Today’s Question: Crop is an indispensable feature, and the rotate feature usually has crop built in. But sometimes I don’t want to crop when I rotate, and sometimes I want to reposition the object of the photo creating white space at the edge, or even expand the borders in all directions. Is there a software function that will automatically back fill the white space? Else I need to use the Clone Stamp tool to add sky, trees, mountains, or whatever is in the background.
Tim’s Quick Answer: There are a couple of options I would recommend in Photoshop. These are the Content Aware Fill, and manually duplicating a relatively large area of pixels.
More Detail: The first option is more automatic, but the results can be a bit mixed. First, be sure that when you are using the Crop tool that you turn off the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox on the Options bar. This will ensure you can always use the “Reveal All” command found on the Edit menu to expand the canvas so that all pixels in the image are visible.
Next, create a copy of the Background image layer by dragging the thumbnail for that layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will create a Background Copy layer that you can use as the basis of the Content Aware Fill technique.
Now you can create a selection in the “blank” areas created when you rotated the image without cropping into the image. I recommend working with one side of the image at a time to help improve the overall results. With a selection active you can then choose Edit > Fill from the menu. In the Fill dialog choose “Content Aware” from the Contents popup. I also recommend turning on the “Color Adaptation” checkbox to improve color rendering. Click OK and the selected area will be filled with pixels taken from the image.
The quality of results with Content Aware Fill can vary considerably. Sometimes it works great, and sometimes not so great. Keep in mind, however, that you can use other tools such as the Clone Stamp and the Spot Healing Brush to improve upon the results without too much effort.
When the Content Aware Fill approach doesn’t work very well you can use a more “manual” approach to filling in the empty areas of the image. Start by creating a selection of an area that would represent a good fill for the empty area. Then choose Layer > New > Layer via Copy from the menu, or press Ctrl+J on Windows or Command+J on Macintosh. This will duplicate the selected pixels onto a new layer. Use the Move tool to drag that new layer into position to cover up part of the empty portion of the image. You can then use a layer mask to blend areas in, and employ the Clone Stamp and Spot Healing Brush tools to perform additional cleanup work on a separate layer.
The various “automated” capabilities for image cleanup in Photoshop can provide you with a great starting point, though in many cases you’ll still need to perform additional work to produce a satisfactory result. Fortunately, a combination of “automatic” and “manual” approaches can minimize the amount of time and effort required to produce great results.