About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Content Aware Fill , More Photoshop "Magic"

There is no question, learning Adobe’s Photoshop can be an intimidating endeavor.  The program is so imposing and powerful that many are frightened away before even trying.  It took me several books and courses before I felt that I could begin to use at a small part of this amazing tool.  The fact is that Photoshop is so deep that, I suspect that no one person can fully understand it all.

Chesterfield Donkey
My approach has always been to decide what I wanted to do for my images, and then discover how to use the parts of Photoshop which would help accomplish that goal.  I didn’t worry about everything that Photoshop can do, just those things that I can use.

Of course, when starting, there are a few basic tools that are important to understand.  Importing images, layers, selections and the basic image controls are essential, but what about all that other stuff.  You can go a long way without having to worry about, HDR, panoramic merging, and split toning, but it’s nice to know that all these tools are there just waiting for you to explore – when needed.

One of these tools, which is fairly new, is Content Aware Fill.  Like many of the new tools, Content Aware Fill (CAF) just provides an easier way to do something that you could do before.  It has always been possible to use the Cloning Tool to fill unwanted areas of an image with pixels taken from other parts of the image, or even from another image.  This can be arduous, as you try to find areas that blend seamlessly with the underlying content and texture.  The cloning brush is still an essential tool, but given the right situation, Content Aware Fill can use the amazing computational power of Photoshop to automate a large portion of the job.

Content Aware Fill

In the Edit drop-down menu, Photoshop provides a list of options to fill an area of an image.  A selection can be filled with the current foreground or background color, a pattern or any color you choose.  This is also where the content aware tool is found.  After creating a selection around an unwanted area of the image (eg my face), Content Aware Fill will attempt to fill the area with pixels from around the selection.  It works to blend the fill with the surroundings.  It doesn’t always work perfectly, but often the results are almost magical.  Typically, the filled area can benefit from a bit of touching up with the Cloning Brush or the Healing Brush. I thought of this as I was working on a picture of a pasture lane in Chesterfield.

Pasture Lane
The Leaning Lane
Recently, I was visiting a friend’s farm down a backroad in Chesterfield New Hampshire.  In addition to becoming reacquainted with their semi-friendly donkey, I got a nice shot looking up the pasture lane which reminded me of the power of the Content Aware Tool.  The picture had all the essentials, beautiful light, a nice fence and road all leading to the border tree and even a distant tractor.  Great! But when I got home, I realized that all of my focus stacked images were significantly rotated clockwise. I could just hear the donkey laughing, but, hey, this is digital, all I had to do was rotate the image back to plumb.  A 5.5 deg counter-clockwise rotation brought everything back to normal, but the process left me with four triangular areas of vacant space at each of the corners.

Curing the Triangular Transparencies
My choices were simple, I could either crop out the areas of transparency, use cloning to fill the spaces or do some combination of the two.  I wanted to keep most of the full image, so cloning was the obvious solution.  All of this could be achieved with careful use of the cloning brush, but it was the perfect situation to start with Content Aware Fill.

Fill Menu
I started working on a fresh pixel layer to preserve the original layer and then by selected one of the spaces.  On this picture, selection was easy to do.  On these geometric shapes, I find that the Polygonal Lasso Tool works well.  It is generally good to expand the selection slightly into the surrounding pixels.  I typically use “Modify” “Expand” adding about 5 to 15 Pixels, depending on the size of the selection.    I then pulled up the Content Aware Fill option under the Edit drop-down menu.  

Filled Triangle

The Content Aware Tool has a few options.  “Color Adaptation” should be checked to improve the color blending of the patch.  Since I was filling an area of transparency, the most important thing in this case is to leave the “Preserve Transparency” box unchecked.  Otherwise none of the area will be filled.   I hit “Ok” and waited for the magic. 
Duplicate Fence Post
 In this case the results were generally quite good requiring only a little cloning touch-ups, but the CAF tool works randomly each time and, if you don’t like the results you can always try again. 

As you review the results of the fill, it is important to look for areas where surrounding detail has been noticeably copied into the patch.  This can be seen in the upper left where a fence pole was clearly duplicated.  A little cloning easily removed the obvious defect, but sometime the duplications can be more subtle.  A careful examination is always a good idea.

Madame Sherri’s Hat
Madame Sherri at the Ball 1920s
Like most of Photoshop’s new “magic” tools CAF is not quite as magic as it is suggested in Adobe’s press releases.   CAF does not work in all situations and almost always requires some amount of clean-up to reach the best result.  An example of this can be seen in my article about repairing antique photographs.  The absent area of curtain was first filled with CAF, but the folds did not align with the rest of the material.  With the cloning brush I was able to smooth out the lines to make a more even match.  We can see that Madame Sherri really knew her hats!

Content Aware Fill - Poor Alignment

CAF and Cloned Touch-up

Parrish Shoes

The fictitious Parrish Shoes sign was painted on a wall in downtown Keene NH for the filming of the movie “Jumangi”.  Since then, the town has elected to keep, and regularly refresh, the sign as a local attraction. 

I recently shot the spot from the perspective of the shoes, but of course I couldn’t avoid at least one person waiting at the crosswalk. With the woman against the brick wall, CAF didn’t do a great job.  The brick kept bleeding into the patch.  I tried it a few times, but eventually found it easier to use the Cloning brush.

Bleeding with Content Aware Filll

That’s it.  One of the confusing things about Photoshop is that there is almost always more than one way to achieve the same result.  The challenge is to choose the right tool or tools for the situation.  As you use the CAF tool you will begin to recognize situations where it will work well and other where the surrounding detail may get blended uncomfortably with the result. In these situations, “Content Aware Patch” can provide a bit more control over the sampling area.  But that is a subject for another article and, of course, you can always go back to the good old Cloning Brush.

Jeffrey Newcomer

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