Editing a Photo Using Adjustment Layers

 I am using Photoshop Elements 11.

Open your photo. File>Duplicate to copy it, and close the original. CTRL j to duplicate the background layer. This is useful for “before” and “after” comparisons.

Here is my original, unedited photo:


Click on the Adjustment Layer icon at the top of the Layers panel, and select Levels. This is where you would normally begin editing your photo. Note that for this photo the rightmost slider is some distance from the body of the histogram. As you move it to the left, you begin to see more color. Click on the layer eye icon to hide the adjustment for a “before” view.

Select the top eyedropper, and click on the darkest spot on your photo.

Select the bottom eyedropper, and click on a white area of your photo.

Select the middle eyedropper and click on a neutral gray part of your photo. Undo if you don’t like the effect and try clicking on a different midtone. I chose a strip on the boat roof. You can always adjust the opacity of the effect.

 If there is any portion of the “before” image you prefer to the “after” image, set the foreground color to black (type d), select the Brush tool and a soft round brush. Make sure the adjustment layer mask is selected, and paint over the section where you don’t want the adjustment applied.

 Select the adjustment layer icon again to get a new adjustment layer. This time choose Brightness/Contrast. There is already a lot of contrast in the photo, but I want to increase the brightness for some shadowed areas. One way to do this is to select the portions of your photo you want to alter using one or more of the selection tools, but I will not do that today. Another is to apply the effect and brush out the areas you don’t want affected.

I then merged the layers, duplicated the result, and used the Dodge tool on some of the dark areas and the Burn tool on the rear foliage (rather sloppily).

Here is my edited photo:


Next I started over with a new copy of the original and applied a Smart Brush effect first. The Smart Brush is the large paintbrush in the middle of the Tool bar. It creates its own adjustment layer. I then selected Blue Skies from the menu and lowered the opacity after brushing over the sky to about 35%. Then I used a Levels adjustment layer and then a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer as above. Then I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to increase the Lightness but brushed out the right and left sides and rear foliage.

Here is the result of this edit:


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Fixing Tilted Photos Using Photoshop Elements

Fixing Tilted Photos

Instructions are for Photoshop Elements 11. I always work with duplicates of my original photos {File>Duplicate), and close the original.

Here is a photo of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, that obviously needs straightening.

Method 1
Use the Straighten tool, a green and yellow horizontal strip located just above the Color Picker near the bottom of the tool bar. You have 3 options in the Options bar beneath the workspace: (1) Grow or Shrink Canvas To Fit; (2) Crop To Remove Background; and (3) Crop To Original Size.
Since correcting tilt is probably the first thing you would do to your photo using Method 1, you probably have only one layer, but it is a good idea to keep the Rotate All Layers box checked unless you intend to create special effects.

Select option (1), click on the left edge of the roof in the middle of the photo, hold, and drag to the right edge, then release the mouse button. This is the result which you can then crop as desired.
Now start over with a new copy of your original, and select option (2), click on the left edge of the roof in the middle of the photo, hold, and drag to the right edge, then release the mouse button. Here Elements crops for you. Note that the top of the tower was chopped off.
Next, with a new copy of the original, select option (3), click on the left edge of the roof in the middle of the photo, hold, and drag to the right edge, then release the mouse button. This looks like the result from option (1), but the size of the image here is 4912 pixels by 3264 pixels. The size after applying option (1) was 5079 pixels by 3264 pixels.
Method 2
For this method you want to apply color edits, lighting edits, etc. first. When your photo is ready except for the tilt and cropping:
1. Create a new document larger than the size you want to print. Let’s say I want to print a 7 inch by 5 inch photo. I might make this document 11 inches by 8.5 inches. File>New> Blank File. Give it a name, type in the size you want, set the resolution to 300 pixels per inch, the Color Mode to RGB, and Background Contents to White.
2. Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the top of the Layers panel (the one on the far left that looks like a piece of folded white paper).
3. Type d to reset the foreground color chip to black.
4. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool (nested with the Elliptical Marquee tool next to the Move tool near the top of the Tool bar). In the Options bar at the bottom of your screen, select New, Feather 0 px, Aspect: Fixed Size, and type in the width and height you want your printed photo to be. Click and drag until you see the ‘marching ants’ around your selection.
5. Select the Paint Bucket tool (looks like a paint bucket with blue paint spilling out), the Paint option, opacity 100%, tolerance 32, Mode: Normal. Do NOT check All Layers. Click inside the rectangle to make it black.
6. Deselect (CTRL d or Cmd d on a Mac). If you wish, you can double-click on the layer name, currently Layer 1, and change it to Clipping Mask.
7. Select the Move tool, and drag your edited photo onto this document.
8. Hold down the Alt key (Opt on a Mac), and position your cursor between the photo and clipping mask layers until you see the clipping mask icon. Click to clip.
9. Type v to get the Move tool, and select Show Bounding Box in the options bar. Drag your photo until you can see one corner of the bounding box. Click on a corner box to get a straight double arrow, and resize until you can see most of your photo.
10. Hover near one corner of the bounding box until you see a curved double arrow. Click and rotate until the roof is horizontal. Resize until you get what you want. Then click on the green arrow to accept. If I wanted more of the tower to show, I could clone in sky to fill the gap caused by rotating.
11. Select the photo layer, hold down SHIFT, and click on the clipping mask layer. This selects both layers. Right-click, and choose Merge Layers.
12. Select the Move tool; select both Background and photo layers as in Step 11 and click on first Center and then Middle under Align in the Options bar to position your photo in the middle of the canvas.
13. Go to Image>Resize>Canvas Size, and set the width and height to the size of your photo. Set the Anchor to be the center, and click ok.
14. File>Save As a jpeg quality 10 or more for a print-ready image in your chosen size.

