Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Tearing Up the Sheets (of Cardstock)

Have you ever wondered how other scrappers get their torn paper to look so realistic? Let me show you…

If you were to tear a piece of high-quality cardstock, which generally has colour applied to one or both sides with a white core, you’d get a bit of an irregular edge, with varying amounts of white backing paper showing along it. So to demonstrate this, I’ve used an embossed cardstock from Ooh La La Scraps‘ simply gorgeous bundle You and Me. Fortunately for me, there is also a solid white, textured paper in the kit too, so I’m going to use it for the core. (For the first few steps, I turned the visibility of the white paper layer off.) And to make it easier to see what I was doing, I put a piece of gray patterned paper behind it all.

I wanted to have tears along both vertical edges of the paper and I wanted some of the background to be visible. I also wanted to Work Smart Not Hard. So I selected the layer with my pink cardstock on it and using the Rectangular Marquee tool, I selected a portion of paper then Edit>Cut [WSNH: CTRL/CMD>X]I trimmed away some paper from each side. You’ll see why this is a WSNH tip as we go along.

I then selected the Eraser tool and a relatively small brush size. Working along the right side of my canvas, I erased away some of the pink cardstock in an irregular, jagged manner. Don’t try to be too careful because you want it to look… well, TORN. If it might make it easier for you to visualize, take a real piece of paper, any kind, and tear it. For real. Then look at the edge. It’s not gonna be perfect!

Because I wanted both sides to be torn, I repeated the process on the left side of the canvas too. You may have noticed that I broke my own rule of only erasing on a Layer Mask. If you’re wondering why, it’s because it really doesn’t matter if I erase too much of these papers. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s better if it ISN’T perfect.

Once I was happy with the edges of my tears, I turned the visibility of my white paper layer back on and trimmed away some of it along both edges in the same way I did with the pink. It made me so happy to see that the texture of the white paper was the same as the pink – that core layer should have some texture to it too.

The next step was to erase the edges of the white paper just like I did with the pink cardstock. Zoom in close to your work so you can see exactly what you’re doing.

This time I erased close in to the pink paper in some places and veered away a bit in others.

When you zoom back out, there may be some bits of white paper still there. These have to be erased too.

After I had my white edges the way I wanted them, I selected the pink cardstock layer again and went back with the Eraser tool and created some little slivers of torn paper as shown below. This would happen with real cardstock, so I always include a few little shreds.

Here’s a full screen view of the two torn edges.

The last step to ensuring realism is to add a very infinitesimal shadow to the cardstock layer. I like to have shadows visible on both edges, so to accomplish that I duplicated [WSNH: CTRL/CMD>J]the pink cardstock layer before I applied a drop shadow. I used a simple shadow, with the following settings: Size 0, Distance 2 and Opacity 75. (These aren’t hard-and-fast, use whatever settings look the most realistic to you. Just remember them for later.)

When I had my shadow just so, I Simplified the layer. Doing that locks the shadow to the cardstock so it doesn’t change later.

Then I did the same thing with the second pink cardstock layer, with one difference – the angle of the shadow.

After both layers had that little extra definition provided by the shadows, I merged the two pink cardstock layers with the white paper layer. [WSNH: Select all layers then CTRL/CMD>E]

And here’s the finished layout. Can you see what other techniques I’ve shown you have also been used?

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.

TTFN!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Carol: Objects Inside Other Objects and Going Incognito

At the end of last week’s tutorial I announced that Carol (gnana96) had been selected to challenge my PSE skills. When I contacted her she told me she had two tricks she’d like to learn and couldn’t decided between them. They were both relatively simple so I decided to show her how to accomplish both. Ready, Carol?

In her message to me, she said she was building a recipe book and wanted to use cooking-related elements but was having trouble making them look right. She wanted to know how to put something (ground meat) into something else (a frying pan) so that it looked good. I don’t have those sorts of elements in my stash, so I’m going to use toys instead, but the principle is the same.

I pulled a wagon from a Wimpychompers kit called Chalk It Up (acquired via The Daily Digi). Then I grabbed a puppy and a frog from Boomers Girl Designs‘s Boys Will Be Boys. I proceeded to put the puppy and the frog into the wagon, so to ensure I had enough room to manoeuvre, I changed the Canvas Size. The long way is Image>Resize>Canvas Size [WorkSmartNotHard: CTRL/CMD>Alt>C]. Then I moved the wagon down to the bottom of the canvas.

