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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

Getting started with Generative Expand in Photoshop

What is Generative Expand?

Quite simply, the Generative Expand tool allows you to expand the edges of your images by using AI to intelligently interpolate from what's visible in your image, to what might have been visible off the edge of your photo, if you had captured it with your camera. 

Why use Generative Expand?

Although I'm still learning how to use generative expand in my photography, there are a number of specific situations when it has been invaluable: 

1. When I wish I had shot slightly wider. Sometimes it's only after taking a photo that I wish I had shot a little wider (used a lower focal length) e.g. to include a little more sky at the top of an image or a little more foreground to better balance an image. Although I get it right in camera a lot these days, it's often hard to tell on a small camera screen, and being able to save a good, but not perfect image in post processing can be a real bonus. 

2. When I wish I had taken a portrait shot rather than a landscape one. It's a fact of life these days that photos on Instagram tend to need to be portrait orientation, rather than landscape orientation. Usually these days I try and take compositions of a scene in landscape and portrait, sometimes I forget. In these situations, sometimes a photo might lend itself to slightly increasing the height of an image so that it can then be successfully cropped to a portrait or square shape, whilst maintaining good composition.  

3. When I didn't quite nail the composition when I took the photo. Sometimes it's not possible to completely nail composition in camera (often because it's hard to be exact viewing an image on the small camera screen). Whilst I always tell my students to take a wider view that you think you need (as it's easy to crop in later in order to ensure the composition is as you want it) occasionally that doesn't happen and the only option to save a potentially good image is to use Generative Expand to add content to the sides / top or bottom of an image in order to make sure that the composition is as you want it to be (e.g. the main subject on a third).  

How to use Generative Expand: A step by step guide

You will need Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop to follow this tutorial. Both are available in the Adobe Photography Plan for £9.98 per month, or £119 per year (Amazon sometimes has a discounted annual plan for £90 per year which can be purchased and applied to your Adobe account, even if you are already on the monthly payment plan which it will replace).

In the worked example below, I have taken an image that works well in landscape orientation, but it's difficult to crop to portrait for Instagram whilst retaining good composition (including some boats and the sun). I therefore decided to try using Generative Expand to expand the image vertically up and down to allow more scope for a good crop result. 

Step 1: Do your basic editing in Adobe Lightroom

I  always use Adobe Lightroom to make basic corrections to all of my photos (see more about post processing and why it's an essential part of digital photography here, and see here for an introduction to using Lightroom Classic for basic editing) and only use Photoshop for specific tasks, such as using their suite of AI tools when needed.  In the image above, I have already carried out basic corrections and enhancements of the raw file.

Step 2: Open the image in Photoshop

Now we have finished our basic edits, we want to head over to Photoshop to utilise the Generative Expand tool. To do this, right click anywhere on the image in Lightroom and select 'Edit In' and then 'Photoshop' as shown below.

Step 3: Select the crop tool and increase the canvas size

We now select the crop tool from the left hand menu; a white box now appears around our images with handles on either edge (first image below). We can now grab these handles to increase the canvas size at top and bottom by our desired amount (second image below). In this case, enough so that there is more scope for a good portrait crop. 

Step 4: Initiate the Generative Expand tool

We now go to the Generate box at the bottom of the screen (see image above) and select the box which says 'What would you like to generate?'. Since we want AI to fill in the new image area we leave this box blank and hit return. Generative fill then fills the blank area and gives the result shown below. On the generate box, there are 3 different solution options; you can see them by clicking the arrows. Although not perfect (I find the bottom of the image a little dark) it's done a pretty convincing job and gives me much more scope to do a much more sensible portrait crop of the image.

Note: The first time I did this, I left my signature on the image and Generative Fill tried to incorporate that in the fill content! So, I removed it (using the Generative Fill tool) and tried again!

Step 5: Exit to Lightroom

Once you've finished, you can then exit back to Lightroom where you can export your newly cleaned up image to a jpeg for use. Note that the Photoshop files are absolutely enormous, so I delete this interim Photoshop file once I have exported my final Jpeg image, since I always have the original raw image and can repeat the process if necessary. The final cleaned up image, ready to be cropped to portrait for Instagram is shown below.

How much should you use AI on an image?

Clearly the advent of AI editing means that it's now easier than ever to modify images. The extent to which you do so is clearly a personal choice, however my personal code when it comes to the use of AI is currently as follows:

- I will still try and get things right in camera if possible, and only modify images if I have to [as I think it would be too easy to become a lazy photographer!]

- I will only use AI for minor changes, such as that described here. I do not use AI to do major changes such as replacing the sky; I believe this crosses over from photography into digital art. Digital art is fine, as long as it's made clear that's what it is, but I consider myself a photographer, not a digital artist. 

These are my choices, but of course they don't have to be yours!

Want to jump-start your learning?

Don't forget that if you want some direct help with your photography, I offer a range of 1-2-1 photography courses for Devon based folks. If you're not nearby then I also  offer residential weekends for beginners or intermediate photographers.

A student learning photography on a Devon beach, with Devon Photographer Gary Holpin Photography

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