It’s really annoying when you have a great photo that you want to use for something—say, your Facebook Cover Photo—but it’s the wrong aspect ratio. If you can’t take the photo again, your only hope is to use Photoshop (or any other good image editor) to try and fix things.
Let’s look at my favorite technique to do it. This trick is quick and easy, but it’s not perfect. It works best where the background is reasonably plain or abstract. If there’s anything too complex or recognizable in the background, then this technique will cause more problems than are easily fixable. It also won’t work if the subject is cut off by the edges of the image.
We’re going to take this portrait image from the dance troupe H.E.L.L’s show, the others are hell also, and turn it into a landscape image, since it has a relatively plain back and grey background.
As always, the more familiar you are with Photoshop’s tools, the easier you will find this article to follow along. If you haven’t checked out our article on Photoshop Layers, you should do so before continuing. We also have an eight part guide to Photoshop for beginners.
Step One: Re-Crop the Image
Open the image you’re using in Photoshop. The first thing you’ll want to do is to re-crop it so it’s in the right aspect ratio. This is also the time to straighten the image if it’s crooked like this one is.
Grab the Crop Tool from the Tool Bar or press C on your keyboard. If you haven’t used it before, check out our in-depth article on it.
In the Options Bar, enter the ratio 3:2. Make sure the 3 comes first otherwise you’ll end up with a portrait crop.
By default, Photoshop will keep the crop area confined to your image like it is below.
To extend it, all you need to do is grab one of the handles on the side and drag it out past the edge of the image.
Adjust the crop by clicking any where inside the crop area and dragging so that the image is roughly centered.
Make any other adjustments to the crop you want, like straightening the image as I’ve done.
When you’ve got everything looking good, press Enter.
Step Two: Extend the Background
Now that the Photoshop document is ready, it’s time to get down to the actual work of expanding the background.
Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool from the Tool Bar or use the keyboard shortcut M. If you see the Elliptical Marquee Tool instead, press Shift-M to cycle to the Rectangular Marquee Tool.
Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the side of the background of the image. Be careful not to accidentally select any of the subjects of the photo.
We need to duplicate the selection to a new layer so go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy or just press the keyboard shortcut Control+J (Command+J on a Mac).
Now we have the pixels we’re going to use to extend the image on a new layer, it’s time to transform them. Go to Edit > Free Transform or use the keyboard shortcut Control+T (Command+T on a Mac).
Grab the handle on the edge farthest from the image and drag it so that the background extends to cover the blank area.
Press Enter or Return and the background is now extended on one side.
Repeat the procedure for the other edge of the image. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool, select a good area of the image, duplicate it to a new layer and transform it so it fills the canvas.
Step Three: Fix Any Issues
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and your image will now look great. Often though, there will be some weird looking bits on the transformed area. For example, you can see that a bit of the floor in the image I’m using has become stretched.
Assess your image and decide what will work best for it. I’ve used the Healing Brush to quickly get rid of the stretched area.
Step Four: Add Texture
The final step is to add a layer of texture to the whole image. By stretching pixels to fill the background, any of the texture that was already there will be smoothed out.
Create a new layer by going to Layer > New > Layer or use the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+N (Command+Shift+N on a Mac).
Next, use the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+Alt+E (Command+Shift+Option+E on a Mac) to merge everything onto that new layer.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise… to bring up the Add Noise dialogue box.
This adds some random texture to the whole image. Make sure Gaussian and Monochromatic are both selected. For the Amount, enter in a value that works for your image. I’ve gone with 2%.
Let’s look at before after close up at 100%.
The floor looks so much better with the texture applied. And with that, we’re done. Here’s the finished image.
Again, this won’t work for every image, but you might be surprised by how many images it will work for. If you want to change the aspect ratio of an image, give this technique a try. Even if it doesn’t work, it only takes a few moments.