Content Aware Crop is one of the most exciting and revolutionary tools to be added to Photoshop since the Clone Stamp tool.
We first got a glimpse of it around the end of May in a blog post from the Photoshop development team, teasing us with the capabilities of the new tool and it immediately set the photography community afire with curiosity. At long last (ok, well, not really very long last at all, actually), the tool has arrived!
Important Note: The Content Aware Crop tool is only available in the latest version of Photoshop CC, which was released on June 21, 2016.
If you’re not finding the ‘Content Aware’ option in your Crop toolbar, make sure you’re using the latest version of Photoshop by going to the ‘Help’ menu and clicking ‘Updates’. The Creative Cloud app will open and let you know if there is an available update. Just close Photoshop and begin the update process to get in on the fun!
Using Content Aware Crop
This tool has some incredible capabilities, as we’ll show you in the example below, but like most of Photoshop’s algorithmic solutions it’s not a total cure-all. Let’s explore what it can do!
Considering how useful it can be, Content Aware Crop almost hidden away out of sight. It’s just a simple checkbox that can be enabled as part of the normal toolbar options for the Crop tool. Don’t miss it!
The crop we’re going to use for our initial test is a fairly simple one, rotating the image in order to correct a very slightly angled horizon. Normally when doing this kind of crop, you would have to rotate the image and then crop away any of the edges that protruded as a result (see the white areas above), giving you a slightly smaller image and maybe even a slightly different aspect ratio.
Of course, you could fill in the white areas using the Clone Stamp tool, but that can take quite a bit of time and effort to do well, and usually it’s easier to just sacrifice the edges of the image in the name of efficiency.
This is the sort of little problem that Content Aware Crop excels at solving. After clicking the ‘Content Aware’ checkbox on the crop and rotation shown above, Photoshop immediately fills in the white edges automatically using the carefully developed ‘Content Aware’ algorithm. It is ‘aware’ of the content contained in the rest of the image and uses samples of it in an attempt to take all the tedious work out of this commonplace edit.
Here’s the result:
As you can see, Content Aware Crop does a remarkable job of filling in what little texture there is around the edges and blending the colours perfectly so that you can’t detect the fill at all – unless you’re looking at 1600% zoom and a forensic scientist, which we assume most of you are not 😉
So far, so good! This should save us some time in our workflows when we find these kinds of problems after the shoot. But what happens if we ask Photoshop to fill in some larger areas?
One of the big selling points for photographers, at least according to Adobe, is the ability to completely adjust the aspect ratios of your photos automatically. If it works as advertised, this would effectively allow you to completely re-compose your shots on the computer, which would be completely mind-blowing. IF it works as advertised.
Naturally, this is not going to work in every instance and with every photo. The more complex your photo is, the less successful the results will be. For instance, if we try it out using the photo example above, we get a strange blend of excellent and bizarre results.
Here’s an aspect ratio adjustment that completely recomposes the photo on the left edge of the frame, with some complex details:
Oops. Suddenly that’s not looking so good. The sky isn’t bad, but the treeline on the horizon is hilariously badly done. That’s understandable, however, considering the complexity of the details. If we try a similar recomposition expanding to the right, things go a little bit better:
The sky looks almost passable, and while the tree looks like it has been fairly lazily cloned, it’s still pretty good considering it takes less than a second to complete. A bit of custom touch-up with the Clone Stamp tool might turn it into something acceptable, especially at a small size.
But those examples are asking quite a lot of Photoshop. What if we try expanding the image vertically, adding in some more sky and some more water automatically?
The results look pretty impressive, actually! They could still use a little bit of a touch-up as some of the wave patterns repeat in a way that catches the eye, but depending on the scene, it might be possible to let Content Aware Crop do all the work for you with only a minimal amount of oversight.
You probably wouldn’t want to use it on a large-scale print where any potential blending issues might become more apparent. The larger the adjustment you make, and the more detailed and complex the objects you ask Photoshop to create, the more likely it is that your eye will start to notice that something looks fishy.
But if you can restrict your use of the tool to more subtle colour blends and random patterns that don’t repeat regularly, you’ll find a happy medium where the Content Aware Crop tool will save you a great deal of time and hassle.
Best of all, thanks to the subscription model that Adobe Creative Cloud uses now, you won’t be forced to wait until you can afford the next version of the software to get the latest updates to the tool – and you can be sure that the Photoshop development team will be working hard to improve this promising addition to the program!