Using the Photoshop CS5 Content Aware Spot Healing Brush

By Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman

Here’s a quick tip for anyone who ever agonized over taking out power lines from a picture.

While there’s been so much attention paid to the new Content Aware Fill feature in Photoshop CS 5, this new feature came with a lesser known, but no less important companion. Though the Spot Healing Brush is not new to Photoshop, it received one heck of an upgrade when they added the Content Aware capability to it.

It works very much like the Content Aware Fill feature, in that Photoshop does a certain amount of pattern matching and analyzing to fill in the area you want to remove with an appropriate texture. However, this tool is much better suited for more localized refinements, such as, power lines, telephone poles, cracks in a picture (think photo restoration), etc.

It’s quite simple to use. Simply choose the Spot Healing Brush from the toolbox and make sure, in the Options bar, the that Content Aware feature is checked. (It’s a little radio button). Then just make a brush stroke over any area you want to remove. There will be a slight delay while Photoshop does its calculations, but the results are amazing. photoshop cs5 illustrating content aware spot healing brush gary small tip

The Spot Healing Brush is selected, and the Content Aware button has been chosen. Gary Small example photoshop content aware spot healing brush

Here’s a picture I took of Yankee Stadium. Note the offending power line just above the stadium. Normally not too hard to remove, but the clouds complicate matters. Photograph © Gary Small gary small photo illustrating photoshop cs5 content aware spot healing brush

Note the dark line that results from making a brush stroke with the Spot Healing Brush. Depending on the size of the brush stroke and the size and resolution of the image, this may remain for a few to several seconds while Photoshop calculates a pattern to replace the area with. Note: the “Click…Shift-Click” method was used to make a perfectly straight line. gary small illustrating photoshop cs5 content aware spot healing brush

Here’s the end result. If you compare the Before to the After, you’ll see the light fixture in the top right was also removed. I used the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush on that too! And for good measure, I also used the Lasso Tool and Content Aware Fill to remove the truck parked in front of the stadium. If you look closely, you’ll see it’s not exactly perfect. However, could you imagine trying to remove that truck using previous versions of Photoshop? How long would it take you? The entire edit, power line, light fixture and truck took less than a minute, start to finish. I’m NOT kidding! This new feature is AMAZING! Photograph © Gary Small.

2 tips to make this work even better:

Tip #1: Although in my retouching, I like to use soft edged brushes almost all the time, I have found that the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush works best when the brush has a hard edge. Without going crazy trying to figure out how to change brush hardness, here’s a keyboard shortcut—hold down the shift key and tap the right square bracket key ] to increase brush hardness. Four taps brings it to a fully hard edged brush. Hold the shift key and tap the left square bracket key [ to decrease brush hardness (or increase softness, depending on how you look at it). Four taps will give you a fully soft-edged brush. Remember, for the best results here, a hard edged brush is best.

Tip #2. Straight lines. Ever wonder how to get a perfectly straight line when painting a brush stroke? You’re gonna love this one. Click the mouse button to put down one dot of a brush stroke at the point where you want to begin painting your line (or if you’re using a tablet, just touch the pen down and pick it right back up again to simply “dot” the starting point. Then place your mouse pointer all the way on the other end of the line you want to paint. While holding the Shift key, click the mouse button (or tap the pen down onto the tablet). What you’ll see is Photoshop will connect the 2 points with a perfectly straight brush stroke. This works with EVERY painting tool in Photoshop’s arsenal…the Paintbrush, Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, and yes, even the Eraser. And you thought those artists just had really steady hands, didn’t you?

Play around with this and have fun!

• Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management. Check out his work at

For more information about Adobe Photoshop CS5, go to


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  1. rob says:

    Excellent tips – thanks!!


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