Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

The TutOR Becomes the TutEE

I finally did it. I upgraded from PSE 12 to PSE 15. And discovered there was a significant learning curve to jumping over 2 editions!! But coincidentally it allowed me to figure out a problem brought to me by Lisa (slfam), who uses PSE 14. She had downloaded a free template and was diligently following my instructions for clipping photos and papers to the various shape layers, only it wasn’t behaving for her. I downloaded the same template so I could see exactly what was happening and maybe help her out. Her first question related to this pop-up.

I opened a bunch of photos to play with and started working my way through adding some photos, which was the root of Lisa’s second issue. And almost right away I had a problem. When I dragged my photo onto the template with the layer I wanted to clip to selected in the Layers panel, it didn’t go where I expected, but landed in some random spot nowhere close to its target destination. And it happened over and over and over. Totally random, at least to my eyes. Geez Louise! Off to Google I went. There I learned that in order to have an item go to the layer you want, you have to drag it over the area where that layer shows in the template.  In the screenshot you can see the grayed-out photo sitting over the #6 photo spot. When I did that, it went onto the layer where I expected to find it. The software still dropped it right into the centre of the workspace, but it was on the right layer.

Being a WSNH scrapper, I used the (CTRL/CMD>G) keyboard shortcut  I’ve been telling y’all to use to create a clipping mask, only to have THIS happen. It seems Adobe added some features that have always been available in the full Photoshop to Elements in version 14, and now that shortcut, rather than clipping, creates a “Group” of layers. I wasn’t sure how this was going to make my life better, and for the moment it was really a pain! (I’ll also confess to some confusion – no one had mentioned to me in the comments that there’s been this shortcut overhaul.)

The easiest cure for that was to CTRL/CMD>Z my way back to safety, but I thought, “Why don’t you see what else can happen here?” So I right-clicked on that Group layer.

Faced with the menu shown below, I had to decide how to proceed.

Once I’d gotten rid of the Group, I used the more-steps method to clip my photo to the spot, right-clicking on the photo then selecting Create Clipping Mask. It worked. But I like my keyboard shortcuts, so I went into the Layer menu tab to find it. And there it was, CTRL/CMD>ALT>G … and it worked! So now I need to teach my fingers some new moves.

The next photo I dragged and dropped went to the top of the Layers panel because I forgot to hit the target with it. Heavy sigh.

And look, I’ve got another Group layer in there. So even when I used the CORRECT shortcut, I ended up with something I really didn’t want. Gah!

Time to get serious. Lisa had described using the CTRL/CMD>G shortcut then right-clicked for the Clipping Mask on photos she’d stacked above the Group layer and having bits of other photos overlapping onto several photo spots. To figure out how to correct that, I had to first make it happen.

I did what it sounded like Lisa had done, adding more than one photo to the Layers panel then clipping them. And now I knew what was happening, because it happened for me too.

Once I had it figured out my next task was to figure out a work-around. And that meant a lot of extra steps, moving photos down the stack of layers to the spot I wanted them in and then clipping them. Um. No.

Since I was taking this opportunity to learn some new things, I just kept trying different things. (I play Words with Friends the same way. And make some really weird words just by trying combinations of letters.) I love a good speed scrap and I hate having to start over because something I wasn’t expecting has happened. Neverland Scraps is hosting one on Thursday, so I had to get this sorted out.

Of course, there were bumps in the road that I had to puzzle through. I did some research into Groups and found that they are very useful, especially when you’re working with LOTS of layers. You can select all similar layers – let’s use a paper stack as an example where you’ve clipped papers to shapes – and then CTRL/CMD>G Group them into a folder. They’re all still there but they’re not all individually taking up a spot on your Layers panel. However, in the early stages of working with a template, Groups‘re only in the way.

After I deleted the Group layer, taking what I’d learned about positioning my paper/photo/element over the spot on the template where I wanted it to go, I placed all of my photos successfully onto the template.

I was back in charge!

From that point on things went the way I wanted them to, the way I was used to them going. I felt confident that I could go on to work with a much more complex template and git ‘er done.

All my photos are place and cropped to their best advantage and I’m happy. Now I could Group all those photos and photo spots together so they take up less real estate on my Layers panel.

I know there’s a lot more I’m going to learn as I get comfortable with PSE 15; there are new options in the Preferences menu now so let’s look at those. To get there you’ll click on the Edit tab then choose Preferences from the drop-down. In the first General Preferences menu there’s an option that says Disable the creation of Smart Objects when creating new layers. Smart Objects can be resized without losing any of the pixels in the initial image. That’s important when you’re shrinking an object then want later on to enlarge it again. For me though, I found Smart Objects to be a major PITA. Dragging from the Project Bin onto the Workspace in PSE 12 made every item the same size as the canvas… 12×12 buttons, for example. Then I’d need to shrink to fit. The work around for that was to drag them OFF the Workspace and onto the layout in the Project Bin. Extra steps. Most of the time I’m shrinking things and not making them bigger, so in PSE 15, I disabled Smart Objects.

Skipping down to the Display and Cursors menu, another new option appears. It’s for high-density display users. My new laptop has a high-resolution monitor and the recommended setting is 1920×1080 pixels. But software created before the advent of high-resolution monitors shows up with all the text in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-tiny-hard-to-read size that can be a big problem for people not really familiar with their Workspace. (You might have noticed that in last week’s tutorial. I didn’t know how to fix it… now I do.) Adobe added this option to increase the UI Scale Factor to 200% to make the text easier to read. I find the enlarged images worse, so I don’t use this option. I know where things are on the screen so when I’m scrapping for me, I leave it as is. If I’m working on a tut and want you to be able to see what I’m doing, I change the screen resolution in the Control Panel to 1600×900 while I’m working, then put it back when I’m finished.

For the Transparency setting, I chose the smallest grid size available. It’s less distracting and makes a few tricks easier to perform. I always work with a transparent background – you do what works for you.