To see where things needed to sit for the best effect, I put the puppy element and the frog element on layers on top of the wagon, resizing as necessary, and adjusted them so they didn’t extend below the bottom of the wagon. Then to make sure they were properly aligned I used the Align tool. To do that, select as many layers as you want to line up then go to the Tools work space. Determine which edge you want to line up, then click on the appropriate icon – NOT the descriptor, because that does nothing!

Then, with both puppy and frog layers still selected, I moved them under the wagon on the Layers panel. Now it looked like they were inside the wagon, and that might have been enough (ground meat in a pan) but these little things have articulating limbs, so I could take them another step toward really looking like they were inside the wagon.

I wanted to have one of the frog’s legs and one of the puppy’s legs hanging down over the side of the wagon, so I created a Layer Mask. (Lots of previous tutorials have used Layer Masks, so if you’ve read those ones, feel free to skip ahead.) The reason for using a Layer Mask is to give more control over what happens to an image. Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All [WSNH: Click on the blue-square-gray-circle icon at the top of the Layers panel]

Now I was ready to erase the wagon where it overlaid the frog’s leg. Make sure you’re on the Layer Mask, not the actual element. I selected the Eraser tool with white as my foreground colour.  (Black Conceals, White Reveals) You can toggle between white and black using the X key.

Don’t worry if you erase more of the object than necessary, because you can switch from erasing to painting back by toggling foreground colours. I did the same process to reveal one of the puppy’s legs too.

I zoomed in really close for the painting-back step so I could see exactly where the limb’s edges were. Looking good!

Once I was satisfied the image looked perfect, I right-clicked on the layer in the Layers panel and selected Simplify. That incorporated the masked areas into the layer and eliminated the risk of messing it up. But…

The detailed images of the frog and the puppy had shadows where they overlaid the critters’ bodies. Shouldn’t there also be shadows on the side of the wagon? Simply using a drop shadow Layer Style isn’t going to help (even though I DID use one at this step so that the frog threw a shadow on the puppy where they overlapped) because the layer’s shadow will be behind the wagon. What to do?

Drop Shadow brushes to the rescue!! These brushes come preloaded with your PSE software, so just look in your Brushes menu for them. Remember, for ease of adjustments later, put your brushes on their OWN LAYER. For this step, don’t worry about the Opacity of the brush, just pay attention to the colour you’ve chosen and the size of the shadow you’re extending. It’ll take some trial and error to get it right so be patient! Following the direction of the light source the designer used, I painted in my shadows.

When I was done, I wanted to soften the edges of the shadows. Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur will do that nicely.

I pulled the slider to the right to increase the radius of the blurring, and watched the actual image as I went along. When the shadows I’d painted blended into the shadows on my little frog, I selected OK. Then I decreased the Opacity of this shadow layer to seamlessly blend the edges in. You can adjust Opacity first and then Blur if you like. It might give you more control, so try it both ways to see what works best. CTRL/CMD>Z  (Undo) is your best friend!

I repeated the process for the puppy. When I was finished, I knew I wanted to Merge the layers together to move them to my layout as one object.

After selecting all the layers, I merged them as shown. (You’re saying, “Yeah, sure… you used the keyboard shortcut.” And you’re correct!) Then I carried on with building my March 2017 Inspiration Challenge layout.

When choosing something that makes me happy – the theme of the Inspiration Challenge – the first thoughts that come to mind are thoughts of my grandchildren. The second of Carol’s requests was about concealing the identities of her older grands, who value their privacy. So this was a natural! Little A isn’t concealed at all below, is he? I clicked on the Quick Selection Tool, which many people just call the Magic Wand. Using it, I outlined his little face, which put a line of marching ants around it. That’s my “selection”.

Then I went to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur just as I did for my limb shadows above.

A little tug to the right and his features are blurred, but his expression is still discernable. It’s really that easy! To conceal parts of her journaling, Carol could select the words in question on her text layer (simplified, of course!) using the Rectangular Marquee tool then blurring the very same way. Now Carol (and all the rest of you grandmothers out there) can scrap photos of her older grands as often as she wants.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.

