Photography tips – Photoshop #1

I am trying to think of what I want to cover first with Photoshop and how I should explain everything.  I’ll try to do a good job with explaining, but I can’t guarantee anything…I pretty much suck at explaining things.

I will start with a few basic quick tips that I use on most photos and then I will point you to a few plugins that you need to get to make the most of Photoshop.  I don’t want to overwhelm!  I will cover this with Photoshop Elements, since that is what I started using initially, and what I imagine most beginners will need instruction with.  If you have CS2, you probably know how to use it!

So, onward….

Using Layers – One thing you need to learn when working with Photoshop is how the layers function.  Think of it as if you have your photo and you are adding different sheets of colored transparancies over it.  Each one will make the original change.  That is what you do with Layers in Photoshop. 

The original photo is the bottom layer, and then you can add a duplicate layer (right click over the original layer) over it and adjust the opacity.  To adjust the opacity of the layer, look above the layers on the right of the screen and you will see a box that has “100 %” in it.  You can adjust the percentage to allow the original to show through.  This works well if you  make changes to the top layer, but if the change is too drastic, so you can lessen it with the opacity change.  Also, there are some things that you can only do to the duplicate layer.  I’ll show you some ways for changing that top layer.

Defog – This is the first thing I do on EVERY photo I open up.  Do this on the original as soon as I open up the picture.  Basically, digital cameras have a “haze” in the photographs, and this little tool helps clean that up.  This is what you need to do:

Go to Filters -> Sharpen -> Unsharpen Mask and enter these numbers: 20/60/0. 

Watch the magic happen.  It really helps to clean up the haze…notice how everything is now more defined? If the effect is too much you can fiddle with the numbers…nothing is set in stone here.

Add a Screen layer – This layer basically lightens up the photo.  You could also do this in Levels but it takes more time…its a personal preference of what to use.  So…duplicate the original and above the layers box you will see a little box that says “Normal”.  Click there and you will be able to select “Screen” (you can check out all the other things you can do, too).  Now, it is probably way too light, so adjust the opacity until the picture looks right.  Then “Flatten Image” (right click over the layers box).

I don’t want this to get too lengthy, so I’ll stop here and show you what these two little things did to this photo: 

Original Photo

After defog and screen

Now, I need you to download a few things and add them to your Photoshop.  They are called plug-ins and I used them all the time in Photoshop Elements because there are limits to what that program can do…and they are FREE!  I’m pretty sure that one or all of them give you instructions for installing files.  It’s pretty easy.  They will show up in Photoshop at the bottom of your Filters menu.

Virtual Photographer – Many, many, many cool effects that you can add to your photos.  I always add them in a layer and adjust the opacity because most of the time they are too much.  It also has a black and white conversion.  Good stuff, and allows quick changes.

Mehdi Curves – CS3/4/5 has the curves tool, and it is pretty nice to have.  This give you a little taste of it.  I really only used the second one down, but it is worth installing it just for that.

Until next week…

14 Replies to “Photography tips – Photoshop #1”

  1. Can I come to your house and sit beside you for a day so you can teach me everything you know?!? Thanks for the PS tutorial. I need it so badly!!!

  2. thanks Stacey! You did a pretty darn good job explaining this. I can’t wait to start playing with my photos.

  3. I’m not sure if you’ll check old posts for comments, but I have a question about how to save photos that you have edited. I must have a setting incorrect on my computer because when I edit a photo, I can see a gray icon right beside the original photo, but I can’t open it. So all the work I did editing it is no longer available. Can you tell us how to save a photo that has been edited?


  4. Natalie, can you check and see if you saved it as a .psd file? I always do save as and save it as a different name (I try not to save over the original). If you have any layers open when you save the picture it will always default to saving it as a .psd file and only PS can open them.

    Let me know if that was the problem or if it was something else.

  5. I have Elements 5.0. I found the Unsharpen Mask under the enhance tab. Is it the same Unsharpen Mask? Do the numbers stand for percent, pixels and levels?


  6. Corey, In Elements 4.0 and CS2 it is under Filter-> Sharpen -> Unsharp Mask, and the numbers stand for Amount, Radius and Threshold. It seems odd that they would be the same name but stand for different things. Adobe trying to screw us up maybe??

  7. Ugh. It’s definitely an unsharpen mask but I’m not sure why the three fields to adjust are named different things.

  8. THANK you for the defog tip! I don’t know how I had never thought to do that, but it’s now become part of my standard editing process. My p&s tends to produce fairly noisy pictures – do you know of any good free/cheap anti-noise filters? I LOVE Virtual Photographer. Never encountered Medhi Curves but I’m downloading it right now!

  9. Christina,

    I do know there are some freeware versions of noiseware out there, so just try to google it and see what you can find. The programs I have looked at are around $100 and I don’t want to spend that on them. There are some really great photographers that don’t use noiseware, but they also have really great cameras! With a P&S I think it is worth a shot to see if it helps.

    Mehdi curves is just a different way to lighten and add contrast. If you don’t like it, you can just work the 3 little arrows in Levels to get the look you want.

    Have fun playing!

  10. i’m trying to work through this tutorial. i’m so new to photoshop elements so i appreciate all of this careful instruction. but you lost me here, “So…duplicate the original and above the layers box you will see a little box that says “Normal””
    first, duplicate how? and i don’t see a box above the layers word on my upper tool bar. should i look somewhere else?

  11. Chickadee –

    On the bottom right side of your screen, that is the layers box. “Background” is the original image, and anything above it is an additional layer over your image. In order to duplicate the layer, select the “background” layer, and hit Ctrl J or right click over the layer and select “duplicate layer”. Now, in the toolbar above this layers box, you will see the words “Normal” and it has an arrow for the dropdown box to select the different filters.

Comments are closed.