I still prefer to work in Standard measures for most things; although I’ve almost always lived in Canada and we went officially metric decades ago, I find myself doing conversions in my head all the time. So I’m glad Elements gives me the option of setting my Units and Rulers to inches. I use Points for text because it’s easier to understand than pixels. And Resolution is important for printing when you want the crispest, clearest images possible so most people work at 300 pixels per inch. For working purposes though, 72 pixels per inch – what you see on your screen – is good enough.

This menu is for the more… er… particular scrapper who likes symmetry, geometry and order. It also is handy for speed scrapping where the instructions might say, “Place your large photo 1/2 inch from the left edge of your layout and 2 1/4 inches down from the top.” I’ve shown you how to use the Guide before.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in trying some text modifications, make sure you’ve checked the Show Asian Text Options box. That will let you warp text and also to use the alternate characters included with some fonts.

And then there are the Guided Edits! Even the Basic ones can be quite handy.

These ones offer some quick ways of improving the colour of our photos with only a few steps.

Can’t forget about Black and White! Sometimes a black and white photo has much more visual interest than a colour one. It’s also a good choice when your photo’s colours don’t work with your layout.

More quick-and-easy edit options! Fewer steps, great outcomes… the essence of WSNH!

Stunning visual effects! Awesome for those artsy layouts.

This set of tools will really let your photos shine. They’re especially good for those sightseeing photos where you just can’t keep people from getting into your shot. You can take several shots a second or two apart then merge the unobstructed portions into one clean image. Or you can take those group shots where everybody but Uncle Joe looks good and merge them with that shot where Uncle Joe looks great but cousin Mary has her eyes closed. The possibilities!!

I can see lots of ideas for future tutorials here while I teach myself to use these powerful tools! If there’s something you want me to try, let me know and I’ll take it on.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Revisionist History

Do we have any family historians in the house? I’m pretty sure we do. And I bet you’ve scanned a ton of old photos, only to find the resulting images dust-specked, foxed (stained with brown ick), scratched, folded or otherwise flawed. Sometimes that’s a good thing, if you’re going for that vintage, grungy, tattered look. But if you’re not, you might want to clean them up a little. That was my thought when I saw this scan of my mom and her sister, taken in the spring of 1957. I love the subject (yes, my mom was in the air force and was home on leave), but I don’t love that it’s crooked, speckled, stained and scratched. And the exposure is pretty wonky. So I set out to make it better without changing it too much.

First order of business was to straighten my image. Initially, I didn’t plan to crop it, which would have solved my problem in one step. And I do have lots of photos that were scanned crooked (thanks, honey…) that I won’t be cropping so I’ll show you a quick trick to straighten a photo. I right-clicked on the image layer and selected Layer From Background. By doing this, I could then create a blank layer underneath the photo, then Image>Resize>Canvas (CTRL/CMD>ALT>C) let me make that blank canvas a bit bigger than the photo so I could tip the photo without it hanging over the edges.

When you straighten any object in PSE, there are a couple of tools you can use to ensure its actually straight when you’re done. You can eyeball it if you’re not overly perfectionistic, you can drop a grid over it by hitting View>Grid (CTRL/CMD>’) or you can pull a guideline out from either the top edge or the far left edge of your workspace. Then you’d use the bounding box to adjust your photo.

After all that, I decided to crop the photo, so I definitely was working hard, not smart! The crop shield is turnable so I could have saved myself a lot of time.

And then I deleted the totally unnecessary bottom layer!

Once I zoomed in on the image, I could see the scratches and dust motes better.

I started with the scratches. Using a small brush size and the Spot Healing tool set on Content Aware, I carefully clicked-and-dragged my cursor over the big scratch. I could have done it a bit faster with a bigger brush, but then it would have been really obvious.

Make sure you watch what’s happening with your image while you’re tidying it up. Zoom in and out often so you have a clear view of the whole image. This scan is really pixelated when I zoom in close, but that’s okay. It’s not going to be big enough on my layout to be a problem.

When using the Spot Healing tool, it sometimes picks up the wrong content so you could turn a white scratch to a dark blotch. So make the brush size as small as possible to address those areas.

A lot of the time, dust specks are easily seen and Healed just by putting the tool’s cursor over top of them and clicking once. They show up as fairly regularly-shaped bright white spots where the light from the scanner bed couldn’t penetrate. Foxing is the reverse, showing up as brown areas, and can be irregularly shaped because it’s usually caused by moisture. Having said that, when there’s areas of your photo where there are already high-contrast shapes like the grassy part of my photo, seeing the dust specks is a bit harder. So look for those EXTRA-bright white spots and blend them in.

You might not be able to see the flaw I’ve outlined below, but on my screen, it was very distracting – greenish and filled with odd little straight lines. And the area around it is highly textured. So that nice little Spot Healing tool isn’t going to give me the results I want. It would make it more noticeable by blurring the edges.

That’s where the Clone Stamp tool comes into play. Unlike the Spot Healing tool, which blends whatever it touches, the Clone Stamp actually duplicates its target area. Depending on the size of the sample, it could actually replicate entire objects. It’s really great for covering up things you want removed from your image (like the overly large woman in the black swimsuit that was growing out of my daughter’s underarm in one of her beach photos). For this image, I chose to use a soft square drop shadow brush from the default set PSE comes with. To choose the sample for covering up this weird area, I put the brush cursor on an area close to where I’d be stamping, then ALT>clicked. That cloned the small area inside the cursor; the duplicated area is visible inside the cursor and there’s a little crosshiar icon that shows what area of the image is being cloned. Then I just moved the cursor over to the weird spot and click-covered the whole area. You want to make sure your clone sample has the same tonal quality and the same light exposure to minimize the hey-look-at-me effect.

For this area that’s all I had to do… paying attention to the content inside the cursor and where the crosshairs were let me control what sections of the wall I was randomly cloning onto the weird spot.

