Photoshop's content-aware fill: Adobe plays God with photos

Adobe's new image-processing feature for Photoshop CS5 drops jaws with its ability to remove objects and build landscapes

Patrick Steen Special to CNET News
2 min read

Adobe demonstrates what high-powered image processing can really achieve with a new Photoshop feature -- Content-Aware Fill. In what many thought was an early April Fools, the technology removes objects and seamlessly fills in the background.

Image retouching is synonymous with Photoshop, but it's always been a manual job that requires not only skill but also countless man hours. In a work of engineering wizardry, Adobe has solved this problem for experienced and casual image editors alike.

Bryan O'Neil Hughes, Adobe Photoshop product manager, presents a sneak peak of the new tool in a YouTube video (shown below) that's taken the Internet by storm. It almost looks too good to be true.

"One of the biggest requests we get of Photoshop is to make adding, removing, moving or repairing items faster and more seamless," Hughes explains. "From retouching to completely reimagining an image, here's an early glimpse of what could happen in the future when you press the delete key."

Deleting trees to replace them with background scenery, and substituting an entire road with bordering desert shrubbery, the latest addition to Photoshop transforms the traditionally time-consuming into the realms of the novice.

The technology works by analysing multiple textures from an object's surroundings and then stitches these together once the aggravating entity has been removed. There's clearly a very complex algorithm badgering away in the background, but its secrets will remain in the giant heads of Adobe's engineers. Shadows, lens flare and (dare we say) watermarks can be erased with ease. Fast-forward to 2:50 for the real jaw-erasing moment.

This isn't the first time we've experienced such a tool. The open-source photo-editing program GIMP has been home to a similar plug-in since 2007. Developed by Paul Harrison, Resynthesizer similarly deletes objects and replaces them with background textures. In testing, this technology isn't quite as effective as what's shown in the Photoshop preview above, but that's the price you pay for free software.

Content-aware fill is not yet confirmed for the next iteration of Photoshop, but we're getting ready to retouch our photos and burn Adobe wizards at the stake when Photoshop CS5 arrives on 12 April.