See you all next week!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Down on the Border (not the Little River Band version)

A while back some of my fellow Sugar Cookies (praise team members) and I were kicking around ideas for tutorial topics. I usually have some ideas about what I can show you, but coming up with new, fresh lessons every week isn’t as easy as it sounds. So my Cookie gals gave me a couple of ideas that I could use for quick tuts, and this was one of them. Well, not precisely what was suggested, but I think it’s even better! I’m going to show you how to build a border, using repeating shapes. I could have taken the easy route and showed you how to make a simple scalloped border that some template designers use routinely, but I thought, no… let’s do something with a little more vision. And here we are…

I didn’t do the Signature Challenge in February (it’s a difficult month for me and I can’t get excited about it) so it was time for a new siggie. March doesn’t mean spring in this part of the world – we still have snow well into April most years – but March has other wonderful implications. Both my daughters were born in March, and St Paddy’s Day is right in the middle. Since I’m mostly Irish by ancestry, my March siggie will always include some reminders of those good things. And that led me to create a border of shamrocks, using the Custom Shape tool.

The first task before you can get going is to open a new file work space in PSE. If you want your border to extend from edge to edge on your layout, choose that measure for one of the dimensions, and go with 1 or 2 inches for the other. Because I was doing a siggie, I selected the same dimensions I described in the tutorial on signatures. I also added a grid so my shape could be easily sized. But you can do that even more simply by setting Defined Proportions. When you use this setting your Custom Shape tool will automatically give you a shape in exactly those dimensions.

I usually select All Elements Shapes from the pop-up menu when I open up the Custom Shape tool so I have a wide variety of choices. I know there are all four playing card suits represented as standard shapes, so I went right there and chose the CLUBS shape – which is a shamrock! (Real shamrocks have three leaves, not four.)

Once I had all that figured out, I went ahead and made a shamrock shape on my canvas. You can use the grid, or not. I’ve played around with using the grid and and without – either method will work just fine.

I knew I wanted the shamrock border to extend from one side of my canvas to the other, so I Simplified my shape to get rid of the extraneous stuff the software puts on a shape layer.

Then I made a stack of copies, all identical to my first shape. [Work Smart Not Hard tip: CTRL/CMD>J duplicates your layer.]

The software stacks them one on top of the other, so when I had as many copies as I thought I’d need, I selected only the top-most shape and moved it all the way to the other side of my canvas. Once I had shapes at each side, I selected ALL the shape layers. Then I went down to the Tool Options menu and clicked on Distribute>Middle.

Whoa! All my shapes lined themselves up in a nice, tidy, evenly-spaced line! (This is a fabulous tip to use when you’re putting buttons in a row, or lines of stitches, or almost any objects you can come up with.)

There was some space in between my shapes, which won’t work well for a continuous border, so I nudged them until they were all very slightly overlapping. Then I resized the whole group of them to regain my edge-to-edge border.

Then I decided to get fancy. So I tilted some of them to the right, and others to the left. If you’re a little OCD (like I am) you can use the tool settings to make the tilts uniform, simply by keying in the angle you want. Tilting to the right uses a positive number, to the left a negative.

Once I was happy with the way it all looked, I merged the layers. [WSNH tip: Select all the layers you want to merge, then CTRL/CMD>E] And now I had a clipping mask!

Once I clipped a paper to it, my border was done! (Almost…) [WSNH tip: CTRL/CMD>G to clip the current layer to the layer below it.]

I looked at my border for a couple of minutes and decided it needed some inked edges. Keep your brush size a little bigger than you think you want, because otherwise it won’t fade away into the paper in that nice way you want it to.

When your edges are all inked, create another clipping mask [CTRL/CMD>G] and cut away the brush edges that extend past your border.  Then you can adjust the Opacity of your brush until you like the way it looks. Finish up by merging [CTRL/CMD>E] the ink mask with the border. And you’re done!

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.

At the end of February there were 4 names on the list of people who had either posted a layout to the Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery on Facebook or posted a link to a layout in the Blog comments section. Mr Random chose Carol’s name (gnana96) … Carol!! Think about what you’d like me to show you and your peers for next week, send me a PM and I’ll get right on it!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Blend Modes? Say What??

Photoshop Elements is considered the poor gal’s Photoshop because it has its limitations; there are lots of things Photoshop does that can’t be easily done in Elements. But that doesn’t mean Elements isn’t a powerful tool. I’ve mentioned Blend Modes before, mostly in passing; today we’re going to take a deeper look at them, but I’ll admit I’m still figuring out how to make them more useful to me, and to you. If you’ve ever used a photo-editing action set, like those available free from The Coffee Shop or for purchase from Paint the Moon, you might have noticed there are dozens of layers created by the action as it alters your photo. Many of those layers use Blend Modes to create their magic. So let’s go down the list.

