Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Scale and Content Aware Move


Speaking Photoshop

This article is an excerpt from Speaking Photoshop CS6 by Dave Bate.

You can also download this excerpt as a PDF.

Content Aware Scale

Photoshop’s Content Aware Scale makes it possible for you to scale an image disproportionately without distorting the main subject. How could Photoshop possibly know which pixels represent the main subject and which ones represent the less important background area? You have to hand it to those Photoshop software engineers!

Content Aware Scale works by attempting to scale areas void of detail, while protecting areas of detail. There are three different ways that you can apply Content Aware Scale. Let’s take a look at each and compare them to normal scaling.

To illustrate, I’ll use this photo of two pretty girls (you can follow along with a similiar image of your own). I’ll duplicate the Background layer four times by typing Command+J/Control+J. I’ll name the first layer Normal Scale, the second Content Aware Scale, the third Skin Protect, and the fourth Alpha Protect.

This is a nice photo, but we want it to be wider for a brochure layout.

Add to the Canvas size. Let’s say we want our photo to be 15 inches wide to extend across a two-page spread for a brochure we’re working on. The first thing we have to do is add to the canvas size. Choose Image > Canvas Size from the Main menu or type Option+Command+C/Alt+Control+C to access the Canvas Size dialog box. Click in the left column of the Anchor proxy, uncheck the Relative check box, and enter 15 Inches in the Width field. Click OK, and we now have room to grow on the right side. At this point, we could go to work cloning more background, but that would be very time consuming. Let’s see if scaling the image can save us some time.


Use Canvas Size to change the width to 15 inches.

Scale using Free Transform. Click the Normal Scale layer to select it, and turn off all the eyeballs above it, so we can see it. Type Command+T/Control+T to enter Free Transform mode and drag the right center handle to the edge of the canvas. Hit Return/Enter to accept the transform and look at the results.


Drag the right center handle to the edge of the canvas.

Granted, those two girls are still really cute, but you could find yourself in trouble for scaling people like that. It’s certainly not an acceptable solution. Turn off the eyeball.


Enlarging the width without enlarging the height makes everything appear too wide.

Scale using Content Aware Scale. Click the Content Aware layer and choose Edit > Content Aware Scale from the Main menu. Drag the right center handle, as you did before, to the edge of the canvas.

That’s better—in parts anyway—but it’s still far from acceptable. Notice the improvement in the detail areas, such as the girls’ faces and the breakwater. Unfortunately that pink blouse really took a hit. We could bring it into better proportion by reducing the Amount value in the Options bar. Amount controls the degree to which Content Aware technology is applied.

Reducing the Amount reduces the effectiveness of Content Aware. At 0%, it is identical to normal transform scaling.

Content Aware Scale helped the girls’ faces but at the expense of other areas.

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Editor in Chief of CreativePro. Instructor at LinkedIn Learning with courses on InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, GIMP, Inkscape, and Affinity Publisher.
  • adolf witzeling says:

    Great post!

  • Julian C says:

    This is a super post, the instructions are just so clear. So many other PS tuts assume the user knows more than they really do, and so are rather hard to follow. really enjoyed this, so thanks a million.

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