I also used the Clone Stamp to overcome this blown-out area of the upper wall. When cloning along an edge like this, centering the cursor over a clear, clean spot when selecting the sample area will keep the line true.

The major positive of the Clone Stamp is also its major downfall. See how there’s a really obvious pattern inside the box in the image below? If you’re seeing that, you can go back over the area with the Spot Healing tool and randomly break up that pattern.

At super-zoom, it’s not perfect, but when I zoom back out, it looks pretty good. I randomly hit it a few more times with a small Spot Healing brush and blended it in a bit more.

Now you can see a little better how the image is improved by what’s already been done to it. A lot of photos only need a little tweaking.

But I wanted to adjust the contrast a bit and see if I could improve detail without sacrificing anything. So I selected Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadow/Highlights. Be aware that when you do this, PSE will automatically brighten the shadowed areas by 35%. If the shadows weren’t THAT heavy, you’ll have to scale that back.

These are the settings I ended up with.

But it still wasn’t making me happy, so I went back into Enhance>Adjust Lighting and chose Levels. (CTRL/CMD>L will get you there too.) I LOVE this adjustment mode! You can really adjust the light and dark areas infinitely with this tool.

You can see the changes on your original image as you move the sliders. I didn’t move them much, just a skoosh here and a titch there. The Input levels ended up around 12 at the left side and about 240 on the right. Output was maybe 8 and 242. That improved the contrast and tightened up the details a little. Nothing dramatic, but just right.

Thinking I was done, I zoomed back out to see how great it looked. And then I saw THIS!

So I played with it a little more.

I tried a High Pass filter to sharpen the details a little, but the image is too pixelated for that to look good. So I had to come up with an alternative. And Enhance>Unsharp Mask… was it.

With this tool you can watch what’s happening and fine-tune your results really nicely.

Here are the two images side by side. And I’m really pleased with how my edit looks.

These techniques can be used on colour photos too, in exactly the same way. I have a bunch of new scanned photos my cousin’s son sent me that I’ll need to clean up before I use them for layouts. How about you?

Tutorial Tuesday (Windows)

Mixing it UP!

This week’s tutorial is going to take a slightly different path than most of the others. Many of you may not know this about me but I’m NOT a kit-scrapper. I can do it if I must, but I like to pull goodies from several kits for most of my layouts. My credit lists are usually quite lengthy and the September Color Challenge layout I created as the basis for this tut is no exception. Colour challenges are actually the perfect vehicle for mixing up kits; this month’s was pretty straight-forward since it only required shades of blue. But what do you do when the designer has provided a swatch and you don’t have a kit with all the colours in it? You mix a bunch of kits together!

Caveat: This is my workflow and you might have a method that will work better for you.

I like to use templates, not gonna lie. They make scrapping so much easier. And I like to use folders. For me, they too make scrapping easier. For mixing kits, folders are a HUGE help. I have folders for each store I frequent, each of the kits I’ve added to my stash and I have folders for every layout I’ve created. It helps keep me organized. I’ve read posts from people who go through all of their kits and individually tag EVERYTHING. That’s a ton of work, and for the most part, it’s unnecessary. Designers usually label everything in a kit in some way, so why duplicate their efforts? Work Smart, Not Hard!

So let’s talk about folders. At the beginning of every month, I create a Challenges folder. And in this folder I add subfolders for all my favourite challenges. Into those folders, I copy my photo(s), template, papers and elements. After I’m happy with the layout, have ensured I have no bloopers and the layout is posted, I empty the folder of everything but the PSD of the layout and 2 JPEGs. That keeps the space taken up by the layout to a minimum but lets me find them later. The image below shows some of my folders in the list to the left. My first step is to select a template to use. In the tutorial on organizing your stash, I talked about labeling template previews in some fashion so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later. My system, borrowed from someone else but modified to suit my workflow, is to label with whether the template is for a single or double spread, the number of photo spots and sometimes the shape/mask/blend the photo spots assume. The screenshot below shows a Windows File Explorer search for a single spread with 1 photo. (The icon for this utility is the file folder… super simple!) I had chosen a cute photo to build my layout around, so I opened my GingerScraps digikit folder then in the search box shown on the upper right, I typed in “single1“. After a few minutes, Windows had found all the template previews so labeled and showed them to me. (The actual search time will depend on the size of the folder you’re searching and the number of like objects to be found. It may only take seconds.) Now I could look at them and pick a template that would work for my layout.

Now, how did I find the actual template, you ask, since all that’s displayed are the preview thumbnails? I right-clicked on the preview and selected Open file location from the menu window. That takes me right to the folder that holds the template. Then I copied the template file into my challenge folder. For other searches this step won’t be necessary, because you can just copy the objects right from the search pane.

Next, I opened the template preview thumbnail in a photo viewer so I could see what supplies I needed to find next. I counted up the different papers the template employs and went on to my next search.

For this search, I put “paper blue” in the search box, as I’ve shown below. And Windows found all the papers labeled with those two words. Results will show both folders and individual images, which makes it easy to see just what you’re looking for.

I copied each of the blue papers I might want to use into my GingerScraps Challenges> September 2017>Colour SHADES OF BLUE folder so I could see them all in one place. That helped me determine if they’d work together or not. They look pretty good!

I worked my way through the different items used for the template one at a time to find things I wanted to include. There was a circular element I decided must be a flair, so I did a “flair” search.

Remembering that templates don’t necessarily have to be duplicated exactly, I chose to add some string to it. The search showed me a blue string right near the top that would work beautifully!

Once I had chosen all the things I thought I might use (substituting flowers for the stars) I could see everything in one place and knew they’d all work well together. I had pieces from FOURTEEN kits!

Once I was ready to build my layout, I opened Photoshop Elements and went to the Colour SHADES OF BLUE folder and opened all the items onto my workspace. From there it was zip, zip, zip!

