advanced photoshop

Content-aware retouching in CS6

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Tips & Tutorials, by Anna-lisa Saywell

Learn to save a lot of time with CS6’s new content-aware functions

Two new features of Photoshop CS6 are particularly exciting for those who have wanted to move or remove objects from a scene and not have the lengthy cleanup afterwards. Photoshop CS5 brought us closer to this aim with the addition of Content-Aware functions for the Fill and Spot Healing Brush commands, but left us with two vital questions. Why doesn’t Patch get the same treatment, enabling us to make a fill-like command more precise? If we can fill a large area with Content-Aware intelligence, why can’t Photoshop enable us to move a selected object and clean up the mess underneath in one full swoop? CS6 came to the rescue on both fronts, giving Patch a Content-Aware function just like Spot Healing and introducing a new tool in the form of Content-Aware Move. The first is great for taking out larger objects, while having control over where we source our information (something Content-Aware Fill doesn’t have). The second is just great for moving elements of any size, without having to clean everything up. Neither is perfect, but even with the little tweaks required afterwards, the time saved is enormous. Here’s how to put them to work, with some extra tweaks to perfect our image.

Content-aware retouching in CS6


Step 1:  Select the left-side bannister
Content-aware retouching in CS6

Duplicate the background layer with Cmd/Ctrl+J. First we’re going to remove the bannister, so zoom in to the arm on the image’s left and select the Magnetic Lasso tool using Shift+L to cycle to it. Keep close to the edge of the arm then give the bannister a wide berth to include a majority of the surrounding shadow.

Step 2: Patch to remove
Content-aware retouching in CS6

Now select the Patch tool using Shift+J to cycle to it. Make sure that it’s set to Content-Aware in the Tool Options bar above then click inside the selection. Drag upwards to the area of wall just above the selection. When you release the mouse you should be able to watch as the bannister completely disappears

Step 3: Finish the bannister
Content-aware retouching in CS6

Repeat the process for the small area between the body and the portion of the bannister on the image’s right side. When you’re done you can clean up with the Clone Stamp tool, using Opt/Alt to source from nearby information. We cloned in some of the lines on the wall from an area above and below that Patch had removed. This of course will still take some time, but patience is key.

Step 4: Move the subject left

Content-aware retouching in CS6

Next create a duplicate of the top layer using Cmd/Ctrl+J. We’re going to move the subject left to leave room for someone else to add text to the right side. Roughly select the subject with the Polygonal Lasso tool, making sure to include the soft shadow that extends around to the right side of the image. Switch to the Content-Aware Move tool and set it to Move in the Tool Options bar. Hold down Shift to prevent vertical movement, click inside the selection area and drag left.

Step 5: Clean up the move work

Content-aware retouching in CS6

Deselect with Cmd/Ctrl+D. The tool hasn’t done a perfect job, so we can remove the problems on the image’s left by adding a layer mask to this top layer, using the button at the base of the Layers palette. Brush over the problem area with a small black brush to reveal the original areas. Things are more difficult on the other side (the image’s right) as the underlying information shows the original subject. Here we need to do some Clone Stamp work to clean up the lines and some Dodge and Burn work (see the Quick Tip).

Step 6: Resize the subject

Content-aware retouching in CS6

Now we want our subject to fill more of the frame. Start by creating a merged duplicate by selecting the top layer and using Cmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt+Shift+E. Now hit Cmd/Ctrl+T to activate Free Transform. Click the Constrain Ratio button (chain icon) in the Tool Options bar and enter 110% in one of the Height or Width boxes. Hit Enter then reposition the subject so the left and bottom sides line up with the corresponding sides of the canvas. Hit Enter again to complete the transform.

Step 7: Change background colour

Content-aware retouching in CS6

To change the colour of the background go to Select>Color Range, click Localized Color Clusters, set Fuzziness to 75 and Range to 35. Click around with the Plus and Minus eyedroppers to turn the background white and the subject black as shown. Click OK then, with the selection active, add a Curves adjustment layer and pull down with a single point to darken. Cmd/Ctrl-click its mask to load the selection and last add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Step 8: Final toning

Content-aware retouching in CS6

To finish, we’re going to give the image a bit more of a stylised look to add impact. Go to Image> Duplicate and with the duplicate image active, go to Image>Adjustments>HDR Toning. Click OK to flatten the image. Select Equalize Histogram from the dropdown menu and OK the dialog. Hold down Shift and drag the background layer from the duplicate image across to the original image. It should be positioned on top of the layer stack. Drop Opacity to around 70% to reduce the strength of the toning.


  • AJO

    Nice Tutorial on Content Aware tool. I’ll Share it on my site.