Let’s imagine that you are standing in front of this beautiful sunset. You set up your camera, set your focus, set the camera on shutter delay and run back to your mark. The camera fires but at that exact instant another very-enthusiastic photographer walks into the frame. Ouch! The solution is to crop the guy out and extend background.

Let’s take another example.  You are standing in front of a beautiful pier with the sea absolutely calm. You quickly set-up your camera and take a picture. But when you return home you realize that in the hurry you forgot to take a horizontal image and only took a vertical images. Again, the only solution is to do a quick edit to extend background of your photos.

These days, beautiful covers for social media accounts are in great demand. Great images which could work as great social media covers are actively sought after by most users. Sometimes, the images we make do not always conform to the size requirements for social media covers. Let’s face it, social media accounts require pretty wide images.

Even if it does conform to the size, distracting elements in the background make those cover images less attractive. The result is we have to ditch a perfectly good image for one of more reasons.

The reasons can be as varied as it can get, basically what you need is a way to extend background of your images. This article is all about how to do exactly that.

The Easy Solution

The easy way out would seem pulling the sides of the image and stretching it out. Use the combination Command / Control J to replicate the original layer. Now hit the Transform button (with the duplicate layer selected). This would allow you to drag and stretch the edges.

Alternatively what you can do is this. Import the image to Photoshop. Create a duplicate layer using Command / Control + J. Then increase the image canvas size to your desired size. If you have increased the image canvas size on both sides, do this next step individually for either side.

Once the image canvas size has been increased take the Rectangular Marquee tool and select an area that is the same vertical height as the image. Hit Command/ Control T to activate the Transform option. Now click and drag the side of the selected area to cover the increased canvas area (the white space that appeared when you extended the image). Repeat the last step for the other side as well.

This technique will only work when the background has little or no detail. For example, if the background is a studio gray or white background you can safely stretch it without any repercussions. If the background is some textured backdrop it can work as well. But not so if the background is a brick wall or a forest tree line with lots of detail.

The Easy Solution is not full-proof

Though apparently this seems like a good way to extend background it is actually not the best solution. This might work in some situations, but when you have something in the middle of the frame, such as a lighthouse or a person, the result will look weird. Plus, if the background has details using the Transform tool will produce weird result as well.

Using the Content Aware Scale tool to Extend background

The crop tool is a very interesting and powerful tool that you can use for this purpose. Though it will not exactly stretch the background, this tool will increase the frame size. To do this just click the edge of your image and drag it sideways. If you hold down the Alt / Option key it will extend the image equally on both sides. Else, only one side of your image will be extended.

The next step is to stretch the background seamlessly to cover the frame.

To do this there is a simple process. This process involves first copying the original layer and then using the Content Aware Scale tool. The Content Aware scale tool uses a special algorithm to fill in the details based on the immediate pixels and therefore is a more realistic way it stretching the background than any other method.

Select the duplicate layer and then go to Edit > Content Aware Scale.

content aware scale

You get a few options with this tool as well. But for the sake of this introductory tutorial let’s just concentrate on the tool itself.

Click and drag the edges of the image. You will now see that the image is no longer being ‘stretched’ as we had seen in the other methods. It is properly extended while keeping intact aspects that do not need stretching.

In the example we had mentioned how one could get photo bombed while taking a selfie against a stunning background. The solution in this situation is to crop out the distracting human element, increase the frame size, make a duplicate layer and then use the Content Aware Scale to properly fill in the frame.

Something to keep in mind

Please note, this technique to extend background will work best when you have an image of a scene that is not very detailed. In other words, if you have an image of a forest (and that means a lot leaves) or some flowers (with detailed leaves), or anything that is easily identifiable, then this technique is not going to work. This technique will only work when you have a generic background, such as a pier that I referred to above, a blue sky with patches of cloud, anything that is not that detailed.

Shortcomings of the above method

Even though the content aware scale does a pretty good job of stretching the edges without making it look weird, it is not exactly the best method to extend background of your images. Nor it is the best approach. Why? Because, if you are replicating the steps on an image, you are bound to notice, some amount of stretching is applied to the whole of the image. Not just the background. Foreground elements are also going to be stretched a bit. The best method should be to keep the subject absolutely unchanged.

content aware scale

The more refined method is to use the quick selection tool to make a selection of the person in the frame (in this case you). Once you have done a selection go to the Channels option.

Create a new Channel and name it so that you can isolate it against the RGB, the Red, Green and the Blue channel. Fill the channel with a color, preferably White so that it is easily identifiable.

Now shift back to the Content Aware Scale routine we did earlier. But this time you select the Protect option. Under Protect option you will find the new channel that you created. Select that and drag the edges.

You will now notice that the new channel (the selection) did not move at all while the background moved seamlessly to cover the entire frame.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

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  • Simply put , this is called the Cost of Doing Business (CODB) and the best CODB calculator for photographers can be found at NPPA.org (The National Press Photographers Association). Her is the link: https://nppa.org/page/3275
    IF it doesn’t work, just go to NPPA.org and put calculator into the search box.

    Then join and organization that “has your back” – ASMP.org, APA.org, PPA, etc