And this is where I ended up. (Once I post my challenge layout, I add a hyphen to the beginning of the folder name so I know it’s done.)

Another way this method is useful is for speed scraps. You can have Windows searching for things while you work on the previous steps. That’s sort of where I came up with my system. I used to partake of monthly speed scraps at another site that is no longer around and I wanted to be sure I was finished my layout with time to spare in order to win the prize.

This screenshot shows how CathyK has labelled the items in her kit Aviator. This is for GingerScrapper Karen who had some questions about metadata.


Please feel free to adapt this however it will work for you!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Abstract Meets Graphic Art

On August 30, 2016 I posted my very first PSE tutorial here on the GingerScraps Blog. It’s hard to believe it has been a year already! Inspiration for many of my posts have come from you, the GingerScrappers who read my posts and for that I thank you. Today I want to give you something really cool to try that once again builds on some of the other things we’ve looked at over the last year. We’ll be creating something really individual and artistic from a photo. If you really can’t wait, go ahead and scroll down to see the final image…

To begin, you’ll need a great photo with a relatively plain background, because the image will be extracted. This photo of a skateboarder from Pixabay was a great choice for my example since my inspiration for the tutorial came from an image of a skateboarder. I dropped it on a white paper for the initial steps to make extraction easier.

I used the Magic Wand tool to extract my image. This tutorial will provide a refresher for you if you’re still getting the hang of extracting images. You can duplicate your photo now, or wait until you’ve got your extraction complete or the line of marching ants in place. But you will need to duplicate your photo. Make your duplicate layer invisible.

Working on the extracted photo, I clicked on the Filter menu, selected Stylize and Find Edges as shown. Remember when I showed you how to do this?

Once the image has been filtered, some of the colour from the image is still visible. Right now, I don’t want that. It looks a bit odd.

So to remove that hint of colour, I chose Enhance>Adjust Color>Hue/Saturation (CTRL/CMD>U) and pulled the Saturation slider all the way to the left. That leaves only the sketch.

We didn’t do this in the Sketchy tutorial, but for this one it’s a vital step. Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels will take you to the menu shown. What this step does is dramatically darken the lines in the sketched image.

The histogram shown below is part of the adjustment menu. You can adjust both sections simply by pulling the sliders. Make sure you can see your image so you know when you’ve gone far enough. If you need to move the dialog box, click and hold the gray bar at the top of the box then drag it up, down or to one side so you can see what’s underneath it. I wanted my background area to stay bright white and my sketch to be darker and more detailed. The changes I made are shown in the dialog box.

Now I have what looks like a charcoal drawing of the skateboarder. I want to have some of the colour from the original image in there, so I selected the topmost layer and added an adjustment layer mask by ALT>clicking on the Layer Mask icon (the divided circle icon above the Layers panel). The image disappeared but was really still there. I just had to reveal it.

I used a medium-sized soft round brush from the default brushes PSE comes with to paint back the colour, working on the Layer Mask. By using a low opacity (20%) I was able to build up colour where it naturally would appear darker and keep other areas much lighter. When you hold down your mouse button as you paint, you can overlap your brush strokes and have no visible overlap. Once you release the mouse button, the tool resets and areas of overlap will be darker. You want to brush over the whole area in one step to avoid those overlap spots. Keep that in mind as you go so you don’t end up with streaks.

Once I had the colour the way I wanted it, I Simplified the layer. (Right-click on the layer in the Layers panel and select Simplify Layer.) That step merges the mask with the image and prevents me from messing it up.

Now for the really fun stuff! I added a new blank layer underneath the sketch layer then used a watercolour brush at 100% Opacity from my collection of free brushes. I had an idea what colours I wanted to use so I just played around with both colour and brush selection until I liked what it looked like. By putting each brush on its own layer I can resize it, reposition it, decrease the opacity of it, increase the opacity by duplicating the layer, position it above or below my sketch and photo layers and whatever whim enters my head.

I experimented with lots of different watercolour and grunge brushes, deleting the layers that just didn’t work.

If you look closely you’ll see I’ve made a lot of changes by adding and subtracting, shifting and overlaying layers. You might also notice that the original photo colours are darker in this image. I duplicated the topmost simplified colour layer from the Layer Mask step then adjusted the opacity of that duplicate layer until I liked it.

To add a little more grunge and graphic feel I chose a gray colour and used a free graph paper brush that I duplicated and rotated. One layer is above the sketch and one is below it.

For the finishing touch I added some tiny gray splatters on top of all the layers and some below.  The process is one of playing with your stash and experimenting with things you never thought you could do.

I saved the finished image as a .png file for even more versatility. This is what it looks like with no paper behind it.

I can’t WAIT to see how you use this technique!!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

There’s a Flag on the Play – Out Of Bounds!

I had a mini-crisis on Friday when the screen on my laptop started to fail. Geek Squad guy I’m married to tried to fix it but was unable to so out he went to find me a new one. I spent the weekend transferring files and installing software so I apologize for all the redirects you’re going to find in this tutorial. I try to show every step and explain it all in detail as I go along, but I ran out of time… And I seem to have lost the font I was using to label my screenshots, so I’ve switched to Lumberjack. At any rate, this tutorial builds on skills I’ve already shared with you in past tutorials, so I’m going to link you up where necessary.

I spent some time recently checking out the forum at another shop that had a big event happening. One of the event-related threads asked members to show a layout with a technique the member really wanted to learn. Guess what I’m teaching you today? You guessed it! We’re going to take this:

to THIS!

I used a stock photo I found on Pixabay, along with a mask created by PHOTOCowgirl (former GingerScraps designer), a paper from Just So Scrappy‘s Chasing Rainbows kit (the bundle is on sale right now for the incredible price of $5!) and a frame from the GingerBread Ladies‘ MEGA collab True Friend. If you don’t have a mask that will work with your photo, you can make your own using brushes, varying the opacity from 100% at the center to about 30% at the edges.

