#CreativeFriday – Photoshop CC’s Content Aware Tools – Structure and Colour Controls

Sometimes within an area of an image, there is a section that needs to be cleaned up. Normally, this is simple, but on some occasions it runs through a gradient. An example of this is in a sky or some simple foreground texture like grass or sand/beaches etc.

Before the release of CC 2014 these areas could be fixed with the Clone Heal tool, but you had to spot the source area and make sure it’s inline with the destination. The Clone/Heal tool is amazing, but can take up precious time, sometimes speed is required.

In Photoshop CC 2014 an additional colour feature was added to the Content Aware tools in Photoshop. The colour feature now means that when the content aware tools are fixing area that contain gradients in tone, they can be tuned to recognise the colour shifts and take them into consideration, as part of the automatic fix.

Here is an example.

I’ve recently been scanning images into Lightroom from a 1995 cycling trip to Iceland. This particular image was taken on colour negative, and was taken in the North West of the island.

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There are a few things in the lower area that are not quite right and ideally need to be removed. For example, the shower block, the single tent and car, as well as the gravel path.

Of course getting rid of these areas is quite simple, however, if you notice there isn’t a lot of grass to clone from, also the tones in the potential candidates of grass are a combination of light and dark areas. This can cause us a problems, and cloning of these areas we need managing.

The Content Aware Patch tool (as well Content Aware Move and Extend, Edit / Fill (under colour adaptation)), have the capability to replace areas of content and examine and source/destination and attempt to match the colours, even if the source areas are darker or lighter than the destination (across a gradient).

In this first example it’s quite simple to replace the area of the three pipes with the ‘Content Aware Patch Tool’, as there are similar colours and textures around it. The structure value is set to 1 and the colour is set to 0. Notice that i’ve created an empty layer above the image and the ‘Sample All Layers’ is turned on. This technique will allow me to keep the file size nice and small (so the changes can be saved for future use/reference), as well as employing a non destructive editing technique. At any point in time, the empty layer can be adjusted using the standard layer controls (like opacity), or turned off. In the example, the area around the three black pipes has been selected for removal.

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When the selection is moved to an area near by, the contents are replaced.

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The same is applied to the concrete area between the three pipes and the shower block.

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Getting rid of the shower block is more tricky. The area is selected as previously, then another similar area is selected in the scene. However, the greens are not quite the same, they are tending to be darker or lighter in tonality.

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The first sample is taken from the left of the scene and the Content Aware Patch tool is set to Structure 1 and colour 0. The result of the patch doesn’t seem to fit in the scene very well, because the tones from the destination are different. New values in the structure and colour can be entered while the patch is still active, the contents will change once the processing has completed.

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If we increase the values of the Content Aware Patch to Structure 1 and colour 3, the patch is better and seems to blend in to the scene.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 20.52.20If we try a larger value in 7 in colour, the result isn’t great.

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From the samples above, the version for colour value 3 is selected. Additional blending can be made to using the Healing Brush tool and takes just a few seconds, this gives the realistic effect, which is what we are looking for.

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The other area that is tricky is the car and tent. The areas of water around it are light and dark and using a standard structure and colour configuration, the result will be very obvious (as shown below).

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A few changes of the structure and colour values can be tested. The values of structure 3 and colour 5 have been used to blend in the destination area.

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Other areas can be replaced using the same technique and sampling from different areas, and modifying the Structure and Colour values as appropriate.

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The gravel path can be replaced using one of couple of ways. One is to select it’s complete width and sample from a similar areas. If no other area is long enough, then the path patching can be broken up into multiple pieces. Also, the Content Aware Move and Extend have the Structure and Colour controls, so this tool can be used also.

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A few samples and a bit of trial error later using different techniques, but all based on the Structure and Colour controls result in a pretty good blended grassy area

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The resulting left area is still a little patchy and can be replaced with an area to the right of it. This sample is shown below. Using the Structure and Colour values (in this case 1 and 3) will give a reasonable patch.

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Now that the patches have been completed, it would be a shame to loose them. Of course some image editors don’t mind this. This image can be flattened and the modifications blended into a single image, or actually, my preference is to preserve the layers with a  non-destructive technique. I would convert the three layers to a Smart Object. To do this, select the layers that are to be placed into the Smart object, then right click on them and select ‘Convert to Smart Object’.


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Once completed, the image can be cropped and rotated into position (the horizon line is a little wonky).

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Now that the cropped image is within a Smart Object and the foreground is clean, the editing of the image can commence. Because I came into Photoshop from Lightroom, i’m not going to go back to Lightroom to complete the edit. I want to keep the adjustments in Photoshop, just in case i need to edit them later. If I go back into Lightroom, then the Lightroom adjustments will flatten the PSD.

To do this, i’m going to use the ‘Camera Raw Filter’ (available under the Photoshop menu / Filter / Camera Raw Filter.

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I can now work on the sky with a graduated filter and bringing the exposure down, exactly as I would in Lightroom.

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Of course the exposure comes into the mountain on the right hand side, therefore, i’m going to use the new brush control (marked in Yellow), that is available on both the radial and the graduated filter to customise the mask.

With the brush, new areas of mask can be selected by using the + (marked in pink) or can be removed by using the – brush (by default the brush is set to – (remove), and using the alt key, can be switched to +(add mask)).

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It’s always worth while checking the image for dust spots, or as this is a scan, hairs and scratch marks from the negative.

The Clone/Heal tool is available on the Camera Raw filter (marked red below). The visualise spots (marked in yellow), will allow seeing of any oddness (the slider next to the visualise spots check box is the tolerance slider and can be used to increase or decrease the frequency settings).

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The round mark (halo) that can be seen can be removed using the Clone/Heal tool. But i’m going to demonstrate the non-destructive quality of the Smart Object.

To do this, click OK and return to Photoshop and apply the Camera Raw adjustments. The area of concern is marked in Yellow below. To make the adjustment on the original layers (held within the Smart Object), double click the Smart Object layer, marked in red below.

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This will open the original layers into a new canvas, this contains the original layers.

To fix the area, I would create a new layer (marked purple), similar to the way that the original layers that hold the previous fixes were made. This new layer will contain any new fixes. The ‘Content Aware Patch’ tool is selected (marked in red), then the area (yellow) is selected and replaced. A low Structure and Colour value are used to make sure that the new area blends seamlessly into the original position.

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Once completed, just a save and a close of the canvas, this will update the original layer. Any adjustments will be sent to the canvas and if there are any Smart Objects, and filters, they will be updated as part of this process.

You can see that in just a 20 minute process, the image looks completely different from the original version that came from the scan.

Fixed Version

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Original image

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With a final touch of Black and White and a custom Platinum tone, the image can be turned into a moody Black and White image.

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