How To Use Content-Aware Fill In Photoshop

Content-aware fill is one of the easiest ways to remove unwanted objects from your images in Photoshop. By scanning other areas of your photo, Photoshop will automatically sample and replace your unwanted pixels based on a selected area.

To use Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop, create a selection around the object you wish to remove. Then go to Edit > Fill and set the Contents to Content-Aware. This will quickly remove the selected area from the photo. For more options, go Edit > Content-Aware fill to open the Content-Aware window.

The Content-Aware Fill allows you to select the pixels for Photoshop to blend into the area you want to cover up. This method lets you see the blended pixels in real-time to find the perfect blend for the area you are covering. Use this method to cover up objects on simple backgrounds when you want control over how the results will look.

What Is Content-Aware Fill In Photoshop?

Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop is a method to remove unwanted objects or distracting areas in images. The process requires you to make a selection around the area you want to replace. Then, Photoshop uses the surrounding pixels to replace the selected area.

This method gives you control over which pixels Photoshop uses to replace the selected area. The program then expertly blends the pixels to make it look natural. This method also lets you see the new blended pixels in real-time, allowing you to change the sample pixels until you are satisfied with the result.

All the tools used for the Content-Aware Fill are in a separate workspace where you can edit these elements separately. You have more options in this workspace, such as changing your initial selection, creating new selections after filling an area, and even mirroring content.

Once you have removed your object, you can continue to remove more areas or accept the changes and move back to the original workspace. 

When applying the edits, you can choose a few different options to add the changes to your image non-destructively. Then, you can open the workspace again at any stage and continue removing areas or fixing up your previous edits.

The Content-Aware Fill command is best for removing objects from an image when the colors and textures of the photo are relatively consistent. Photos with complex backgrounds, colors, and textures will create problems when Photoshop blends the pixels into the new area, leading to undesirable results.

How To Use Content-Aware Fill To Remove Objects In Photoshop

The Content-Aware Fill command is relatively easy to use, and once you know the various tools and settings, you can try it out on any image. Start with a simple image that doesn’t have a complex background to get the best results. 

You can try it out on more complex backgrounds, but you may need to use the Clone Stamp Tool afterward to fix areas that Photoshop didn’t get quite correct. Here is how to use the Content-Aware Fill to remove objects in an image.

As always, open your image in Photoshop. You don’t need to duplicate your image layer because you can add the changes to a separate layer from the Content-Aware Fill workspace.

When using the Content-Aware Fill command, you need to make a selection around the object or element you want to remove from the image. Depending on what you select, you can use any selection tool to select the area.

Firstly, the Marquee Selection Tools will allow you to select an area using an exact shape: a square, circle, rectangle, or oval.

The Lasso Tools give you more flexibility when making a selection as you simply draw around an object or area to make a selection. The Magnetic Lasso Tool will snap to edges to create a more precise selection.

The Quick Selection Tools give a quick solution to make specific selections. The Object Selection Tool picks up the object in a predefined area, the Quick Selection Tool snaps to the edges of an object you brush over, and the Magic Wand Tool picks up similar colors and tones to the pixels you select.

Removing An Object Using The Content-Aware Fill Command

Now, you have two options when removing an object with Content-Aware Fill. For this first example, let’s remove the branch in the background.

Start by making a selection of the branch. Since the tree branch doesn’t have well-defined edges, the Lasso Tool will work well here. Select the Lasso Tool (L) from the toolbar.

Then, make a rough selection around the tree branch in the background. The selection doesn’t need to be precise because the area in the background is relatively blurred, making removing objects much more effortless.

With the area selected head to Edit > Fill or press Shift + F5 (Win/Mac).

In the Fill window, use the Contents drop-down menu to select Content-Aware and ensure you check the box next to Color Adaptation. The Mode should stay on Normal and the Opacity at 100%. Click OK to apply the fill.

Once the Fill is applied, press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to deselect the area. Then, clean up any inconsistencies using the Healing Brush Tool, and the object will be removed.

Remove An Object Using The Content-Aware Fill Workspace

When removing more complex objects or areas of an image, you will need to open the Content-Aware Fill workspace. The workspace gives you more control over which sample pixels Photoshop uses to replace the selected area. In the previous example, we avoided using this workspace.

Just like previously, start by selecting the object you want to remove. In this case, I will be removing the bird on the right. Since it is a more complex subject and requires a more precise selection, I will use the Object Selection Tool (W).

Create the selection by clicking and dragging to draw a block around the object.

Once you release the mouse, Photoshop will detect the object’s edges within the block and create a neat selection around it.

However, the selection should be slightly away from the object’s edges when using the Content-Aware Fill command. Otherwise, you will get a halo effect around where the object was after adding the fill.

To move the selection away from the object, head to Select > Modify > Expand.

In the Expand Selection window, add how many pixels you want to expand the selection by then click OK. For this example, I will expand the selection by 20 pixels

After expanding the selection, you will notice the marching ants pattern that indicates the selection sits slightly away from the object.

To open the Content-Aware Fill workspace and begin removing the object, navigate to Edit > Content-Aware Fill.

