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Resizing Just Parts of Your Image Using “Content-Aware” Scaling

We’ve all run into situations where our image is a little smaller than the area where we need it to fit. For example, if you resize a digital camera image so it fits within a traditional 8x10" image area, you’ll have extra space either above or below your image (or both). That’s where Content-Aware Scaling comes in—it lets you resize one part of your image, while keeping the important parts intact (basically, it analyzes the image and stretches, or shrinks, parts of the image it thinks aren’t as important). Here’s how to use it:

Step One:

Create a new document at 8x10" and 240 ppi. Open a digital camera image, get the Move tool (V), and drag-and-drop it onto the new document, then press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform (if you can’t see all the handles, press Command-0 [zero; PC: Ctrl-0]). Press-and-hold the Shift key, then grab a corner point and drag inward to scale the image down, so it fits within the 8x10" area (as shown here on top), and press Return (PC: Enter). Now, in the image on top, there’s white space above and below the photo. If you want it to fill the 8x10 space, you could use Free Transform to stretch the image to do so, but you’d get a stretched version of the jet (seen at bottom). This is where Content-Aware Scale comes in.

Step Two:

Go under the Edit menu and choose Content-Aware Scale (or press Command-Option-Shift-C [PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-C]). Grab the top handle, drag straight upward, and notice that it stretches the sky upward, but pretty much leaves the jet intact. Grab the bottom handle and drag downward, and it again stretches the sky. When you’ve dragged far enough, press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in your change. (Note: The button that looks like a person in the Options Bar tells Content-Aware Scale that there are people in the photo, so it tries to avoid stretching anything with a skin tone.)

Step Three:

There are two more controls you need to know about: First, if you try Content-Aware Scale and it stretches your subject more than you want, get the Lasso tool (L) and draw a selection around your subject (as shown here), then go under the Select menu and choose Save Selection. When the Save Selection dialog appears, just click OK and press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect. Then bring up Content-Aware Scale again, but this time, go up in the Options Bar and choose your selection from the Protect pop-up menu (as shown here) to tell Photoshop where your subject is. Now you can drag up or down to fill the empty space with the least possible stretching.

Step Four:

There’s also an Amount control up in the Options Bar, which determines how much stretching protection is provided. At its default of 100%, it’s protecting as much as possible. At 50%, it’s a mix of protected resizing and regular Free Transform, and for some photos that works best. The nice thing is the Amount control is live, so as long as your handles are still in place, you can lower the Amount and see live onscreen how it affects your resizing.

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