Four Awesome New Photoshop CS5 Features

Alan Fackler

Adobes Photoshop has been a staple for graphic designers and photographers for over 20 years.  Its newest incarnation, CS5, is loaded with over 250 new features that set it apart and beyond its previous counterparts.  We were lucky enough to snag a copy of Adobe's beta product before release, and we’re happy to report that CS5 is a huge leap forward.  Before our official review (which will be ready when Adobe finally announces an official release date in May), we’ve decided to go over some of our favorite new implementations, and how these advancements may change the way you look at graphic design and photography going forward.

Content Aware Fill

A great deal of hype has surrounded this feature since it was unveiled several months ago.  Content Aware Fill is an astounding technological advancement that will save you a ton of time, regardless of your PS skill level.  The Content Aware Fill tool is a welcome addition to the Spot Healing Tool, previously used to remove objects from a frame and realistically replace them with a background image.  Though the original Spot Healing Tool did a decent job at times, it often took more experienced users additional time to touch up the image using other tools (Clone Stamp, Dodge, Blur) to blend the images realistically.

With the new Content Aware option, Adobe has developed a new algorithm that focues primarily on removing an object from frame and replacing it with a suitable backdrop.  The original Spot Healing Tool was an algorithm designed around finding a single, solitary match to replace the removed image with.  The new Content Aware feature is able to take multiple images of the surrounding environment, and stitch them together quickly and realistically.

With this tool you can remove practically anything from an image simply by painting over it. In order to test it for ourselves, we fired a couple of quick shots outside our offices to see what we could come up with.

Just an every day, run-of-the-mill photo.  In this picture, we have a total of three signs and one lamp post.  Let's select PS5s Spot Healing Tool and turn on Content Aware Fill.

With a couple of strokes, we're able to brush over the stop sign pretty quickly.  And...

Gone!  You'll notice that Content Aware filled the spaces where the stop sign was with a strip of realistic back drop, but you'll also notice that there's a bit of clipping on the sign behind it.  Since we're all on a roll, let's get rid of that sign too...

Lowered the brush size a bit to highlight the smaller sign...

Vanished into thin air.

Now to get rid of the remaining sign and lamp post.  Just as before, this was simply a matter of painting over the undesired objects with the Spot Brush Tool with Content Aware Fill activated.

You'll notice all signs have been removed, as well as the light post that was originally in the top right corner of the image.  The speed in which this was done (less than two minutes) makes this a phenomenal new tool.

We did come across a couple of problems worth mentioning.  If you followed the early development journals, Content Aware Fill was most commonly used in two different scenarios:  Minor detail removal, or on wide open, uncluttered shots.  And in our short experience with PS5, that is exactly where this tool should be used.

Attempting to remove objects from a picture with more complex backgrounds yielded vastly different results.  This didn’t come as a huge surprise; the algorithm is designed to stitch together multiple images from a background, so if that background is cluttered with a ton of objects, the result doesn’t always pan out the way you want it to.


Take this image for example.  We wanted to use the Content Aware Fill to get rid of the distracting light post in the center of the image.  Doing so gave us quite a bit of insight into how capable this tool actually is.  We started by brushing just the top part out of the lamp out, as the top half has a simple background behind it.

Because the area behind the lamp head is simple, the Content Aware Spot Healing brush did its job beautifully.

The head of the lamp is accurately replaced by clouds behind it.  But what happens when we try and remove the lower half?  Now there are many more variables to consider.  There are cars, trees, and windows, all at varying lengths and distances.


We selected the bottom half of the pole and...

Notice that the pole has vanished, but the area behind the pole is not an accurate reprsentation of the actual backdrop.  We noticed this sort of clipping issue occur with lots of photos with noisy backgrounds, and it makes sense in a way.  Content Aware Fill is designed to create a replacement backdrop by stitching together various other parts of the photo, which seems to be a blessing and a curse.  So if you've got some nice, wide open backdrops with an open sky and a simple enough background, this tool works miraculously.  Trying to remove images amidst a cluttered background, however, may take a little more tweaking on your part to make a truly accurate looking blend.

Puppet Warp

The Puppet Warp Tool is a fantastic addition to Photoshops 'Transformation' tool box.  It works mostly as a joint-based system, allowing you to lay out different points of movement on a figure and realistically bend, rotate and shift different parts of a figure to radically change posture and stance.

