In an ideal world we would all make our photos exactly the way we want them in camera. But in reality, we can’t always avoid distractions and unwanted objects in our frame. Fortunately, Adobe Photoshop has some powerful tools for helping to remove those unavoidable distractions. Today we’re going to look at 3 content-aware tools: the fill tool, the patch tool, and the spot healing brush tool. Each of these tools performs the same general task of removing objects from an image, but they each have different strengths and weaknesses. We’re going to look at how they work and when you might want to use each one to get the best results.
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Using the Photoshop Content-Aware Fill Tool to Remove Objects
The first tool we are going to look at is the fill tool. Content-aware fill examines the pixels around your selection and uses that information to fill in the pixels you want to replace. This works great when you are replacing objects that are against a fairly simple background with plenty of space around it.
In the image below the brown areas on the right hand side of the frame distract from the subject, so let’s use content-aware fill tool to remove them.
To use content-aware fill, select the area you want to replace and choose “Fill” from the Edit menu.
Make sure that content-aware is selected in the drop down menu, then hit “OK”.
As long as there is plenty of space around the object you’re removing and the background is fairly simple, content-aware fill is a fast and easy way to simplify an image.
Using the Photoshop Content-Aware Patch Tool to Get Rid of Distractions
The patch tool has been a long-standing Photoshop feature but the addition of the content-aware option makes it exponentially more powerful. This is the most versatile of the content-aware tools. It starts out like the fill tool in that you select the object that you want to remove. But instead of simply using the pixels around the selection to determine how to fill in the pixels you are replacing, the patch tool lets you determine the area of the image that you want Photoshop to use. This is essential when you have areas without a lot of space around them or with fine detail and textures that you want to preserve.
I found a great spot with a view down the Yosemite Valley. But the log on the right side of the frame doesn’t fit well with the rest of the scene. Since it was too large to physically remove (which is probably frowned upon in Nation Parks anyway) let’s use the content-aware patch tool to remove it in Photoshop instead.
First we select the log for removal. With the patch tool selected and content-aware turned on, drag the selection over the trees above the log which provides the texture/pattern we need. If the first patch doesn’t completely cover the object or if the results don’t blend well, you can repeat this process multiple times by selecting and patching the edges and smaller areas until it is seamless.
Despite the complicated patterns in the foliage, the content-aware patch tool is able to completely remove the log, resulting in a much cleaner final image.
Using the Photoshop Content-Aware Spot Healing Brush Tool to Clean up an Image
The content-aware spot healing brush tool is the simplest of the content-aware tools because it does not require a selection. The spot healing brush is commonly used for touching up blemishes on skin, but it’s also a great choice for getting rid of power lines and any small unwanted objects or areas within a scene. In this image, we can use this tool to replace those unsightly power lines and utility poles.
After choosing the spot healing brush from the tool bar, make sure that content-aware is enabled. Then we simply click on, or click and drag over the objects we want to remove. In this case we choose a brush size similar to the width of the pole, click and drag over each pole to remove it. Next we move on to the power lines and follow the same process, this time with a slightly smaller brush.
Selecting the Right Tool for the Job
Photoshop’s content-aware tools are powerful options for removing distractions and objects in a photo. There is a lot of overlap with these tools so here are some guidelines to help you choose the right one.
- Use the fill tool when your subject is set on a simple background with plenty of negative space around it. Because it is looking to the area just outside of the selection when choosing replacement pixels stay away from this tool for objects that are right against another object or on a busy background.
- When removing an object that is set in a busy scene or on a detailed or patterned background, content-aware patch is likely your best option. This tool allows you to first select the object you want to remove and then select an area of the scene with the pattern or texture you want to fill in with. While patch can be a little more work to use effectively, it offers a lot more flexibility.
- When removing small objects, blemishes, or power lines from an image the content-aware spot healing brush is a great choice. While it’s not effective on large areas, the ability to simply click or click and drag to remove spots makes it the fastest and easiest choice.