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Content-aware scaling is the new feature in Photoshop CS4 that has the biggest wow factor. The idea behind Content-Aware Scaling is that it can scale the size of an image while preserving its important content. So, why would you want to do that? Well, it's a great way to change the orientation of a photo. For example, here I have a horizontal photograph and I'd like to turn it into a vertical. But I don't want to just crop away this side because I want to keep the tree here to frame the boy. So, here is how I would go about using content-aware scaling to make this horizontal photo into a vertical one.
First of all, let me show you what doesn't work. I found that on many images this feature doesn't work perfectly right out of the box, but there are ways to give it a little help. So, let's see what it does without any help first. The first thing I need to do is go to my Layers panel and I see that I have a special background layer there. That's a layer that's locked. So, I need to unlock that by double- clicking the word Background, accepting the new name, and clicking OK. Now I can go to the Edit menu and choose Content-Aware Scale.
This gives me these anchor points all around the image. I will click on the anchor point on the far left and I'll start to move toward the boy. And you can see right away that it is not respecting the boy's face or his body, which are all getting squeezed unmercifully. So, that doesn't work right out of the box on this particular image. I'm going to click the cancel sign here and I'm going to see if the feature that preserves skin tones will help. So again, I'm going to the Edit menu and down to Content-Aware Scale. Here in the Options bar, I see a picture of a person and if I click that, Content-Aware Scale makes an effort to protect skin tones, like the boy's face here.
So, let's see what happens this time. If I click on the anchor point and drag to the right... So far so good. His face actually is being protected, but look what's happening to his right arm. Not good. So, that's not going to work. What else can I do? I can make an alpha mask that protects just the parts that I want to keep, and I've found that that's the best way to use this feature. I'm going to go to the cancel icon again, and before I try to scale again, I'm going to get my Quick Selection tool and I'm going to run it over the boy.
I've got a little bit too much there, so I'll press the Option key on a Mac, the Alt key on the PC and get a little bit better selection. And I'll add in his hand and the book. It doesn't have to be a perfect selection. It just has to define the area that I want to protect. Now, I'm going to turn this selection into what's called an alpha mask. An alpha mask is just another way of representing a selection. One way to do that is to go to the Select menu at the top of the screen and choose Save Selection, which I showed you how to do back in the chapter on selections.
I'll call the new alpha mask grad, and click OK, and then I'll deselect by pressing Command+D on the Mac or Ctrl+D on the PC. If I look at my Channels panel, I can see beneath my regular RGB Channels, the new grad alpha channel and it's basically just a mask in the shape of my selection. I'm going to go back to my Layers panel there and I'm going to try to scale one more time. I'll go to Edit menu again and choose Content-Aware Scale.
This time in the Options bar, I'll uncheck that icon of the person and instead, I'll go to the Protect menu and I'll click-and-hold to see a list of all the alpha channels in the image. There is only one, my grad channel. So, I'll select that and now if I come over to the left, and I drag that anchor point, I'm happy to see that the boy is being protected as I make the image vertical. And I can get in pretty tight and he is still protected.
He doesn't get squeezed. Notice that when Photoshop did the scaling for me, it made some choices about what was the content to keep and what was the content to throw away. So, it did keep this tree to frame the image over here, but it did away with all that plain area of white snow, which was just the right thing to do. When I'm all done with my content- aware scaling, I'll come up and I'll click the checkmark up here to commit the change. It takes a minute to transform, but I think you can see that this really is a remarkable new feature.
To finish this up, I'm going to trim away the transparent pixels on the left, represented by this gray and white checkerboard. I'll go to the Image menu at the top of the screen, choose Trim and in the Trim dialog box, I'll make sure that Transparent Pixels is selected here. And I'll click OK and that automatically crops away the transparent pixels and then I can save this image in its new vertical format. Give content-aware scaling a try on your own photos and if you're not getting the results you want, remember to make a selection of the area you want to preserve and to use that selection as an alpha mask to protect your best content.
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