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Easy Ways To Use Blending Modes

Instructions are for Photoshop Elements 11 [PSE] on a PC. Ctrl on a PC is CMD on a Mac, and Alt on a PC is Opt on a Mac.

Always duplicate your original photo [File>Duplicate], and close the original. If you make a habit of always working on a copy of your original, you cannot possibly damage the original. This should give you the freedom to play.

You can blend two layers together directly from the Blend Mode drop down menu in the Layers Panel or indirectly from the Options panel for some tools such as the Brush tool. The default blending mode is Normal. To experiment with different blending modes, click on the Blending Modes drop down arrow in the Layers panel, select one mode, and use the Up and Down arrow keys to scroll through various modes. Blending modes are non-destructive, so PSE does not “remember” previously tried modes. You can also adjust the Opacity to control the amount of the effect.

One of the simplest uses of blending modes is to lighten an underexposed photo.

1. Duplicate the photo layer in the Layers Panel: CTRL-j [Hold down the CTRL key and press j.]
2. Set the blend mode of the top layer to Screen.
3. Repeat if you need to lighten more.
4. If your last step result is too light, lower the opacity of that layer by moving the opacity slider.



In this example, I merged my layers after applying Screen [Layer>Merge Layers], and then repeated steps 1 and 2. Then I merged again and repeated steps 1 and 2 for the third time, this time lowering the opacity to 70%. here is the result:

You can also darken an overexposed photo:
1. Duplicate the photo layer in the Layers Panel: CTRL-j [Hold down the CTRL key and press j.]
2. Set the blend mode of the top layer to Multiply.
3. Repeat if you need to darken more.
4. If your last step result is too dark, lower the opacity of that layer by moving the opacity slider.

See my February 28, 2013 post for instructions on how to blend a photo into a background. Here is a variation on that. I began by creating a new canvas: File>New>Blank Document and set the parameters to Scrapbook default: 12in by 12in, RGB color, white background, 300 pixels per inch [ppi] resolution.

Here is the original photo:


Note the ‘e’ missing from ‘Office.’


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Sharpening a Photo

Here is the original photo I took of a map of China showing the areas that receive electricity generated by the Three Gorges Dam.


The following technique to sharpen the image is a modification of one I learned from The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop by by Scott Valentine. I used Photoshop Elements 11 in Expert mode.

I always work with a duplicate of my original: File>Duplicate. Close the original.

  1. Duplicate the background layer: CTRL-j [Command-j on a Mac]

  2. Set the Blend Mode to Hard Light on the duplicate layer.

  3. Select Filter>Other>High Pass and adjust the radius to your taste. I used 45 pixels for this image, but you would probably use a much smaller radius for most images.

  4. I then set the Blend mode to Linear Light.

  5. Note that this resulted in highly saturated colors – suitable for a map with lights on it but a bit much for most photos. You can add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and lower the saturation if desired. To do this, click on the icon in the Layers panel for adding a fill or adjustment layer and select hue/saturation.

Here is my edited photo:


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Creating Vignettes with Photoshop Elements

There are at least two ways to do this. I am using Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE 11).

First, open an appropriate photo, duplicate it, and close the original. Then duplicate your photo in the layers panel by pressing CTRL-j (CMD-j on a Mac) several times. Here again is my cat photo from the previous post:

The first is to use the Vignette Effect under Photo Effects in Guided edit mode. Your first option is to select a black or white vignette. The best choice depends on both your photo and the effect you want. Then you can adjust the effect to some extent by dragging the Intensity slider and then clicking on the Refine button and moving the Feather and Roundness sliders. Click Done when you are finished. SaveAs if desired.