I laid down my mask then dropped my photo on top of it. I made a copy (CTRL/CMD>J) of the photo so I could extract the bee and part of the cone on the focal flower.

I clipped the photo to the mask temporarily while I decided where to put the frame. Looking at it now, I might want to move it up a smidge so the cone on the flower just behind the focal point is inside the frame… or I could extract it too. Let me think about that…

Zoom in (CTRL/CMD>+ to enlarge, CTRL/CMD>- to shrink) and out while you’re working so you can see what you’ve done.

I turned off the visibility of the photo to be clipped to the mask and the frame, using the Rectangular Marquee tool (CTRL/CMD>M) to cut away the areas in the background that I don’t want to show against the frame. Then I added a Layer Mask to my cut-down photo.

Working on the Layer Mask I carefully erased the remainder of the background. The basics of this technique can be found in this tutorial. Later I went to the frame layer and masked off the area where the petals extend over the frame.

You can resize and move the mask, clipped photo, frame and extracted bit of photo to suit yourself by selecting all the layers using the click-shift-click method.

Now I wanted to have the cone and bee cast a shadow on the frame and the photo to add some dimension. CTRL/CMD>click on the sheet of paper at the top of the Layers panel to create a new layer underneath your extraction. Or just click on the icon then move the layer down. In case you need some reminders on how to create shadows on their own layer, you can review this tutorial. Make sure your shadow layer doesn’t shadow the photo underneath the frame where the sharp edge is, along the bottom of your extraction.

One step that isn’t always needed is to remove areas of that shadow layer that wouldn’t be there if the image was a real thing. You can just erase those areas.

For the petals’ shadow I used a drop shadow brush that is one of the prepackaged brushes Elements comes with. This too went on its own layer so I could adjust it as much as I needed to.

Shadow the frame and it’s good to go!

Next week’s tutorial is going to blow your socks off, so get ready!!!!

Tutorial Tuesday (A Little Departure)

The EYEs Have It

This week, I’m going to go a little off-script, but in the end I think you’ll agree it’ll make for better layouts. So let’s talk about taking better photos. There are some really simple tips coming up that will make your photos so much more interesting and by default, your layouts will benefit too. I’m not going to baffle you with a lot of technical jargon, just some hints on things like composition, vision and mindfulness. The main component of great photos is light. If you train your eye to look at light as an extension of the image you’re planning to capture, you’ll be halfway there!

Oh, and taming that photo-destroying camera shake is an absolute must! If you’re going to be moving around and don’t want the encumbrance of a tripod to keep that camera stock still, you’ll need to brace your arms to minimize movement. If you WANT blurry, out-of-focus photos, hold your camera at arms’-length and snap away. If you don’t, hold your camera in both hands, tuck your elbows in against your trunk, take a deep breath, let it out slowly while you compose your shot and hit the shutter button as you get to the end of your exhale. This stays the same whether you’re shooting with a wildly expensive DSLR with a 300mm lens on it (although if you’re doing that, I’m going to bet there’s a tripod in there too) or if you’re snapping away with a cell phone camera.

This past weekend I went to a local festival I try to attend every year. Photo ops are everywhere at events like this, as long as you can be patient. If you can wait even a couple of minutes until the people clear out, you’ll get better shots. I have an abundance of patience and if I’m by myself, I take all the time I need to get what I want; I left the menfolk at home this year! So anyway, this festival is a classic-cars-and-classic-rock event that actually runs over 4 days. The weather is usually stellar for the Saturday show-and-shine and this year was no exception. Taking photos of cars in bright sunshine presents some particular difficulties and you’ll see how I addressed them when I show you my examples. All the photos I’m going to show you are SOOC… straight out of the camera and shot using the same lens. I haven’t made any adjustments.

Let’s start with exposure. Using the light that’s available to your advantage is going to make your photos look a lot better. In this first photo I was shooting toward the light, so the fender and door area are a lot darker than I’d like. There’s also a LOT of glare from the windshield. Sure, I could fix it with PSE, but why not try to minimize how much tweakage will be needed right from the start? (A little WSNH tip. 😉 )

By going around the car and shooting from the other side, the exposure is much more even and the glare is gone.

Think about what’s actually in your viewfinder – or on your LCD screen – and try not to have objects growing out of people’s heads or otherwise messing up your shot. Pay attention to what’s in the background. If you have to move a little, it’s not a bad idea. In this first image, that snow fence is just NASTY! I could crop it out, but…

by just moving a couple of feet and changing the angle of approach, I caught a couple of sweet little sunflares and the hood ornament’s details are much more visible. At this angle the chrome reflects less of the paint colour and the crowds are still reflected but undefined.

Another example of how simply changing your point of view improves your shot… if I wait a minute the guy will move. But the lawn chair and the sun canopy? Doubtful.

So I moved. Lawn chair? Gone. Sun canopy? Gone! Dude in the rust coloured shirt? Also gone!

Reflections and shadows can make or break a photo. I often think details are more interesting than whole objects so I wanted to get a shot of the tail end of this Hudson. Oh dear… who is that old woman reflected in the paint? Oh yeah. Me.

I took a step to my left, reframed and took this one. Much better!

I think this photo can be redeemed a little (dodging and burning perhaps); I do like the way the woman’s face is framed by the parrot’s beak and breast, but the shadows are so overwhelming. Some judicious editing – and cropping – in PSE might make it useable.

Fortunately, I was able to move a couple of steps to my left and got this one! Get a load of that depth of field. What a handsome bird. Fancy name too… hyacinthine macaw.

Another example of both attending to reflections and cropping in the viewfinder follows. The hood ornament is the subject here, but it’s a bit distracted from by the car behind it.

A slightly different angle and moving a bit closer captures nice reflections in the chrome, and plays up the detail a bit.

I’ve seen a lot of photos of ridiculously cute kids and pets that could be made really special just by getting down to their level. See the difference between these two photos? I think we’ll all agree that the second one is the more interesting one… even with the people in the background.

