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Understanding the Content Aware Fill Options in Photoshop

It is pretty amazing seeing all of the changes and updates that have been made to Photoshop and Lightroom over the years. The introduction of artificial intelligence has made these tools so much more powerful. In this post, I am going to talk about content aware fill. There are many options that are available. The difference basically comes down to how much control we want to give to the computer. Most people are familiar with the spot healing tool. This was the original content aware tool. The issue comes where the area to be "fixed" is a little more complex. In the Edit menu we find two different options. These are Fill and Content-Aware Fill.

At this point, you may be thinking that Content-Aware Fill option is the one that we want to use. Actually, the Fill menu option also provides a Content-Aware Fill option.

Fill... Menu Item

The difference between the two options is the Fill... menu items gives Photoshop full control over where in the photo it should pull data to replace the selected item. With the menu item Content-Aware Fill..., there is an extra step where you select the areas to be sampled. Quite often, when there is a stick or a branch that is in poking into the photo, selecting Fill with the Content-Aware option is all that is needed. This makes cleaning up photos very easy. Let's look at the following image:

Here we see that annoying stick right at the bottom of the image. Using one of the selection tools, loosely select the stick and a little bit of the area around it.

Next select File>Fill, and make sure that the Content-Aware option appears in the drop-down box. After hitting OK, we get the following result:

Notice the nice job that Photoshop did filling in the shadows. This worked because the are is pretty consistent around where we were removing the unwanted element in the photo. Unfortunately, not all images are quite so clean. In this case, we need to provide some additional direction on where to sample.

Content-Aware Fill... Menu Item

The next tool that we can use is also in the edit menu. This is the one that is called Content-Aware Fill ... This tool differs from the Fill tool in that we need to tell Photoshop where to sample from in order to replace the selected area. In the following image, there is a child in the upper left that I would like to remove.

The area around the child is quite busy, and we want to make sure that only the snow, ice, and the grass at the edge of the lake are used. Just as in the previous example, loosely select around the object that you want to replace. It is important to make sure that the selection tool has the feather value set to something other than 0. Zero will provide a harsh live for the fill. In general, I try to stay between 3 and 5. For this example. I selected 5px.

Once the selection is complete, it should look something like the following:

Once selected, open the Edit menu and select Content-Aware Fill... A dialog box is presented instructing you to paint the area to sample.

Click OK, and then paint the areas that you want Photoshop to use to fill in the area selected.

Notice on the right side of the screen, there is a form that opened with several options. The top part of the form defines how the selected area will be displayed on the screen. I generally leave this at the default.

I also leave the Sampling Area Options set to the defaults as well. For Fill Settings, I set Color Adaptation to High. This provides a little cleaner look to the replaced area. Rotation Adaptation is left at the default value since the area being sampled is similar to the are that is being replaced. Scale works well if there are lines in the scene such as siding on a house or brick work and the scale changes the further away from the selected area that you get. Mirror is used when the sample area needs to be flipped. Finally, I leave Output to New Layer in order to make the change non-destructive.

Once the settings are adjusted, click the Apply and OK buttons on the bottom of the screen. Then select the lower layer (Background), and select Deselect from the select menu. The result should look similar to the one below:

Content-Aware Patch

What if I need even more control? This is where Content-Aware Patch is used. As luck would have it, when I went to capture this image, another photographer walked in front of me and started shooting.

I need to remove this person along with their shadow. The following video demonstrates how to use Content-Aware Patch to remove the photographer.

Some final clean-up and cropping results in the final image.


Photoshop makes it very easy to remove unwanted elements from a photo. The tools I typically use are Spot Healing, Content-Aware Fill using either the option under Fill..., or the Content-Aware Fill... menu item, and the clone tool.

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