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Photoshop Elements 10: The Basics

Recommended reading: Photoshop Elements 10 The Missing Manual but there are plenty of others.
Finding your way round the edit screen
Setting preferences and screen layout
Edit→Preferences→General: check zoom with scroll wheel to resize
Edit→Preferences→Performance: set history states high
Screen layout suggestions: Layers and History palettes on side, hide project bin. Can move toolbar if wish.
The 3 edit screens: Full, Quick and Guided. Try and get to grips with Full for maximum flexibility.
The main tools and what they do. Note changes to menu bar as tools change.
Finding your way round the menu bar.
A little bit on file types
JPEG, JPG: Most commonly used file format and unless camera set to RAW the file format straight from the camera. A lossy format. Each time you open and save a JPEG it degrades a little.
TIFF: a lossless format which doesn’t suffer any loss when saving and opening. If absolute quality matters the best format to work with. Can preserve layers too. JPEGS can be ‘Saved as ..’ TIFF.
PSD: Photoshop’s own format. If you are working on a file and have layers set up saving as PSD preserves those layers.
RAW: A lossless format created in camera. Taking photos in RAW provides maximum flexibility when processing. Opening RAW in Photoshop opens the image in a special screen where changes can be applied. Then the file is opened in the main Edit screen for further processing.
A basic workflow with JPEGs
Tip: use Undo (Ctrl-Z) or the history panel to move backwards.
Tip: Never work on the original JPEG so step one: Save as … ‘original filename – edit.jpg’.
Moving around with hand tool – see also presets on menu bar.
Tip: when using another tool holding down space bar brings up the hand tool temporarily.
Straightening and cropping
Image – Rotate – Straighten and crop or Straighten. But this is automatic. See other commands under rotate, e.g. free rotate.
Crop using tool bar crop and straighten tool (above and below cookie cutter) puts you in control.
Tip: to straighten to a vertical line select straighten tool, put cursor in start position, hold down left mouse button and press Ctrl key – keep Ctrl key held down until mouse released.
When cropping use options on menu bar if appropriate. Can also rotate with the crop tool.
Remember to use rulers and guides if that helps.
Correcting perspective
Image–>transform–>perspective. Then drag out the handles. Note this ‘squashes’ the image. So next step is to make it taller: Image–>transform–>free transform. But what if you lose an important bit. Answer: extend the canvas. Image–>resize–>canvas size.
Changing the size of the actual image
Question: how are you going to use the image? On screen viewing and e-mailing or printing. Each requires a different resolution. Always take photographs using the highest resolution/size/quality your camera can take. Easy to downsize difficult to upsize later.
Printing: The more pixels the better. Best quality needs 300 ppi but can get away with 200 ppi if necessary and not printing beyond A4. Relationship of ppi and print size.
Image–>resize–>image size. Look at controls and see how they change image size or print size. To resize (number of ppi) for printing uncheck resample image.
Web use: Full size images are large files. Unsuitable for e-mailing and the extra pixels do not add to on screen clarity. Concept of ppi not relevant to on screen images. Decide what size of image you want in terms of width/height in pixels. Check resample image and choose Bicubic sharper – best for reduction and then put the maximum number of pixels in one of the dimensions. Think screen size, e.g. 1600px x 900px.
Afterwards you may still need to sharpen to restore the original quality.
Note the File–>Save for web option if e-mailing or publishing on the web.
Layers and fixing exposure
Layers – what are they and why are they good? An aid in adjusting images without destruction. First a bit on the layer palette and how it works.
Adjustment and duplicate layers: these good for fixing exposure problems, i.e. too dark or too light overall or just parts like that.
Don’t jump to brightness/contrast as a first choice – there are better initial fixes.
Levels: A key tool. Layer→new adjustment layer→levels. Or use a duplicate layer and go to Enhance→adjust lighting→Levels. Use this even if you think the exposure is not bad. Easier to use than to understand what levels is about! Essentially shows the brightness range from dark to light in the image – the number of pixels in the image at each point on that scale.
Setting black point and white point with eye dropper tool. Click where it should be black or white, not necessarily where it is black or white. Using the sliders is another and more flexible way of doing it. Suggested method: use eye droppers first then make fine adjustments with the sliders.
Tip: hold down Alt key while moving black and white sliders.
Tip: If you don’t want to put levels on a layer use Ctrl+L.
Shadows/Highlights: Can use Layers→duplicate layer then %BOLDEnhance→adjust lighting→shadows and highlights.
Contrast/brightness: Enhance→adjust lighting→brightness and contrast. Do it on a duplicate layer so it can be undone. But if you have used the above tools there might be no need to go there.
Dodging and burning: The equivalent of the old darkroom tool. Note settings on top bar.
Smart Brush: Tool icon with cog and brush. Enables a range of local adjustments. See options on menu bar. Note control points and sliders in right panel. Creates a new layer.
Tip: as with all sized tools the square brackets resize the tool – []
Colour temperature: Quick fix is easier to use for this. Use Balance–>temperature slider. Remember if using layers to click on base layer before clicking on Quick.
Removing unwanted objects
Best to work at 100% to see the actual changes, improvement or otherwise, at full size! Use all on separate layer – blank layer is good – as easier to adjust opacity or delete all or part. Use eraser tool to clear mistakes. Remember to check sample all layers in menu bar.
Spot healing brush: Spot Healing brush blends in and removes anomalies according to the surrounding area. Best used on small blemishes. Keep diameter of brush little bigger than the flaw so it doesn’t draw in wrong colour of pixels from adjoining areas.
Healing Brush: Healing brush much the same but you decide which area to base the blend on. Use Alt-click to select source area.
Clone stamp: (Icon below Healing Brush) Pastes over what was originally there and so in some circumstances better than healing brush. Alt-click to choose the origin point then click over the area to be replaced. Aligned and non aligned modes. Choosing different brushes – soft edge best.
Red eye removal: Quite simple really use the tool on left of screen (above Healing Brush) and click on the red part of the eye.
Sharpening
Rule #1: An image which is not in focus out of the camera cannot be brought into focus in Photoshop. Sharpening just increases the contrast at the edges of shapes.
Rule #2: Do not over sharpen as it introduces artifacts and only sharpen once.
Rule #3: Always do this as the last stage in changing the image (if it is in fact required), with image view set to 100% and making sure you are sharpening the correct layer if in layers (can always flatten image first).
Enhance – unsharp mask and adjust sharpness.
Unsharp mask: Amount is how much to sharpen – start at about 100 and preview to get best balance above or below. Radius is how far beyond the edge of a pixel Elements should go when increasing contrast – 1 pixel is a good starting point. Threshold controls how different a pixel needs to be compared to surrounding pixels before Elements considers it an edge and sharpens it. 0 is the default which means all pixels. Often OK but play around with all three settings.
You may need to sharpen more for printing and less for on screen viewing.
Adjust sharpness: schools of thought as to which is better. Gives you the option of approaching it from standpoint of lens or motion blur.
There is also a sharpen tool for selective sharpening but it can be a bit ‘vicious’ so set low percent.
Converting to Black and White
Just desaturating to remove colour gives a flat image without proper contrast. Normally black and white images should have a full range of grey tones and have some pure white and some pure black. There are exceptions, but aiming for a full tonal range is a good starting point. In film days coloured filters were used to emphasise the tone of colours, e.g. yellow or even red filter to give skies contrast.
Enhance→convert to black and white. Choose conversion style and tweak where necessary. Afterwards you can make local changes with the dodge and burn tool.
Next time Part 2:
Really getting to grips with layers, layer masks, selections and RAW – more advanced editing.
Andy Kirby, October 2012