This shot is also taken from a crouch.

The next two examples show how the point of view makes or breaks your shot. This Caddy has been part of the show-and-shine for as long as I can remember. It’s one of my favourite cutesy touches so I usually take at least one snap of it. This is the first one I took. Kinda ho-hum. The exposure isn’t particularly great – the tray is underexposed and the Root Bear is overexposed. If I was telling a story with this photo, it would have put people to sleep in a heartbeat.

So I moved around, Now the Bear is the story. I could have done a better crop in my viewfinder, but that’s a really easy fix.

When I’m shooting points of interest like this view of one of our parks, I try and get the most effective shot I can. Sometimes that means ditching the good old landscape orientation.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to my eyes, this portrait-oriented shot is better.

Before I forget… when you’re shooting photos of water – rivers, lakes, oceans – remember that water will ALWAYS be level! There are few things more visually jarring than a tilted horizon with water in it, unless there’s something or someone in the foreground that provides the subject and the angle of the horizon is an artistic statement.

I think this pair of photos brings everything I’ve just suggested together in one. Cropping in the viewfinder, shooting up rather than down, taking advantage of the light and paying attention to the background are all aspects of the better shot. And I can’t wait to play with it!

Ooh, I caught a little bit of bokeh in these. Sweet!!

I hope you’ve found something useful in there and that I haven’t come across as bossy. I wanted to keep it simple and achievable for everybody. Let me know what you think!



Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)


Once again, Glee has outed me! She saw my finished layout in the Gallery and just knew today’s tutorial would relate to how I created my title. I used a pretty but fairly simple script font called Black Olives. It’s an upright font so I chose the Italic Text tool option. The colour was pulled from the sky in my photo.

After I had my text the size I wanted it and in the spot I wanted it, I simplified then duplicated the text layer. CTRL/CMD>J, remember. Then I “grabbed” the handle at the top centre of my bounding box – make sure yours is on! – and pulled it straight down. The Move tool options include a spot to Constrain Proportions; if you select that, it will automatically size your image. If you look at the numbers in the boxes, one will say 100% (for example) and the other will say -100%. But for this technique you don’t have to constrain proportions if you don’t want to. You can make it whatever height you want. When you’re happy, hit the check-mark.

The next step I took was to Skew the image. Image>Transform>Skew takes you there. Then I pulled the lower corner handles a bit to the right. You can eye-ball for this step, or you can turn on the grid (CTRL/CMD>’) to help you do it evenly. But only if you’re really… umm… particular.

And I am. I turned on the grid so I could move those handles about the same distance. I also nudged the skewed layer down a little, as you’ll see in the next screenshot.

If you’re a faithful reader you’ll know that I’m rarely satisfied with basic. I went on to jazz things up a little by applying some special effects. I made a copy of the skewed layer then added some panache. The fx button at the bottom of your layers panel includes some basic styles, such as Drop Shadows, Glows and Bevels. By selecting any one of those you’ll have access to all of the default settings as shown below. I used a commercially available style set, but the settings below will give you the same effects. Check the Glow and Inner boxes, with black (000000) for the Colour. Set the Size to about 18 and the Opacity to about 13. Then go down and check the Bevel box, Direction up and Size at 24. You can see that the topmost skewed layer looks a little shiny with some dimension to it.

Then I went down to the original skewed layer and decreased its Opacity down to 28%. I wanted some of the blue to remain, but the shiny dimensional stuff to be most visible.

Then I merged the two skewed layers.

I chose another font, this time a simple sans serif one called Caviar Dreams. I pulled a pink from one of the papers I used then added some special effects to it too. The Glow and Inner boxes are checked again, Size is at 70 and Opacity at 50. The Bevel is set at 24 and Up again.

I decided a little drop shadow on the two fancy layers was needed because of their dimension and the end result looks like this.

You know what’s the best part? You can do this to almost anything! You can create a mirror image of a photo, an element, a brush (on its own layer, of course!), make an object look like it’s casting a really long shadow… so many ways you can make this work for you! Give it a whirl. I know you’ll find some really creative ways to use it and to combine it with other cool techniques. See you in a week.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Dodge and Burn… NOT an Action Movie

Awhile back, Ellen (gmae) asked me to think about a tutorial on dodging and burning. I couldn’t think of how to introduce it at the time, but I’ve come up with a way!

Dodging and burning are old-school photography techniques for selectively adjusting exposure of photos to bring out details that weren’t all that evident. In the darkroom, it was done with a piece of cardboard (at least that’s how I did it back in the day).  [I cut a round hole in a solid piece of mat board (for burning) and taped the cut-out circular piece to a thin piece of very stiff wire (for dodging).] First the photographer would print the desired negative on photo paper and examine the exposure. Then another print would be made with some fancy footwork to correct areas of over-or-underexposure. Dodging involved holding the end of the thin stiff wire with the cardboard over the area of the photo that was overexposed and then exposing the paper while keeping the wire-and-cardboard dodger moving. This decreased the amount of light that hit that section of the paper, so those blown details could be seen. Burning was done similarly but was concentrated on the under-exposed areas by moving the hole in the cardboard over the dark spots, allowing MORE light to hit that area of the paper. The cardboard in both methods had to be kept moving at a reasonably constant rate so as to prevent the obvious demarcation lines the enlarger would leave on the image. It was time-consuming, wasted a lot of expensive photo paper and was definitely a skill not everyone excelled at. To be honest, I totally failed at it! So it’s a WONDERFUL thing that dodging and burning can be done digitally and done well without a lot of fuss.

My first demonstration will show you how to make things like tags look like they’re stickers and washi tape look realistic, complete with that appearance of something thicker underneath it. I’m using CathyK‘s July Daily Download Back to Nature here. (If you missed it you can still get it, it’s in the store!)

