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GET THE BEST FROM CONTENT-AWARE FILL IN PHOTOSHOP

23RD MAY '205 MIN READ

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Content-aware fill is such a useful tool in Photoshop as it will save you so much time removing unwanted, distracting elements from your photos. In the early days of Photoshop we would use the clone tool to remove things, but sometimes the results were patchy at best, especially with subtle gradation of tones. Then came along content-aware fill, which depending on your selection can do a perfect job or at least 80% success rate of removing unwanted elements from your photos. Now it’s been improved with a custom feature that works extremely well. So let me take you through how to get the best from this brilliant time saving feature.

I shot this image of Hamnoy Harbour at first light in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. I wanted to use the curve of the shoreline to act as a frame to the rugged mountain and reflection with the line of fishing boats as a leading line to the mountain. Unfortunately, working harbours are often messy so they need a bit of tidying up. The most distracting element is the floating dock right in the middle of the reflection as well as a few other distracting things in and out of the water. There is a light pole on the left hand side of the frame that I could easily crop out, but I would be cutting off the gantry so it would enter the frame floating in the air without being attached to anything. Besides, I want to show you how easy it is to remove it.

Let’s start by taking out the main problem, the dock. How you make your selection is very important, because Photoshop will sample areas around that selection to use to replace the dock. Use the lasso tool and make a tight selection around the dock. You can either right click, select fill> content-aware fill or go to edit>fill> content-aware fill. Even though Photoshop will select areas based on your selection, it may or may not give you the results that you want. There is an even better method that gives you more control.

Make a custom selection around the dock.

Go to edit and two items below fill you will select content-aware fill. On the right hand side of the window you will now have a preview window with various controls. Your cursor is now a brush, which you can change to your desired size. Brush around your selection and anywhere else that you want to sample to replace the item you want to remove. The sampling area selection defaults to auto, but you can also choose rectangle or custom, which is what we will be using. Under the fill settings you can select color adaptation and choose one of the settings default, high or very high. This will help blend the colours around the selection. You can output to a new layer or work on the current layer, but remember that working on the current layer is destructive so it’s a good idea to create a new layer then when you have finished, flatten the layers. The nice thing is every time you make a change to the selection, color adaptation or anything, you will see how it affects the image in the preview. Any areas that don’t have a smooth transition or didn’t fill to your satisfaction, you can use the clone tool at a lower opacity such as 50-70% to blend the two areas together. Also, a common mistake that everyone does at one time or another if you have an image with a reflection is you take out the subject but forget to remove the reflection of the subject.

Selecting next to the area I want to replace helps to make a clean transition.

For removing small distracting elements like the rubbish under the water, rope on the rocks and the dark piece of seaweed in the lower right section of the water, I quickly just used the spot healing brush. The light post on the left side of the frame is much more tricky as you will have to replace the red building and dock that is behind the pole. The best way is to use the lasso tool to make several tight selections using content-aware fill rather that one selection. When you have some thing like this with a lot of detail around it, I find this method works better. Then use the clone tool to fill in and clean up any areas that didn’t fill the way you wanted.

I removed the top part of the pole first, then made selections next to the rest of the pole.

I finished the image by taking it into Luminar 4 from Photoshop and applied a degree of the warm sunset look. It really brings out the warmth of first light and the AI sky feature that is built into the look automatically darkens the sky down without having to make a mask as you would in Lightroom or Photoshop. So there you have it, the next time you have a scene that has potential, but has some distracting elements, don’t discard it. Make the image knowing that you can tidy it up later using content-aware fill. 

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