The Patch tool in Content-Aware fill mode

A key new feature in Photoshop CS5 was the Content-Aware fill. This allowed you to make a selection and use the Edit>Fill command in the default Content-Aware fill mode to automatically fill the selected area, cleverly combining sampled image data from outside the selection area to fill the selection.

When it worked well it was great. Even when you couldn’t get a perfect fill first time around you could always try making repeated fills or use other repair tools such as the spot healing brush to tidy up the repaired selection. Photoshop CS6 now offers this content-aware mode for the patch tool. This allows you to make a selection and use the patch tool in content-aware mode by dragging the selection to define the area from which to sample. In addition, there are now five different adaptation methods to choose from - as you'll see below - which allow you to adjust the content-aware fill calculations after the fact for more seamless results.

Here is a photo taken by my colleague Jeff Schewe on a recent photo trip to
Scotland as I'm taking a photo of a waterfall.

This image has lots of fine, organic detail; a perfect opportunity to test the Patch tool in its new content-aware fill mode. Using the Patch tool is typically a two-step process. You select the object to be removed and then manually specify the area from which ts replacement will originate. By using content-aware mode we'll have the additional option of choosing the most appropriate adaptation algorithm.

To start with I made a rough selection of the outline of myself and the tripod using the patch tool.
With the Patch tool set its the new Content-Aware fill mode, I dragged the selection to sample image content from the right. Once I let go of the mouse the patch tool uses the default content-aware fill algorithm to fill in the selected area.

One of the keys to success lies in exploring the Adaptation menu options to the right of the Patch menu.

Patch tool options in Photoshop CS6

In the examples below you can see how I was able to vary the results simply by choosing among the different options in the Adaptation menu's settings.

Very Loose adaptation Loose adaptation
Medium adaptation Strict adaptation: The tripod leg is now gone.

In this case, I found that using the Very Strict adaptation setting (shown below) provided the best results. Results will vary of course from image to image so it pays to experiment with the different options, with the goal of saving yourself as much touchup work at the end as possible.

Very Strict adaptation

While not 100% perfect, the result you see above is quite impressive, given how little time and effort it required. Of course for a finished result you're going to have to manually heal or clone some small areas, as I've done to produce the image below.

To create this final version I applied a few minor spot healing brush strokes to
tidy up the photo.

In CS6 there is also a Content-Aware Move tool. This provides functionality we just saw with the patch tool, except it allows you to make a selection, move the selection contents and automatically fill the original selected area behind it. This too is a great tool for retouching images. I have found it useful in handling small detail retouching problems, like the need to shorten a ribbon on a dress. When using this new tool to move bigger elements around in a scene I find that you do need to be aware of the perspective in the scene, which can limit how far you can do with the tool before the image 'looks' retouched. Maybe we'll one day have a content-aware move tool within the Vanishing Point filter. One can dream.