I want this tag to look like it’s a sticker and it needs a little ridge where it overlaps the photo.

To make this technique easier on yourself the first couple of times you try it (until you get the hang of it) I suggest you position your item so that you can see the edge of the object underneath at both ends, as I’ve shown. But don’t worry about having it horizontally arranged because this will work no matter what the angle.

Now select the Sponge tool. It’s actually 3 tools in one… the Sponge, Dodge and Burn are all accessed through there. The keyboard shortcut is simply hitting the letter “O“. You can use that to toggle between the three tools. Neat, eh?

The Dodge tool is the one we’re going to start with. The icon looks like that little paddle the optician uses to check your vision.

One of the important controls for this tool is hidden behind the Brush menu. It’s the one that lets you choose between Highlights, Midtones and Shadows. It defaults to Midtones, and that’s where you want it. Select a soft round brush of about 45 pixels in diameter and set the exposure (there’s that word again!) to no more than 30%. You’re going for a REALLY subtle effect, so start off light and build if you need to.

I learned something new while I was preparing this tutorial. Set your brush at the edge of the item UNDER your tag/sticker/tape and click once. You want it to overlap onto the layer underneath it a little so fix a reference point in your mind to help you later. Then move your brush cursor over to the other side of your tag/sticker/tape, hold down the Shift key and click again. Bingo! You’ve got a straight line of brush on your image!!

It’s really hard to see the change, but trust me, it’s there. Now decrease the size of your brush by about a third. Repeat the click-shift-click manoeuver again.

Once more with feeling… again decrease the size of your brush by a third (that’s why I chose 45 pixels… makes the math easy). Then click-shift-click one last time.

If you look really closely at my example, you can see the faint but definite lightening along the edge of my photo.

It’s actually easier to see from farther out.

Now we’re going to Burn the part that overlies the photo. The Burn tool looks like someone making an “OK” sign with their hand. I left the size of the brush at 15 pixels with the exposure at 30% and used the very same click-shift-click to lay down a darker line.

Then I followed that up with a HUGE brush that covered the whole part of the tag that sat on top of the photo. The first pass set the edge, the second pass created a bit of a shadow that makes it look so much more real.

Here’s a zoomed-in view…

and a zoomed-out view. What do you think?

On my finished layout, I dropped another tag on top of this one and did the same technique with it. You can see the effect below.

Okay… let’s pretend we’re in the darkroom and we have this photo on our workspace. How can we use the Dodge and Burn tools to make it look better?

I darkened his eyes, his nasolabial folds (those grooves from his nose to the corners of his mouth), his dimple and the folds in his ear using the Burn tool with a small brush size and a light touch. The photo looks a little sharper, at least to my eyes.

Then I used the Dodge tool to bring the highlights back. Wherever more light would hit his face was dodged a smidge – the tip and bridge of his nose, the top of his ear, the apples of his cheekbones and a small section of his forehead. I also hit the catchlights in his eyes and brightened the whites a bit too. You could use these tips to make the eyes in your portraits sparkle: Burn the irises a bit, then Dodge the white and catchlights for some real drama. Just remember, if you’re not happy with how your images look, you can always Undo! CTRL/CMD>Z is the most useful tool in your arsenal! (Wanna know another way to use the Dodge tool? To soften crowsfeet!)

Now let’s look at what we can do with colour photos.

I went over the throat of this daylily with the Burn tool to deepen the fuchsia areas a bit.

Then I went over the areas where the light hits and Dodged up the highlights. I worked on a copy of my photo so I could move from the original to the edited one and see how the changes looked.

And boom! The throat’s fuchsia is darker, so there’s more contrast, and the stamens and ruffled edges are lighter and stand out more. I LOVE being able to selectively enhance my images!

I’m not sure if this is what Ellen was looking for when she asked about dodging and burning. If it isn’t, I’m sure she’ll let me know. Have fun y’all, see you next week!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

More Fun with FONTS

I’ve confessed it before – I’m a fontaholic. I LOVE fonts and the options they provide. But have you ever downloaded a font because the example the email or website shows makes it look like it’s been hand-painted – cool, right? – only to find out it’s just… a font? And it looks sort of like the screenshot below. That makes me so cranky! So I’m going to show you how those cheaters do it.

Pick a colour. It doesn’t matter what you choose because it’s going to disappear later, but you want to be able to see it clearly.

Then pick a font, one with some weight to it. I like this one called Cedar. It’s one of the ones I was enticed to buy because of its lovely watercolour paint look in the samples. Umm. Yeah.

This step is optional, but I’m going to use this as a title so I filled in those gaps and made the letters all solid shapes. Tip: When using the paint bucket Fill tool, if you only click inside the space once, there will be a faint outline of the gap left when you’re done. Solution: click TWICE.

And in case you haven’t been paying attention, Simplify your font layer.

Now you’re going to choose a watercolour brush. Or one with some kind of texture. You want to make the font look fabulous, but you also want it to be grounded to the paper below it. Letting a little of that background colour show through does that nicely. Because this text will mimic a painted-on title, it won’t be shadowed later, so ground it now. Choose your paint colour at this step as well.

Create a new layer for your brush. Always. ALWAYS! If you hover your brush over your text, you can see where the edges should be, but this isn’t always so with this type of brush. It does, however, give you some idea of whether your brush will cover your text and whether it needs any adjustments. I tipped my brush a little to get a more uniform coverage by using the Brush tool Settings menu as shown below.

Then just click your brush over your text. If you want more oomph, click more than once, but be careful not to lose the tonal variations you’re trying to create.

Stay on your brush layer and Select your text by clicking on your text layer’s thumbnail. Behold, marching ants!

To Invert your Selection, you can Select>Inverse as shown, or you can CTRL/CMD>Shift>I, which shifts the active area to everything OUTSIDE the text.

This next step Deletes the paint outside the edges of the text. There are 3 ways this can be done: Edit>Delete or CTRL/CMD>X or simply hit the Delete key.

