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Photoshop CS5 – Content Aware Fill

Yesterday we saw the improvements to Adobe Bridge, today Restorationist Janine Smith looks at the Content Aware Fill


We’ve been hearing about the wonder that is Content Aware Fill for quite some time, now. For months it seems, we’ve been seeing wonderful teasers released by Adobe of miraculously disappearing buffalo and ducks. Since Adobe gave the (heretofore unprecedented) okay for it’s Beta Testers to tease the masses with before and after images done in CS5 we’ve been inundated with vanishing buildings, wildlife, flowers, trees and people. It was all so wonderful!

We can now take those pesky squirrels from a field of grass in one easy step! Anti-squirrel grass photographers, rejoice! [Steady now TS] But are there any actual practical applications for Content Aware Fill? Anything that would make life easier? The answer is double YES! While Content Aware Fill might not be a ‘Magic Button’, it might actually come pretty close in a couple areas.

Alright, that might be stretching it a bit. Content Aware Fill won’t work in every situation, on every photograph. Like any other tool, it won’t work on every texture and in every composition. Sometimes the work will take longer than others and there will, almost always, be a little cleanup to be done, but the time this feature can save you, if it is the right tool in a particular situation, can be astronomical, and that is,, in my opinion, the major benefit of Content Aware Fill. The saving of time.

In the example, below the work was done in six steps. Again, while it may not be 100% perfect, the overall result is much, much cleaner which will add up to, if not a better outcome, certainly a faster work time!

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Here are the next 5 steps:

(Click to enlarge)

The same steps with the patch tool alone will need more cleanup which means more time:

When you compare the two, you can see you’ll be spending a bit more time cleaning up the Patch tool work:

The single most exciting feature of Content Aware Fill, to me, is that it works on nothing. Let me explain that. Some of the tools that are usually used in my work, namely the Healing Brush and the Patch Tool, are proximity match tools. In other words, they fill in areas with pixels they take from the immediate proximity of the area you choose. These tools won’t work on transparent areas because there is no content in the proximity of the area.

Content Aware is just that, aware of the content that surrounds the area, not just that which is in the immediate area. It reaches further out, if you will, to find content with which to fill the selected area. What this means, in simple terms, is that if you have a torn area to repair, you can now fix it in one click rather than filling the area in using, for instance, the Clone Stamp Tool. As you can imagine, in photo restoration, this is HUGE! Of course, it depends on what’s in the surrounding area and what should be in the missing area if this will be a good fix. In other words, if the missing area is a hand and the surrounding area is trees, it probably won’t work out well. But, especially if you’re working in a fairly clear area in both the area to be fixed and the one you’re taking content from, it works beautifully.

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In two steps on this photo, I do what would have taken a substantially longer time with the Clone Stamp Tool. With one more step:

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s fairly amazing. Is the fill always going to be 100% perfect? No. Will the fill need a bit of tweaking now and then. Definitely. Will it work in every situation? I doubt it. What tool does?

The bottom line is if a person is a bad photo restoration artist, or retoucher, or photographer, or doctor, or anything, no tools on Earth are ever going to make them any better by osmosis. This is a tool and tools, like people, aren’t perfect. But it’s one more tool in your arsenal! Like any tool, if you use it, learn it and perfect it, it will benefit you greatly!

Content Aware Fill will be an important addition to my photo restoration work flow, but not everyone will be bowled over by it. There will still be those who maintain they can do the exact same thing with the good old Patch Tool, and I’m sure they can. But it will take them longer. Maybe even a lot longer. If time isn’t a major concern of yours, or the new CS5 features aren’t relevant to your work flow, this may not be the upgrade for you.

In my opinion, the features in Photoshop CS5 are incredible, more significant, I believe, then a Photoshop version upgrade has seen in many a long year. But for me, without a doubt, the new Content Aware features are the deal breaker!

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About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

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