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Improving a Composition using Content Aware Move in Photoshop CS6

You may have utilized Photoshop's excellent range of content aware edit features such as Scale and Replace in the past. Now with CS6 Adobe has gone one better. In this article I’m going to show you how to enhance the composition of an image using the new Content Aware Move feature. 


Step 1 - Make a Selection

Start off by making a fairly loose selection around an object or subject in an image that you wish to move. 

The selection is made.

The selection is made.


You don’t want to be fussy about keeping the selection tight around the subject, this tool really needs some room to breath. The Lasso tool (press L) should be more than adequate for this job.


Step 2 - Modify the selection a little

With the marching ants around the selection, it’s worth modifying the selection a little, to make sure you have a good enough selection for the job. 

Modify the selection.

Modify the selection.


Choose Select > Refine Edge or press Option-Command-R to open the refine edge window. Adjust the Shift Edge and Smoothness parameters to take away any tight edges where your subject and the selection are close. Click OK to exit this mode.


Step 3 - Make the Move

Select the Content Aware Move tool, you will find it in the same menu as the Spot Healing Brush and Patch tool etc. Or keep pressing J until it appears. 

The Content Aware Move tool.

The Content Aware Move tool.


Grab the selected area and drag the subject to a more appropriate position for the photos composition. In my case I want the horse to be a lot more central. When you release the tool Photoshop will begin to analyze the move. This might take some time, depending on the complexity of the image, hardware spec, etc. 


Step 4 - Step back and Admire

Once completed, the selected area will have moved, and Photoshop will hopefully have replaced its original position with pixels appropriate to the subject, so as you’d never know it had been moved. Hopefully!

The horse is moved.

The horse is moved.


The tool wont always work, sometimes odd areas can appear due to the random placement of background pixels created by Photoshop. Don’t be surprised if fingers or toes appear from no-where for example. If this does happen, there are things you can do. 


Step 5 - Change Adaptation

In the Control Panel at the top of the Image Window, there is a drop-dropdown menu called Adaptation. 

Adaptation > Very Strict

Adaptation > Very Strict


This allows you to change how Photoshop analyzes the move. Very Strict tightens up the pixels spread, which can be more accurate for the image, but can cause more of those oddities to appear. Very Loose on the other hand is far more random and while it can hide oddities, you are more likely to see a far less accurate result in terms of the image quality. 


Step 6 - If at first you Don’t succeed....

...try and try again. If step 5 still doesn’t fix any problems, go back through the History Panel to the Lasso Selection and try tightening, or slackening the selection you made. Then try again. Eventually you should get something that works. 

Of course that is assuming your background isn’t just too complex or detailed to begin with. You will find the tool always works best with generic, non-patterned backgrounds like Grass, Sky, Trees, Sand etc. Not a room full of people or buildings. They can be too challenging. Give it a go, you will soon get the idea!


David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.

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