How To Use Content Aware Scaling In Adobe Photoshop

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How To Use Content Aware Scaling In Adobe Photoshop

The image shows a seal lieing on a railing and Content Aware Scaling is highlighted in the Edit menu.
Content Aware Scaling is one of those overlooked gems found in Adobe Photoshop.

It is quite understandable that Content Aware Fill in Photoshop gets all of the kudos and attention. I was there when it was first demonstrated during a “Sneaks” session at Adobe Max and it was awesome to see over 3,000 graphics pros rise to their feet cheering wildly after the horse in front of a fence in a field was seamlessly replaced. Since then, Content Aware Fill moved into the Adobe Touch apps such as Photoshop Mix and became one of the major “Go To” features in Photoshop.

Somewhat lost in all of this attention is Content Aware Scaling.

We have all encountered situations where an image, say from a DSLR, needs to be placed on a significantly smaller canvas and, once the image has been resized to fit that canvas, there is still some empty space above or to the sides of the image. To fix this there are a number of solutions, such as the Clone Stamp tool, available to you but Content Aware Scaling, in many cases, might just be the solution.

Let’s see how it works.

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A Typical Use Case For Content Aware Scaling In Adobe Photoshop

The image of a seal on a railing shows the white canvas above and below the image.
Content Aware Scaling was made for those situations where the image "doesn't quite fit.".

The above image is fairly typical of the type of situation where Content Aware Scaling absolutely shines.

The image, shot using a Nikon DSLR, has a size of 2844 x 1475 but needs to be placed on a canvas that is 1000 by 550. The image, after scaling fits, the width of the canvas but the height misses the mark at the top and the bottom of the image.

One solution would be to use Free Transform to pull the bottom of the image to the bottom of the Canvas but this could distort the seal. Another would be to move the image to the bottom of the canvas and to break out the Clone Stamp Tool in order to build a fill for the top of the image.

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How To Use Content Aware Scaling In Adobe Photoshop

The Scale handles are visible as is the Content Aware Scaling Options at the top of the interface.
Apply Content Aware Scaling to a layer and use the Options for more granular scaling control.

The first step in the process is to select the layer to be scaled in the Layers pane. Then select Edit>Content Aware Scale. The image will sprout handles and the Options bar will change. To fill the top, simply drag the middle handle upwards and you will see the empty canvas fill with the water. Drag the bottom handle downwards and the water at the top, not the seal at the very bottom of the image, will change.

If you look at the Options bar you will see an icon that looks like a person. If you select this and people in the photo will not be stretched.

When finished, press the Return/Enter key to accept the changes.

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How To Protect Your Subject From Content Aware Scaling Distortion

Image shows Dragon selected in the Protect pop down and arrows point to the Dragon channel in the Channels panel.
Select your object and save the selection to a Channel to protect it from stretching or other distortions.

In the previous example you may have noticed the water was actually distorted when Content Aware Scaling was applied to the image. This is not an issue if the area is sky, water or some other neutral feature that won’t be noticed. What about situations where Content Aware Scaling will stretch or otherwise distort the subject? This is where the Channels panel becomes your best friend.

In the above image attempting to fit the background into the available space will stretch the Dragon in the foreground. Here’s how to fix this:

  • The first thing to do is to select the Lasso Tool and select the subject. In the case of this image I selected the dragon.
  • Next, select Select>Save Selection and when the Save Selection dialog box opens, name the selection and click OK. This will save the selection to a channel which can be seen in the Channels panel.
  • With the layer deselected, select Edit>Content Aware Scale. Before you start yanking handles, select your channel from the Protect pop down menu in the Options. Now scale the image and you will see everything but the subject will be scaled.