Here is my photo using a white vignette:

Now switch back to Expert edit mode and turn off the top two layers by clicking on the layers’ eye icons and select the layer below.

This time we will try using a black vignette. Adjust as above. Here is my photo after applying this effect:

Go back to Expert edit mode and either delete the layers created in Guided edit mode or turn them off. Be sure you are on the top layer of a copy of your original.

For this method which also works in Photoshop, go to Filter>Correct Camera Distortion. Uncheck the Show Grid box at the bottom of your image.

Then, under Vignette, first move the Amount slider to the left for a black vignette and to the right for a white vignette; then move the Midpoint slider to the left until you get the effect you want.

Remember, if the effect is stronger than you want, you can reduce the opacity.

Here are my photos after creating vignettes this way:


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Spotlighting Your Subject with Photoshop Elements

Choose a photo with a subject you would like to spotlight. I selected this photo taken by my son or daughter-in-law (I’m not sure which) of one their cats snuggling up with my grandson’s Elmo.


I always duplicate my photo and close the original. I’m working in Photoshop Elements 11.

Next make several copies of your background layer by pressing CTRL-j (CMD-j on a Mac) several times. Be sure you are on the top layer.

Go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects. The style at the top of the dialog box that opens defaults to – guess what- Default.

I tried a number of Styles for this photo and decided I liked Soft Omni and Flashlight best. In both cases you get a single circle or ellipse (oval) that you can adjust to your liking. Click on the Style pop-up menu and select Omni Soft.

Click on the center dot in the circle and drag to center the spotlight. Click on a dot on the outer ring of the oval and drag out to enlarge the spotlight area or pull it around to change the direction.

If the effect is too strong, reduce the opacity of the layer. Here is what my photo looked like after I applied this effect:


Click on the layer eye to turn off that layer and select the layer below it. Repeat the above steps, but this time choose Flashlight in the Style menu. This effect makes the colors that are spotlighted more vivid. If you want a less vivid look, change the blend mode to Darken. Here is my photo after applying this effect:


To save copies of the effects you like, just turn off the layers of the others. When you save as a jpeg file, the picture is automatically flattened.

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Camera Raw

Click on a raw image in PSE Organizer, then check the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, and click on the arrow next to the Editor icon and choose Photo Editor, and your image will automatically open in Camera Raw.

If you want to work on a jpeg (or tiff or psd) image in Camera Raw, in PSE Editor, select your image, duplicate it, close both images, and go to File>Open As (Open on a Mac). Navigate to your copy and in the drop down menu in the Open As dialog box, select Camera Raw. Changes made in Camera Raw to a jpeg image affect the original, so be careful! Since you will be working from a copy if you follow my instructions, your original is safe.

Since most of you will probably start with a jpeg image, let’s see what you can do with one of those first. From what I have read recently, in PSE 11 it is best to work from the top down wit your edits.


Step 1: There are two basic options for correcting white balance with a jpeg image: As Shot and Auto. Select whichever one looks best.

Step 2: Exposure controls the midtones. My image is overexposed, so I want to drag this slider to the left.

Step 3: I generally want high contrast – white whites and dark darks, so I moved the Contrast slider to the right. Zoom in on your photo to an area that contains both lights and darks for a better idea on how much to adjust this slider. Now check the upper right corner of the graph. If you see a white triangle, it means you have clipped details in the highlights. Click on the white triangle to see exactly where you clipped (the clipped areas will be in red). If any of these are important, go to the Highlights slider and move it to the left until the red disappears. If the triangle is another color, it means you have clipped in that color channel.

Step 4: If you can’t see detail in a shadowed area of your photo, drag the Shadows slider to the right.

Step 5: For this image, I zoomed in on the pelican because I want to get as much detail in the feathers as possible. The Whites slider controls the brightest highlights which are on the bird in this photo. Move it to the right to brighten or to the left (in my case) to reduce the bright daylight glare a bit.

Step 6: The Blacks slider controls the darkest shadows. Again, I want to darken the dark feathers on the pelican, so I dragged it a little to the left.

Step 7: I moved the Clarity slider to the right to sharpen the image. You want to be careful to not go overboard with this on portraits where skin looks best blurred.

Step 8: I moved the Vibrance slider just a bit to the right.

Step 9: I did not use the Saturation slider on this photo, but you might want to experiment with this for black and white or partial color effects.

Step 10: Click Open Image to open in the Editor where you can continue working with your image as usual.

Here is my image after the edits and cropping:


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