Smarter Content Aware Fill in Photoshop

Smarter Content Aware Fill in Photoshop



If you’re like me, you’ve tried out the new Content Aware Fill feature in Photoshop CS5 and you’ve been left just a little bit disappointed.

What Content Aware Fill does is to replace unwanted areas of an image in a smart way. It can reduce the amount of time you spend working with the Clone Stamp and other fixing tools when you have something you need to get rid of in an image. However, where the Content Aware Fill feature appears to fail is when you want to remove a large portion of an image – those very times you wish it would work perfectly.

Well, last week I learned a cool technique to use with Content Aware Fill that solves these problems, thanks to Adobe’s Bryan Hughes. So here’s a way to make Content Aware Fill behave a whole lot smarter.

In this balloon image, if I want to remove the trees at the bottom of the image, I would make a selection around them with, for example, the Lasso tool.


Then, in Photoshop CS5 – even though the bottom layer of the image is a Background layer I would press Delete to open the Fill dialog. Here I can choose Use: Content Aware Fill and press Enter to have Photoshop remove the trees for me.


The problem is, that as often as not, part of one or more balloons will appear in the filled area. What I want is blue sky and not balloons. I could repeat the “Select and Delete” process until the image looks as I want it to but there is an alternative way to use the Content Aware fill feature. This way of working is great when you are trying to remove a large object and where there is not a lot of clean image data for Photoshop to use to do the fill with.


This solution involves removing any part of the image I don’t want the content aware fill feature to use – here that is the balloons – temporarily leaving only the content I want it to use – here that is blue sky. To do this I converted the background layer to a regular layer by double clicking it and pressing Enter.

Then I added a layer mask using Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All and painted on the mask in black to remove the balloons – a hard edge brush is a good choice here.


Now I’ve reselected the image – not the mask – and made a selection around the trees again using the Lasso tool. Pressing Delete this time won’t work – it just deletes the selection so, instead, I need to press Shift + F5 or choose Edit > Fill to open the Fill dialog. Make sure that Use: is set to Content Aware and click Ok.


This time Photoshop uses only the visible content to fill the area and because the balloons aren’t visible they aren’t used to fill the area when the trees are removed.

Once you are done, you can bring back the balloons by dragging and dropping the layer mask into the trashcan – select Delete when prompted so you remove the mask – don’t apply it.



Now the content aware fill tool works as you would expect it to – allowing you to remove large portions of an image and have the area filled in an intelligent way.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Sean Chandler October 13, 2012 02:16 am

    Nice trick - thanks - that saved me a bunch of cloning and healing on a job

  • Muhilan March 16, 2012 11:20 pm

    A nice, super and excellent tool for the background edit purpose.
    Thanks Photoshop crew...

  • Wedding Photographer Perth February 14, 2012 09:22 pm

    Great new feature.

  • Teresa November 16, 2011 01:02 pm

    Thank you, thank you , thank you! After reading several "how to's', yours is the easiest one to follow! Love your site; it has been very helpful to me. One thing is for sure; content aware has made me to be more "composition aware" on my next time out!! But for now, your help has been fantastic!

  • Jack September 29, 2011 09:02 am

    old stuff .. russel brown from adobe showed that when cs5 was release.

  • david September 24, 2011 07:15 am

    Even if it is a trick, it works.

    I tried this tip on a complex photo, and it replaced about 98% of the area, much better reslt than standard Content Aware.

  • david September 24, 2011 07:04 am

    This is not so much a "Smarter Content Aware" but a way to trick Content Aware. I do not see how PS could determine that some Content was OK to use but other Content was not.

    However, it is a good way to force a desired result.

  • Jerry September 23, 2011 09:50 am

    Thanks very much for sharing this tip. I really appreciate it!

  • Mike Bing (NewMikey) September 22, 2011 08:38 pm

    Very cool technique indeed. May I mention this also works perfectly on Resynthesizer's "Heal selection" script in the Gimp? Resynthesizer actually is the technique behind Photoshop's content aware fill as well so the two are pretty comparable.

    Thanks for bringing this up, very helpful indeed!

  • Jill September 22, 2011 07:55 pm

    I was struggling with this just yesterday then came across this advice - thank you! The content aware fill is great but it is very frustrating when it doesn't seem very aware...

  • Green Screen Photography September 22, 2011 07:11 pm

    Hey Helen, it was an excellent tip you have suggested here in your blog. I always enjoy working on the Photoshop; it is amazing to see your idea coming up as a picture. You need to be a bit creative when you work on Photoshop. If you know all the function in the Photoshop then it is fun to work on it. Anyway thank you for sharing this with us and I think this tip will be helpful for the beginners in the field of photography.

  • Andy Lim September 22, 2011 05:22 pm

    Fantastic tip! That's a huge time saver.

  • Marisa September 22, 2011 09:24 am

    This makes perfect sense. I've been struggling with this same issue and getting frustrated that I spent so much money for something that only sort of works. I'm so happy to have a work-around. Thank you for sharing!

  • Helen Bradley September 22, 2011 08:27 am


    I agree with you at one level and I actually mentioned that method in my article.

    However, that solution won't work every time and, where you have only a small amount of area that is usable fill and a large object to remove, it could take a long time repeatedly selecting and deleting.

    On the other hand, if you recognize ahead of time from experience that just selecting and deleting is probably going to fail to work on a particular image, then this method will works very well in comparison. It's just another tool for your Photoshop armory.


  • craig September 22, 2011 06:14 am

    Why not just re-lasso the remaining piece of balloon..and content-aware fill a second time..poof its gone...

  • Justin September 22, 2011 02:27 am

    Photoshop's content aware is really not aware of content when you have to do special tricks to get it to work...
    Ive gone this route to get content aware to work correctly too as well though

  • Lori September 22, 2011 02:10 am

    I have encountered this problem several times and you just made it ALOT easier for me now. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this tutorial.