In this video we’re going to take a look at an unsung hero of Photoshop — Content Aware Scale. You may be familiar with its sisters, Content Aware Fill and the Content Aware Move tool. If these are a mystery to you, leave a comment and if enough people are unsure about them, I’ll make a video.

Any the hoo, Content Aware Scale.

Content Aware Scale

Here I’ve got an image from Adobe Stock called “Happy woman on beach.” As you can see it doesn’t fit the canvas that I want to work to — in this case a 1920 x 1080 pixel canvas for video.

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The first thing I’d do would be to Control (Windows) or Command T (Mac) to enter transform and drag out the bottom right handle so that the image at least fits in one dimension. I can’t go any further or I’ll start to cut off the subject.

The problem, as you can see, is that I have a blank space to the right.

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Now, I could Clone Stamp, Content Aware Fill and a whole host of other techniques, but instead I’m going to try Content Aware Scale.

For me here, it’s grayed out. The reason for this is that this is an image from my Libraries, and, as such is linked through to a definitive copy in the Creative Cloud. We can also see this on the layer itself — a little cloud icon on the thumbnail.

What I’ll need to do is make this a local copy, I’ll do this by right clicking on the layer and choosing Rasterize Layer.

You may have noticed the cloud icon on the layer’s thumbnail disappeared. Now if I go back up to the Edit Menu and down to Content Aware Scale, we have it available.

Transform and then some

We have transform handles again but this time they work a little differently. If I take the handle on the right and move it to the right you’ll notice it behaves in a different way. The scaling isn’t uniform. Some parts of the image transform quicker than others.

Unless you’ve changed the default you’ll notice that it transforms in all directions too, not what we want. I’ll press Esc on the keyboard and this time hold down the Shift key and do the same.

This time the transform has only been in one direction and the scale, once again, is not uniform. By this, I mean that some pixels were transformed while others were left alone. Particularly the happy lady.

Under the hood

What’s happening here is that Photoshop has analyzed the image and assumed the subject. So now when I transform it knows to leave the main subject until last. At some point it’ll snap and will have to transform the subject, but that’s when you go as far as you can and then go to your other methods.

If I were doing this for real, I’d be off drinking tea and watching “Downton Abbey” like a proper Brit, but let’s explore some more of the features in the contextual menu at the top.

First off there’s the X and Y coordinates of the layer. You can make these absolute by clicking the triangle between them. Then it will show the distance the image has been moved or transformed.

Next the W and H, which are the width and height of the layer. Unlink this if you want, especially if you don’t want that annoying transform in all directions we had earlier.

Then there’s the Amount. This is a threshold, showing what the difference is between the pixels. Is it solid color, similar color and is there an edge? Sliding this below 100 percent is going to give you very different outcomes and, in all honesty, I have only ever changed this during a demonstration.

Protect is excellent, especially when you have a subject that’s a little less hard to define and Adobe doesn’t quite find the main subject. I know I want to protect the happy woman so I’m going to grab the Select Object tool and draw around her. Photoshop does a great job of detecting her, but this may not always be the case and a little more manual work may need to be done.

Thinking ahead

I am going to refine the mask while I’m here, a little bit around the hair with the refine edge tool and then decontaminate color. I don’t need to be so precise for this, but I think its good practice, I may need a good mask later in the project.

When I click OK I now have another layer with a layer mask.

I’ll jump into the channels panel and we can see that we have that mask, but the title is in italics, meaning its only on this layer and is only available with this layer and as such, is temporary. I want a mask I can use over and over, so I’ll click and drag this channel onto the plus sign. Older versions used a post-it type icon, which I really miss by the way. Now we have the temporary channel and a project-wide one.

When I go back to my layers, I can now remove the layer with the mask. The channel we created is still there. Then I can jump back to Content Aware Scale and if I go over to protect I can now select the channel, or mask, that I just created.

Now when I scale here that area will most definitely be the last to scale, right up to the last possible pixel. We can see this more clearly if I reduce the width, the happy woman is great until, oop, squished.

Interesting to see here that her arm looks like it has a ghost, but that’s the cloud also being transformed.

Finally there’s this bathroom sign. Hovering over it you’ll see that it protects skin tones, great for portraits. You may have seen a similar selection process in Color Range in the selection menu.

Wrapping it up

Content Aware Scale is great for making images to fit different sizes like print and film, but its also handy for different social media sizes. There we are, a tour of Content Aware Scale.