Photoshop Content Awareness: the Move, the Patch, the Cheating at Golf

In honor of the first chapter of Deke’s latest course update, Photoshop CC One-on-One: Intermediate, I got to thinking about interesting uses of the Content-Aware family of Photoshop tools (the subject of Chapter 1 of said course).

Basically, “content-aware” features work similarly to earlier Photoshop features (Move, Patch, Fill) but they do so in a way that considers the contextual information present in the image. So, instead of telling Photoshop, “Hey, Fill this selected space with the Background color,” you instead say, “Fill this, and figure out what it should be filled with based on the contents of my image.”

The net result can be magical or tragic, but if you use the right combination of tools (and admit the fact you may have to clean up your results with some classic Healing Brush or other retouching work) then Content-Aware tools pretty much stay on their side of magic.

For example, let’s say I recognized the fact that one is not allowed to move one’s golf ball closer to the hole. But let’s also say, that although the USGA prohibits moving your ball, they don’t explicitly say you can’t move the hole. It’s Photoshop Rules, people. And here’s how Photoshop’s Move and Patch tools, in their Content-Aware modes, can really shine.

Here’s a quick look at how to use these two tools to their greatest golf-gaming advantage. Because although you may not need to cheat at golf, you may find untold riches in knowing how to leverage these features in your own work:

1. Select the area/element you want to move.

If I’ve determined that moving the hole is to my advantage, then the first thing I need to do is select that hole element. When it comes to Content-Aware tools, you can actually use any selection routine that works for you, then apply the tools (i.e. you don’t have to rely on the Lasso variations that are inherent to the tools). So in this case, I used the Elliptical marquee to easily select the hole.

2. Move the selected object to where you desire, using Content-Aware Move.

The Content-Aware Move tool lives underneath the Healing Brush tool in the Photoshop toolbox. So once you have your selection, grab that double-headed crossed arrow tool and simply drag your selection to its new destination.

Depending on your image and selection size, this process may require a bit of thinking on Photoshop’s part. Be patient, it’s worth the wait.

Photoshop will attempt to fill in the original spot based on its understanding of your image. Sometimes it will work flawlessly. Sometimes, there will be a tell-tale ring of dead grass that reveals your treachery.

4. Repair the damage with Content-Aware Patch.

To fix large areas like this, the Content-Aware Patch tool is incredibly handy. If you’re trying to figure out how the Patch tool works in general, you may need this bit of clarification: you identify the problem area, then you move the selection to the area that will fix said problem. (It can be a little more complicated than this, but this is the main purpose. To educate yourself on the subtleties, check out the first chapter of Deke’s course.)

In this case, I’ve used a simple polygonal lasso to surround my problem area. Then, I chose the Patch tool, set it to Content-Aware, and dragged that C-shaped selection to an a pristine area of grass.

5. Credit Photoshop’s Content-Aware tools for your sudden handicap improvement.

As I mentioned earlier, this particular exercise yields pristine (untraceable) results.

So, your experiences with Content-Aware will vary. Sometimes, they will be so amazingly alchemical that you’ll just stare at your transformation, hit Undo, then watch it mutate again. Other times, you’ll but somebody’s big toe where their left eye should be. But knowing how to use these tools in concert with hard-work, old-school Photoshop heavy-lifting is not something you should do without.

If you’d like to check out the Content-Aware chapter as well as the other valuable parts of Deke’s new course, but you aren’t yet a member of, then you can get a free week’s trial by heading to

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