It happens to the best of us. You take a few shots, but the one where the subject looks, hands down, the best isn’t framed the way you’d like it to be. There are a few tricks you can use to add to the background, and we’re going to discuss one that involves Content-Aware Scale in Photoshop. PiXimperfect and Phlearn have created the two best YouTube videos on the topic to demonstrate exactly how to extend background in photoshop.

It should be noted that this technique won’t work flawlessly with all types of backgrounds. The best environments to easily allow a lot of stretching with Content-Aware Scale are going to be relatively plain and without prominent verticals if extending horizontally as shown. The beach shots used in the demo are a perfect example of the type of photo with which this will play nicely.

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Once you’ve got your photo with a background that will cooperate loaded into Photoshop, here’s what you do to stretch the image in Photoshop :

  1.  Use the crop tool to change your canvas to the desired dimensions. Be sure to use the “clear” button to clear the ratio so that you can adjust freely, or if you know the exact dimensions you need you can enter them into the dimension boxes.
  2. Use the Content-Aware Scale tool to stretch your image, paying close attention to the subject. Once you see the subject begin to widen, un-stretch the photo until the subject is unaltered and use the enter key to accept the scale.
  3. Use the Content-Aware Scale tool again, once more keeping a close eye on the subject to avoid any distortion. Accept the scale before the subject begins to stretch. Repeat as necessary.
  4. If one side of your image stretches more readily without distorting the subject than the other, but you need to extend both sides, you can use the marquee tool to select a portion of your image that does not contain the subject and apply Content-Aware Scale to only that portion.
  5. You may find that the Content-Aware scale tool has caused some artifacts in your background. If this happens to your image, you can use Photoshop’s various clone/heal options to remove them.

Video 1 | Quick HACK for UNLIMITED Background Stretching in Photoshop by PiXimperfect

Check out PiXimperfect’s video below to see these steps performed!

Video 2 | How to Stretch Images using Content Aware Scale by Phlearn

In the video herein, Aaron Nace and the Phlearn team has put together a tutorial showing this very process, and going a step further by explaining how you can avoid the warping of items in your image that you don’t want distorted during the ‘Extend’ process – ensuring their protection. This essentially is just a matter of making a selection of what you want protected, and loading it as a channel, which Aaron walks you through.

In the video tutorial, you’ll see how to extend the background in Photoshop by using the crop tool to extend the borders/parameters of your image, then going to Edit>Content Aware Scale, and viola.


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It warrants saying here that while it will work as ‘advertised’ you should know that Content Aware isn’t entirely aware of your desires, and thus, doesn’t always know where to stop, or is incapable of extending as much as you like – or as flawlessly as you’d like in one go. However, you can still work incrementally and have it be exponentially faster, and likely more seamless, than if you were to use the clone tool. Generally, just extend a third or so of the distance you want, use content aware, and then start again and all should be well. This is also going to work best with images that don’t have very cluttered backgrounds.

As always, if you are a fan of Aaron’s teachings (and who isn’t?), be sure to check back here for updates, and follow along with Aaron on YouTube and Phlearn. You should also consider becoming quickly adept at Photoshop with the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 201 sets as they are extremely comprehensive, and will have you quickly doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.


Content Aware Scale has got to be one of the more brilliant tools available to photographers today. If you’re a budding photographer with little to no budget for a studio, you won’t necessarily have the size of background you’d like for certain shots, and extending it in post is a tedious, soul crushing event,  if you’re going to use the clone stamp. Frankly, if you’re a landscape shooter or any other type, you could probably benefit from a simpler way to extend your images without the nightmare that is the clone stamp tool used over a large space. This is the power of content aware in extending the backgrounds in Photoshop!