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Photoshop CS6: Content Aware Move and Patch Tools

By Marianne Drenthe 

Content Aware, introduced with Photoshop CS4, is considered one of the best tools for editing within Photoshop. In CS6 Adobe has updated the algorithm for Content Aware, has added Content Aware technology to the Patch tool, and has added the Content Aware Move tool to the Healing Toolset. In this tutorial we will explore each of these exciting new additions to the newest incarnation of Photoshop.


One of the cooler innovations in CS is the addition of the Content Aware (CA) Move tool. The CA Move tool allows you to reposition and recompose a part of an image faster and easier than ever before. You can use it for actions that used to require selecting, masking, and advanced compositing—all by simply selecting the image and moving it to another portion of the photo. Content Aware does the rest by filling in the background of the image automatically, the end result is a change in composition of the image. Let’s take a closer look.


In this image the woman and baby are composed in the center of the image in front of a large window, I don’t necessarily love this composition, so let’s make a selection around them and move her to the left hand side of this photo.

1. I first selected the area around the subjects with the Lasso tool set at 15-pixel feather. I loosely encircled her to allow a little background into the selection. Sometimes the CA Move tool likes to take out parts of the subject, so creating a loose lasso works very well in images where moving the subject on the same sort of background is what you intend to do. 


2. I selected the CA Move tool from the Healing Tool subset (you can also access it by using Shift+J until the tool icon looks like two arrows overlayed like an X). 
3. In the Options Bar at the top of the screen I selected the Move mode and set Adaptation to Strict. Adaptation determines how well the moved object adjusts to its new background.
4. I moveed the selected object to its new place on the image.


5. After Photoshop finalized the move I selected the part of the image that was previously above my subjects’ heads by loosely lassoing that area and went ahead and cloned the area, choosing white background with the Clone tool. 


While the immediate results from using the Content Aware tool are not completely perfect, they are great starting point to finish out edits for most photographs.


The CA Move Tool is pretty versatile and it even allows you to change the width, height or even length of an object within a photo. To illustrate this, I'll show you how I used it to extend the waves hitting the shore in this shot of my daughter at the beach. 


This is actually a pretty simple maneuver:

1. I created a selection using the Rectangular Marquee tool (Shift+M). 
2. I clicked on the CA Tool in the Healing Brush Set.  
3. Then I simply moved the selection lower than the original area.  

4. I deselected my selection and it looks pretty good straight out, perhaps a bit of cloning is required but it is a pretty impressive result of a quick MOVE. 


While the immediate results from using the Content Aware tool are not completely perfect, they are great starting point to finish out edits for most photographs.


If you’ve used Photoshop for any real length of time you are probably already familiar with the Patch tool. In CS6 Adobe has added Content Aware technology to this already pretty amazing tool. Let’s take a look another image from this session with the distracting element of the wall sconce in the upper right hand corner.


1. Select the Patch tool from the Healing Tool set (Shift+J).  


2. Go to the Options bar at the top of the screen and click to change the Patch setting to Content Aware and click Sample All Layers. Set Adaptation to Very Strict for this image.
3. I selected the area immediately surrounding the sconce to patch out.
4. The next maneuver is simple and quick. I moved the selected area to another portion of the background that would match what I was trying to patch, in this case the wall immediately adjacent to the selected area
5. I used the same selection with my Clone Tool to sort of blend the area, setting it to 30% Opacity and 100% Flow. I used the area directly under the selected area as the area to clone from. Here I was simply trying to match the amount of shading present in that portion of the wall.
6. Finally I deselected the patched selection and voila! The result is a background that is much better suited to a portrait then originally photographed. 



While the new Content Aware tools may not always work in every photo, I do believe they work very well in images where there is a solid background or a generalized background where there isn’t a whole lot of specific detail going on. These tools deliver fast results on those types of images.

I can see utilizing the CA Move Tool to extend background for gallery wrap canvases where the composition doesn’t afford a lot of leeway in the wrap area and for improving compositions in images where the subjects seem a bit off and you want to retain the overall crop of the photo. My favorite part of the Content Aware improvements in CS6 is definitely the CA Patch Tool. What used to be an arduous task trying to clone-out undesirable aspects of a photo with unique parts of the background is now a quick and easy fix.

You can try Photoshop CS6 for 30 days free from Adobe’s website. Upgrades from CS3 or above are $199 from