How the Content Aware Scale Works

The content aware scale tool is one of the unknown features in Photoshop. I’ll explain how this tool works in this tutorial.

Sometimes you take a photo of let’s say a bird close to drinking bowl (see photo below) and afterwards you realize the bird is further away then you thought, you could fix that by cutting out the bird and paste it closer but then you are left with blending the bird in. With the content aware scale you can skip the hard work and fix your image within a minute.

This tutorial is made with Photoshop CS5 but will work with CS4 and CS6 as well, both have this tool and work in a similar way.

End result:
How the Content Aware Scale Works Final Image

Step 1

How does the content aware scale work?

Simply put: it takes areas in an image with low resolution and compress them automatically.

Let start with some examples so you get an idea what it can do.
As an example I use a photo made by Kyricom called Hummer.

It is a great looking shot but what if you want the bird closer to the drinking bowl?
You could go making new layers out of the bird, move it closer but then you are left with restoring the image. Let’s use the content aware scale and see to do it with that.

Step 2

So first task is to open the image in Photoshop, unlock the layer and then go to Edit > Content-Aware scale. You’ll notice the image gets 8 handles marked with yellow spots below.

Step 3

You can use those handles to make the image smaller in any direction. What I’m doing is to shrink the image from the right first.

Step 4

You notice that the green area between the bird and the bowl is almost gone and the bird is hovering very close to it. Neither the bird or the bowl are being distorded.

Step 5

Let’s try the same with this image by MnMCarta:

Step 6

Within a minute we have the dice closer to each other, they are even over each other. And the image is almost scaled horizontally with 50%!

Step 7

Let’s take it one step further and do it vertically as well.

You see the dice are not harmed and we got rid of the most black space. The final image is about 30% of the original without distorting the dice and cropping the image.

Nifty huh?

Step 8

Let’s move on to the next example:

A photo made by Matka called “Two Chairs”. Here’s the original:

Step 9

You would think that the content aware scale would do a nice job again but see what happens when we scale it from the left:

What happens here?

As explained before PS uses the low resolution in an image and scales those.

In this example the left chair is not recognized as an object with high resolution.

Step 10

How do we solve this?

First we need to tell PS not to scale the 2 chairs, we need to use a layer mask.
This is not as hard as it looks.

Select the 2 chairs with the lasso tool, be sure you’ve also selected the “add to selection” option so you can make multiple areas with the lasso tool.

Step 11

Below I made the selection I made with the lasso tool black for you there should be the ants.

Step 12

Right click in the selected areas and choose “Save Selection” I saved this layer as “Chairs”.

Step 13

Now go to edit > content aware scale and at the top you see a little pull down menu with “none” in it. Pull it down and there’s your saved layer called “Chairs”, select that one.

Step 14

Now you can start scaling your image from the left with good results. Photoshop leaves the masked areas as they are and scales everything else surrounding those areas.

This was a short tutorial but I hope you at least understand how this tool works and it might teach you something.

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