The Content-Aware Fill workspace will open with tools available on the left-hand side and settings on the right. In the middle left panel, the image has an overlay showing which sample pixels Photoshop has chosen to use to replace the object. The middle-right window shows a preview of how the image will look with the new pixels added.

The Content-Aware Fill Workspace Settings

You can change various settings in the workspace and use the available tools to create a more precise blend of the new pixels.

  • You can adjust how the sampled pixels are shown in the Sampling Area Overlay section in the right-hand side panel.
  • You can choose to show the sampling area overlay by checking or unchecking the box next to Show Sampling Area
  • You can then adjust the overlay’s Opacity to determine how much of the image shows through the overlay.

Next, choose the overlay color and whether it indicates the Sampling Area or the Excluded Area in the drop-down menu next to Indicates.

Next is the Sampling Area Options section, which lets you choose how the sampled pixels are selected. The option is set to Auto by default to automatically allow Photoshop to choose the sample pixels. You can also set it to form a rectangle around the object by selecting Rectangular or selecting Custom to select your own sample pixels using the Sampling Brush Tool.

If you are working with multiple layers, you will have the option to check the box next to Sample All Layers to choose pixels from all the layers in the document when selecting the sample pixels.

The Fill Settings section allows you to control how much focus is put on certain elements when sampling pixels for the area you are replacing.

The Color Adaptation option tells Photoshop how much of the surrounding colors to blend with the replacement pixels. You can choose between None, Default, High, or Very High. Since this example has different colors in the image’s background, I will set it to High.

The Rotation Adaptation option will tell the program to consider round or curved edges.

Checking Rotation Adaptation will help Photoshop blend the pixels into the round shape without distorting it. You can choose between None, Low, Medium, High, or Full.

Then Scale considers shapes of various sizes when replacing pixels, such as a brick wall. Lastly, the Mirror option works by copying pixels as reflections when replacing pixels in a symmetrical pattern.

Using The Content-Aware Fill Workspace

Then to begin using the Content-Aware Fill command, we need to look at the settings on the left-hand side, which are, in order:

  • The Sampling Brush Tool lets you adjust the sample pixels used to replace the object. 
  • You can use the Lasso Tool to make a new selection or fix up the current selection you have made. 
  • The Hand Tool lets you move the images around.
  • The Zoom Tool lets you magnify areas of the image.

When the Sampling Brush Tool is selected, you can adjust the Brush Size at the top of the workspace and select the circle with the plus sign icon to add to the overlay or the circle with the minus sign to subtract from the selection, holding in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) while brushing also activates the Subtract from overlay option.

Since the image preview with the bird removed doesn’t look quite right, I want to remove some parts of the overlay. With the Sampling Brush Tool selected and the Subtract from overlay area chosen, I will brush over the area of the other bird and the darker area at the top to remove these pixels from the sample.

Then selecting the Add to overlay area icon at the top, I will add to the sample area to include some of the greenery from the top right of the image.

As you add to or subtract from the overlay area, you will notice that the image in the preview panel adjusts with every change you make. The preview panel lets you see how the new pixels are replaced in real-time. You can then adjust the sample pixels until you are satisfied with the new image.

Applying The Changes To The Image

Once you are happy with how the preview looks, you can adjust the Output Settings and apply the changes. At the bottom of the right-hand panel, select the drop-down menu next to Output To.

If you are working on a duplicated layer, you can select Current Layer to ensure you save the changes on the layer you were initially working on. In this case, I was working on the background layer, so I will select New Layer, which will create a new layer with the changes so I can work non-destructively. You can also choose to save the changes on a Duplicate Layer.

Once you set the output, click OK to apply the changes to the image. If you want to remove more objects, you can click Apply and then make new selections to continue working.

Once you are in the Photoshop workspace, press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to remove the selection, you will now have your image with the objects removed.

Reasons Why Content-Aware Fill Isn’t Working & How To Fix It

There are a few reasons why Content-Aware Fill might not work, and luckily there are simple solutions to fix the problems.

1. No Selection Is Made

If you open the Edit menu to select the Content-Aware Fill command and it’s grayed out, you won’t be able to open the workspace. 

A common reason for this is that you have not made a selection yet. You will need to use any selection tools to create a new selection before opening the workspace. Once inside the workspace, you can always correct the selection or make a new selection using the Lasso Tool.

2. The Wrong Layer Is Selected

You can’t use Content-Aware Fill on all types of layers, so if you have made a selection and the option is still grayed out in the edit menu, check the layer you are working on.

This command doesn’t work on adjustment layers or smart objects. You will need to select a new layer, duplicate the background layer, or rasterize the layer to use Content-Aware Fill.

3. Working On A Blank Layer

If you have created the selection and then added a new layer to work on, you will be able to open the Content-Aware Fill workspace. However, you may encounter an issue where the preview panel shows a blank canvas.

If this is the case, you may also be met with an error message when opening the workspace.

In this case, select a different layer to work on. You could also check the box next to Sample All Layers in the right-hand panel to continue editing on the current layer.

Now that you’ve mastered how to use Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop, there are three other tools you should know about when removing objects. I share what these tools are and the steps to learn how to use them in my guide to removing objects in Photoshop.

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. You can view my photography portfolio here.

These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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