In the image below, I’ve opened the Blend Mode menu in the Layers panel. It’s the oblong button at the upper left, underneath the icons and next to the Opacity slider, and it defaults to Normal. Take note of the divisions in the menu… they’re grouped according to the effects the modes have on an image. Modes in the first box don’t really visually alter your image. In the second box, they DARKEN something; white is the neutral point in this mode. In the third, the LIGHTEN something; here it’s black that is the neutral point. The fourth group produces effects on CONTRAST; it uses 50% gray as the neutral point. That fifth group is the INVERSION group, they cancel out something in the image. And the last grouping is the component section, where a COMPONENT of the image is blended in some way. All of these modes affect the layer IMMEDIATELY BELOW IT. The Opacity of the Blend Mode layer will also affect how the resulting image looks. In the demonstrations below, the opacity of each mode has been left at 100%. (WSNH tip: You can quickly scroll through all the modes by holding down the Shift key and clicking either + or . Try it! It’s fun to watch the way the image changes.)

As you can see in the screenshot below, Dissolve produces a slight change in the image, and softens it a bit. If you were to copy your image and apply Dissolve to the copy, there would be a bit of pixelation created.

Darken is in that second box, and it does create a slightly darker image, but with a bit of lost contrast.

Multiply definitely darkens the image and improves contrast. This is a good mode for those cast shadows we’ve played with in other tutorials. Another really easy but very useful application for this mode is to improve those slightly overexposed photos we all have. Duplicate your photo, switch the Blend mode on the upper version to Multiply and then tweak the Opacity and you’ll be astounded at how much it improves your photo. When you love it, merge the two layers.

In the old days when photos were on film, post-processing was an art, and a science. Magic was created in the darkroom through manipulation of light. By hand. When an underexposed area of the photo needs to be made more visible, the photographer “burns” the area by holding a piece of cardboard with a hole in it over the photo paper, projecting the image through the film, through the hole and increasing the amount of light falling on that area. To keep the shape of the hole in the cardboard from being obvious, the cardboard has to be kept moving. It’s a labourious process, one that has been drastically improved with software like Elements. The Color Burn mode takes all the guess work and technical difficulty out of darkening areas of an image.

Linear Burn darkens the image even more, slightly changes the colour and maintains contrast. When you see “burn”, always think “darker”. This mode isn’t particularly useful for scrapbooking although it’s an option for those shadow layers.

Darker Color doesn’t produce a dramatic change at all. The colour is slightly darker and contrast is preserved.

Now we’ve moved into the third box, where the modes all lighten something in some way. Lighter Color does just that, it brings out the lighter shading in the image.

Screen mode produces a much less saturated image and lightens the colour as well, while preserving contrast.

Another darkroom trick photographers use to lighten up areas of over-exposure is called “dodging”. A circular piece of cardboard is held with tongs over the area that is too dark while the image is projected through the film and onto the paper. And of course, the cardboard has to be kept moving so there’s no visible image of the disc. Color Dodge takes away all the finickiness of that process. It also dramatically changes the colour.

Linear Dodge produces even more lightening, with a change in colour and a loss of contrast.

Lighter Color simply does that. It doesn’t produce a huge change, and it does soften the image slightly.

Overlay is one of my favourite modes. It lets the texture of the background show through when used on text. It also sharpens the details a little. BUT… it changes the colour of whatever it’s applied to, so if you use it for text so you can see the paper texture, you might be unhappy with the colour you end up with. We’ll talk about Overlay again in another lesson when we get into photo editing.

Soft Light mode brightens the image a little, while slightly darkening the colour and shifting the hue a smidge.

Hard Light is just that… hard. It makes the image darker, deepens the colour and improves contrast.

Look at how Vivid Light changes EVERYTHING!

Linear Light produces a brighter, more saturated image with greater contrast.

Pin Light creates a softer image with no obvious change.

This mode will have very limited utility for the average photographer or scrapbooker and would be more useful to the graphic artist whose work involves transforming images completely.

Difference is only used by very skilled Photoshoppers to create advanced edits of images.

Exclusion, when used on photos, will produce a negative effect. Whites become black, blacks become whites and everything else will be grayed shades. The colour wheel is essentially inverted.

Hue mode has very little effect on the layer below. It may be useful when blending in textures from an overly or a paper layer.

Saturation behaves in a similar manner and really doesn’t alter the layer below much unless that overlying layer is not a copy of the layer below.