So now the paint only covers the area over the text! CTRL/CMD>D makes the marching ants disappear.

Once I eliminated the marching ants, I wasn’t totally happy with the look so I just added a Stroke to the edges… still on the brush layer.

I used the same colour for my stroke. But I could have pulled one of the other shades of teal from the background paper. I think that would have ruined the effect though. Centering the stroke on the edge eliminates those raggedy jaggedy pixels some fonts have when they’re enlarged.

The change made by the stroke isn’t obvious but I think it just defines the text a little better.

You could leave the original text layer and colour show through your brush layer, or you can turn the visibility off to see how you like the look. I found that some of the tonal variation was lost when I did that. But if you’re happy with the visibility turned off you can go ahead and delete the text layer.

Okay, so let’s try something a little different, but using the same basic steps. We’re going to reverse the look.

Back up all the way to where we Selected the text. We’ll use the same brush and colour.

But this time, don’t Invert your selection, just Delete it. Edit>Delete, or Ctrl/CMD>X or just hit Delete.

Now the Text layer is fully visible and the brush is smooshed all around it.

Turning the visibility of the Text layer off looks like this. Decision time. Happy? Not happy? What should be changed, if anything?

Let’s make some small changes.

Would a Stroke make it look better?

Same settings, same everything else.

It’s better, but not really what I want.

So I just Undid – CTRL/CMD>Z – my way back to the Select text step and changed my brush to a dirty spray.

I know I reminded you to put your brush(es) on its own layer – here’s why. You can adjust it to your heart’s content without affecting anything else. You can make the brush bigger or smaller, change the angle of it, decrease the opacity of it, change the Blend Mode, duplicate just the brush… a schwack of things can be done to it that can’t be done if it’s on the same layer as something else.

This time I clicked my brush several times, moving it around to cover the text more but still letting some of the background colour show through.

Et voilà! Turn off the text layer and it looks like a reverse stencil.

If you’ve seen the layout I used this technique for, you’ll know I went with a different colour and the very first method. Despite the appearance of a great deal of time consumed, this actually only takes a matter of minutes to do. Give it a whirl!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

A Little Bit Sketchy

Today I’m going to show you how to go from THIS…

to THIS!

And it’s only going to take you about 10 minutes to create your own sketchy image. Really! (Glee, did you figure it out? Of COURSE I planned a tutorial when I created my Designer Spotlight challenge layout!)

First things first. Open up a new blank 12×12 canvas on your workspace. You can always resize it later, but having a big canvas to work on makes it a lot easier to get it right.

Drag and drop a soft white paper onto your canvas. You have lots of choices in your GingerScraps stash so pick one you like that will work with your photo.

Now drag and drop your photo onto the paper. Enlarge it to fill the workspace with the section you want to work on… or leave it… it doesn’t matter which you do. I wanted a square image when I was done, so I resized. Then Duplicate that photo layer. (WSNH: CTRL/CMD>J)

Then turn the TOP LAYER‘s visibility off.

We’re going to play with the Filters that come with the software. Remember to select the bottom photo layer to work on for this step, then Filter>Stylize>Find Edges.

Now you’ve got a neat pencil sketch right there. You could be happy with that, but with a couple of other tweaks you can have something much more unique.

To make the white areas disappear decrease the saturation of the layer down to -100. There are two ways to get there: Enhance>Adjust Color>Hue/Saturation is one and the WSNH way – CTRL/CMD>U is the other. The menu should look like this when you’re done.

Now we have to make the sketch vanish. Hold down the ALT key and click on the Layer Mask symbol at the top of the Layers panel. In case this is your first attempt at one of my tuts, it’s the one that looks like a piece of paper with a blue circle on it, the middle of five symbols grouped together.

Now for the magic! Go to your Brush tool (hit the B key) and find a nice watercolour brush. There are some in the default brush set Natural Brushes 2 that came with your software, or you can download some free ones via a quick Google search. I used some that I found at Brusheezy. Either way, you want to decrease the Opacity of the brush to give you more control over how your sketch comes together.

Make sure you’re working on the layer mask and NOT on your image. Start painting back your sketch with your watercolour brush, either by clicking on the mask with a full-sized brush several times or by clicking and dragging the mouse over the area you want to make visible. You want to keep the edges of your sketch soft and indistinct so it all seems to blend into the background.

You can change brushes and adjust the size and angle of the brush to vary their effects.

If you’ve never changed the angle of a brush, this will show you how. Click on the Brush Settings… bar and either move the tip of the arrow around or type a number into that box highlighted blue in the screenshot.

Keep moving your brush(es) around until your sketch looks well-defined in the area you want to highlight in your finished image and softer towards the edges.

To bring some colour into your sketch, just follow the same process with your top-most photo layer. Turn the visibility back on so you can actually do stuff to the photo layer. Hold down the ALT key, click on the Layer Mask symbol and make your photo disappear.

Using the same watercolour brush or a different one, your choice, decrease the opacity a bit more and start painting the colour in.

Work carefully from your focal point out. You can have areas where the photo is 100% visible and other areas where the sketchy aspect is more visible. All up to you!

If you feel like you’ve made the photo TOO clear, you can change the foreground colour of your brush from white to black and soften it up again.

That could have been where I stopped. You could stop there and have a simply stunning photo effect that will make people so impressed with your skills. I wanted to see what I would have if I duplicated just the sketch layer. To do that, I used my WSNH keyboard shortcut (CTRL/CMD>J) then right-clicked on the new sketch layer to disable the layer mask. A second right-click let me delete the layer mask and left me with just the sketch. With it sandwiched in between the original sketch and the photo, it looked like the screenshot below. I played with the Opacity of that layer, which is what I used for my layout.

Rather than make you look for it, here it is.

I can’t wait to see what you do with this one!! This technique is perfect for those scenic shots we all have in our collection. Have fun!!