easy wasn't it. It easily filled in this area for us and looks pretty seamless. Now another neat aspect of that content to where it moved is that it also has a mode set to extend. So if we grab that, we can actually make this building grow. This one does tend to be a little bit picky about how far you go. You can't go all the way up here and fill the sky with it. It likes to have a little bit of guidance as far as lining up those pixels afterwards. Sort of like that. One thing to note, before you cancel the selection, you can still change the structure and color settings of the tool. Now the structure setting means it's going to try to maintain as much of the actual pixel structures as it can, the higher that setting is. For instance, if this is nice and low we'll get a little bit of warping within the building there, but the higher we set it the more strict it will be about trying to line up the structure pixels. Then the other setting is with colors, which does a similar thing, but with the colors of the image. One of the most useful implementations of this Content-Aware technology, is with the spot healing brush. Now we see this brush commonly used on photo retouching, because that's really, really good for removing skin blemishes. In this case, let's remove these buoys from this ocean, we want to make sure that the brush is set slightly larger than the object we want to remove and then really its just a single click. Look at that, and that's using the content or type within the tool options. you may find that the content or word doesn't work for you ask well as you want it to, and at that point you would probably want to try the proximity match. Which is the classic setting for this tool. But I have found that the content aware with the spot healing brush make for an excellent pairing. The other tool that tend to see content aware technology used in quite frequently is with the patch tool. Now if you're familiar with how the patch tool works, it's sort of a rudimentary version or I should say a more directed version of the regular content aware fill. For example, if we wanted to take out this water tower, let's make very quick selection around it. We can use the patch tool, set to content aware, instead of normal. And I'm just gonna drag this up. So it samples from this area directly above it to create that patched area minus the water tower and once again, as long as the selection is still active we can readjust the structure and the color settings. But that worked out actually pretty well. Ultimately, the Content-Aware tools within Photoshop are really a great timesaver. They're not perfect solutions. A lot of times you'll get some strange results from them. So don't expect magic from these tools, but look at them as a good way of getting things started. They sort of give you a leg up on the task. I find that I tend to use them as a first try. I'll make a selection, I'll try with the Content-Aware fill,see what the results there are. Maybe I'll then adjust those results using the patch tool and then finally I'll probably use the Healing Brush or the Clone Stamp tool in the final pass just to make sure that, that retouched area looks as good as it can look. Next lesson, lesson 2.5, we take a look at actions in Photoshop.

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