Here we have a photo taken of a Han Solo doll.  We're going to use the Puppet Warp Tool to bend and shape this figure into an entirely different pose.  In order to do so, we're going to have to mark moveable joints on the dolls body.

As a simple guide, we marked some of the basic points of human (or doll) articulation.  The more points of articulation you choose to add to your model, the more control you have over how it moves.  A single click lays each of the points out, and holding and dragging the mouse over any one of the points allow you to move and bend the the limbs.  It's a small learning curve at first; choosing your points of articulation is very important to achieving the type of movement you'd like.

Though creating complex movement was possible with Photoshops previous incarnations, the new Puppet Warp tool really makes the experience much easier and far less daunting, and also streamlines the experience by allowing a staggering amount of control with a single tool.  The Puppet Warp comes with many different types of warping options as well, including a Distort mode that not only gives control to joint movement but muscle movement as well.  Stay tuned in the weeks to come, as we'll be going over the use of this tool, and many others, in much further detail.

Refine Edge Tool

The Refine Edge tool was an available resource in CS4, but has been entirely redesigned to work in conjunction with the Quick Selection Tool to make extremely detailed selections at a hasty speed.  The Quick Select tool in previous versions was a helpful tool, but could also prove to be very frustrating, as many minor details like leaves on a tree, or hair could be very difficult to isolate and select.

The newly redesigned Refine Edge Tool has changed all of that.  Simply make a Quick Selection of your subject, head up to Refine Edge, and bump up your radius settings to achieve as much or as little tracing detail as you need.  The newly added Smart Radius feature allows PS to automatically differentiate between hard and soft edges for you, allowing a more in-depth and careful selection of smaller or more detailed aspects of a picture.  The Smart Radius is complimented by a refined Touch Up Brush that allows you to search for these selections by brushing over your selection mask.

Here, we have Quick Selected this stock models head.  You'll notice that the trace of her hair isn't particularly detailed,  so we're going to use the Refine Edge tool to make a more detailed selection, and pick up on some of the loose, thin hairs that would be impossible to select otherwise.

Here, we're painting over the generic selection with the Touch Up Brush to narrow the selection down.  The quickest way to go about doing this is to paint over parts of the photo that require an accute attention to detail, which would be the models flowing hair in this particular instance.  If you feel you've brushed too much of the selection, simply holding CTRL allows you to remove any over brushing that may have occured.  Narrowing down the Smart Radius tightens the selection allowing for a more accurate trace.  Because the basic frame of the models head is selected, don't worry about painting outside of the lines.  The tool will only try to enhance details within the confines of the original selection.

This is the result after a quick pant over using Refine Edge.  I copied the selection and pasted it onto a blank document to show the detail this tool can yield.  The point of interest in this photo should be the hair; nearly every strand has been selected and copied within a matter of minutes, something that would have taken far longer in previous incarnations.

HDR Pro/HDR Toning

Photoshop has struggled for years to perfect its High Dynamic Range technology; users and HDR enthusiasts often turn to other software like Photomatix to tone and set their HDR images.  PS5 promises to change that, offering two completely revamped HDR systems called HDR Toning and HDR Pro.


HDR Toning is a very interesting feature.  A high dynamic range photo is composed of multiple images taken at different exposures, combined to create a dramatic single still with saturated highlights and rich colors.  HDR Toning is a bit of a shortcut that attempts to recreate an HDR effect by implementing a new set of tools that can be used to achieve the effect with a single image.  We tried it out on some stock images and were blown away by the amount of customizable settings there are to achieve the look you want.

Original stock image.

With a bit of HDR Toning added to the single image.  Pretty dramatic difference!

HDR Pro is Photoshops brand new HDR interface, and early hands on reports have been nothing but positive.  Unfortunately, we were unable to finish testing with HDR Pro, but look forward to seeing what its capable of.  Seeing how developing an HDR composite properly could be a tutorial in of itself, I think using PS' new HDR capabilities could be a fun focus for our next how-to.

An Exciting New World of Possibilities

Photoshop 5 is a tremendous upgrade with some truly innovative features.   As with any complex program, there are undoubtedly countless amounts of new things to discover and tinker with, and we are up to the task!  This article only touched briefly on some of the coolest new features, so make sure and stay tuned for our upcoming PS5 coverage, including an in-depth review and a much closer and more thorough look into these amazing new tools and features.

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