Unwanted objects can be the culprit of distraction and at many times, unavoidable when taking a photo. Traditionally, to remove these objects the clone stamp tool in Photoshop was the most viable option. However a new tool was introduced into Photoshop CS5 and up called Content-Aware Fill, which at many instances defeats the clone tool for it is quicker and does a better job at rendering a more natural result.
The functionality behind the content aware fill tool is that it samples and surveys the image, figuring out what the photo might have appeared like had the distracting feature never been there. This tool is best used at removing objects that have a similar surrounding…skies and grass, for instance.
How to use Content Aware Fill
I once posted this photo of the Grand Tetons to Topaz’s Facebook page and somebody commented, “I’d like it more if there wasn’t a car”. My original thoughts on leaving the car untouched was to signify that mother nature is a powerful force, as I was inspired at the time by Daoist landscape paintings where the human is depicted at a smaller scale than the landscape in front of it.
However, if you find the car is distracting and prefer a landscape void of human significance, here’s how you can remove it using the content aware fill tool:
This may not work the first time, but do not give up! Content aware fill will often choose different sections of the image to sample from. So if you get a funky result the first time, try it again and you might find that it works. A looser rather than tight selection around the object is key. It also helps to have similar surrounding areas, such as the foliage in the foreground.
When content aware fill doesn’t exactly work
Here’s an example of what you can do when the content aware fill tool doesn’t do its job 100%. In the image below there’s some pesky construction that was unavoidable when the image was captured, along with other distracting elements, including tents from a local farmers’ market that day.
Polygonal Lasso outline:
After content aware fill compute:
1. Save the image as a different file under a different name. For demonstration purposes, I will call this new file, “PearlBrew”.
2. Open the file “PearlBrew” in Photoshop.
3. Go to Image-> Image Rotation-> Flip Canvas Horizontal.
4. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool.
9. Zoom in and try and match up the selection with the layer underneath. You may need to rotate the image to align it (ctrl/cmd + T).
This is where you can use the clone stamp tool for areas that refuse to disappear via content-aware fill. When working with edges, use the Quick Selection Tool to outline areas of the sky, but not the building.
The quick selection will act like a sealed door, not allowing any clone stamp adjustments to seep through the selected boundary.
As you can see the construction has now been successfully removed:
Now that the image has been technically fixed, its time to make a few last photo adjustments. The colors in the building seem rather dull and tan, which is typical San Antonio architecture. To make the colors more vivid, I brought the image into Topaz ReStyle and applied the “Camo Olive” preset found in the Architecture collection. The opacity was then reduced to 45% to make the effect less intense:
The image was then taken into Topaz Lens Effects where I applied a Geometric Distortion effect. I wanted the image to look like I took it at eye level (from a higher point), so I used the Tilt Down II preset to shift the image, making it seem like the image wasn’t shot at a lower angle.
The photo was finalized for output by bringing it into Topaz Detail where I increased the small detail slider to bring out the texture in the bricks, added a bit more saturation and adjusted the temperature to be a bit cooler.
As you can see, the methods used to remove objects will vary depending on the image. I hope that this tutorial has provided you with some ideas about the ways you can remove distracting objects using the available tools in Photoshop.
One last tool I did not mention is the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush Tool, which works better at removing items like blemishes, scratches, tears and other small objects with similar surrounding areas. In the Grand Tetons image this tool could have just as well been used, since there’s similar surrounding foreground for it to sample and the car is small enough to zap with one click.
However, for the Pearl Brewery architecture image, the spot healing content aware tool does not work. Since I’m working with bricks that need to be aligned perfectly the clone stamp tool works better because I can select exactly where the next brick will line up. And then the content aware fill tool works better at removing large objects like the crane, which have similar surroundings that do not need precise aligning.