Today’s Question: Why is there a “Content-Aware” checkbox on the Options bar for the Crop tool? I thought that was only a feature for image cleanup tools like the Spot Healing Brush.
Tim’s Quick Answer: The Content-Aware option for the Crop tool makes it possible to have Photoshop fill in empty areas created if you expand or transform the crop beyond the existing image area, causing empty areas to be added to the canvas. With the Content-Aware checkbox turned on, those areas will be filled in automatically using the content-aware technology that we typically associate with the image cleanup tools in Photoshop.
More Detail: The content-aware technology in Photoshop is something you may only associate with the image cleanup tools, since cleaning up blemishes in an image represents one of the greatest advantages of the content-aware technology. However, this same capability is also available with the Crop tool.
Typically, cropping is a process that involves removing pixels from an image. You might crop to cut out an unwanted area of a photo, or to match a specific aspect ratio wanted for printing or other forms of sharing a photo. However, you can also extend the crop box beyond the boundary of a photo to add additional space to the image.
In addition, you can apply perspective correction and other transformation adjustments with the Crop tool, causing the overall image to no longer be rectangular in shape. In this case, there is also a chance you may want to have the crop box extend beyond the existing edge of the photo, in order to maintain certain areas within the image that would otherwise be cropped out.
If a crop results in empty areas beyond the existing image area, by default those areas will either be filled with the current background color or with transparency, depending on whether you’re working on a Background versus normal image layer and depending on whether the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox on the Options bar is turned on.
You can have Photoshop fill those “new” areas of the image automatically using the content-aware image cleanup technology by turning on the “Content-Aware” checkbox before applying the crop.
Note that this approach doesn’t provide you with the most flexibility in your workflow, which can be problematic if the additional pixels created by the content-aware feature don’t blend in especially well in the image. Therefore, you might instead consider cropping with the Content-Aware checkbox turned off, and then create a selection of the empty area of the image and use the Content-Aware Fill command (Edit > Content-Aware Fill) to fill that area with greater control and flexibility, including the option to have the pixels created by this process placed on a separate image layer.