Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

How well does the Elements 12 content aware move tool work?

This is one of the big new features in Photoshop Elements 12, and it sounds such a great idea! If something is in the wrong place in one of your pictures, you can select it, move it, and with the content aware move tool Elements 12 will merge it with its new surrounding, and fill in the gap it left behind.

It might sound like magic but it isn’t, quite – it’s just very clever. But it’s also hard to predict how successful it’s going to be. My past experience of Adobe’s content-aware repairs suggests they work well with unchallenging backgrounds, but if you’re trying to remove, or move, objects with more detailed surroundings, things can go wrong.

Bu this is where I met my first problem. After scouring my photo collection, I could only find a handful of images containing objects I wanted to move where it would actually improve the picture. Like most people, I don’t tend to keep the duds, and if I see the shot’s gone wrong when I take it, I take another. My dud images aren’t going to impress anyone, so that brought me back to Adobe’s own sample image, and here it is.

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

The distance between the little girl on the left and the rest of the family looks wrong, so I’m gong to try to move her closer with the new content aware move tool.

01 How the content aware move tool works

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

You’ll find the new content aware move tool at the bottom of the main toolbar on the left – I’ve circled it in this screenshot. You now draw a freehand selection around the object you want to move – I’ve also circled the girl in the picture. The selection isn’t so easy to see at this size, but you can click on this image to see a full-size version.

02 Moving an object – first attempt

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

Now all I have to do is drag the girl to the new location, right alongside her family. This looks all right at first glance, but the shape she left behind has been filled rather awkwardly – Elements 12 has substituted some areas of gravel where there used to be grass.

03 Moving an object – second attempt

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

The results are heavily dependent on your original selection and where you drag your subject to. I’ve tried again with a new, slightly looser selection and placed the girl a little higher in the frame. This time the area left behind has been filled more effectively, but the girl has a narrow border of grass around her cardigan and head where there shouldn’t be any.

04 Larger objects

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

Since that didn’t work so well, let’s see what happens if we move the family closer to the girl…

05 Content aware artefacts

Photoshop Elements content aware move tool

Now you can see some of the more serious problems with the content aware move tool. It has displaced the farthest pier of the bridge which was to the left of the family, over to the right hand side, where it has blended badly with its new surroundings. And the shadows cast by the family have been both moved and left behind – this hasn’t worked at all.

06 The finished image

contentaware-before_afterThis is my best result after several attempts. It’s not as good as the result in the Adobe video, but after trying it half a dozen times with different selections and destinations, I simply got tired of trying.

In the right situations, the content aware move tool, like Adobe’s other content aware technologies, can work uncannily well. But in real life these situations aren’t as common as you might hope.

Besides, I’m uneasy with anything that promises to fix photos which have gone wrong, just it case it makes people think they don’t have to try too hard to shoot things right in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong – I really rate Photoshop Elements, which is why I recommend it so often as a serious Photoshop alternative. I gave it 5 stars in my review for TechRadar. But it’s the core editing features which earn it that rating, and while the content aware move tool might be a real crowd pleaser, it doesn’t really do it for me.

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