Color mode improves contrast over Saturation and slightly darkens the underlying layer, but isn’t really visually striking.

Luminosity brightens.

Now that we’ve looked at each mode individually, let’s see how they can be combined to really improve an image.

The steps I took are listed in reverse order. The base layer is Normal. See how The colour is darker, the detail is preserved, if slightly sharper, and the contrast is somewhat better too?

I hope you take the time to play around with these modes to see what great images you can produce.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Build-a-Brush Workshop

Brushes are one of the most effective and interesting tools the digiscrapper has for livening up a layout. There are so many things we can do with brushes, which stand in for rubber stamps used by the traditional paper scrapper. There are brushes built into Photoshop Elements and there are lots of sources for both free and for-purchase brushes around the Web. But did you know that you can turn almost anything into a digital brush, to customize and personalize your layouts like no commercially-obtained brush can? I’m going to show you how to do that in a couple of easy steps, then give you some tips about using your brushes for truly unique design. For the basics, I’m going to use a star from Luv Ewe Designs‘ kit Yo Bro, part of a sensational collab with JoyLynn of Blue Heart Scraps. Jennifer of Luv Ewe Designs has retired from designing (temporarily, we hope!) so her kits can’t be used for challenge layouts, but they’re still worth a look. I chose this star for a couple of reasons. It has well-defined details and some shading, which will make for a more interesting brush.

I checked my Brush tool menu to see which set was currently open at the time, so I would know where to look for my brushes later. I suggest you select a brush set with only a couple of brushes in it, because they’ll be duplicated in your resulting brush set and you’ll then have to delete them.

Then I clicked on the Edit tab and scrolled down to Define Brush… and here comes the magic!

This popped up. Choose a name for your brush that defines it and that you’ll remember later.

BOOM! You’re done!! It really is that easy. Now let’s take it for a test drive. I always put my brushes on their own layer. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. First, you don’t end up changing whatever is on the layer below it. You can change the opacity, making it soft and subtle, or you can copy it and use a blend mode to give it more punch. You can resize it, you can move it around, you can play with it in so many ways that you can’t if it’s applied to a paper layer.

So I went ahead and created a new layer to apply my brushes to. (All you English teachers, cringe away at my ending a sentence with a preposition…)

I plopped a star down on my paper using a much lighter gray, because my goal is to create a custom paper with a brushed pattern over part of it. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

Next I changed some of the brush settings, changing the size, the angle and the opacity and kept on stamping.

Where my second stamp overlaps the first, the opacity increases, but the transparency isn’t changed.

I kept all my stars on the same layer, and added lots more in different sizes, different opacity and at different angles. If I want to make changes to how they look, all the brushed stars on the layer will change at the same time.

I decreased the opacity of the brush layer to make them look a little less obvious, and to make them look like they’re part of the paper.

When I put my newly created paper – I linked the layers together then moved the two layers at the same time onto the background layer – into the template I wanted to use, I found the brushed layer wasn’t quite how I wanted it, based on how and where my photo was going to be placed into the layout. So it was a good thing I had the brush layer still separate from the paper and after I UNlinked the brush and paper layers, I could flip it horizonally, as well as tweak the size a bit. I wanted this brush layer to replace the paint/spatter layer from the template and now it does.

I also wanted to show you that you could use items in your photos to create brushes too. In 2014 I was in Ireland; I took this photo of a brass memorial medallion at the Titanic Museum in Belfast. Having the camera perfectly parallel and perpendicular to the medallion was vital to the success of this technique, only in the sense that it made it easier to extract from the photo. (Remember: Work Smart, Not Hard!) If you’re using a photo image, extract the item as I showed you in the Extractions – Choose Your Method tutorial.

I was able to use the Elliptical Marquee tool to remove most of my background, and then a Layer Mask and the Eraser tool to clean it up.

Then I clicked Edit>Define Brush… and gave it a name that would help me connect to it later.

This is what the brush looks like against a gray paper. I want to tidy it up a bit, brightening the raised areas so they contrast better and maybe sharpen the detail a touch. When I’m thrilled with how it looks, I can then Define Brush… it again and delete the first one. When you close the software, you’ll get a pop-up that asks you what you want to label the brush(es) you just made

You’re not limited to using .png objects as the basis for your brushes. You can combine fonts and dingbats to make word art stamps, you can combine other brushes into something really original, you can use the Custom Shape tool to make tags, arrows, paw prints… the sky’s the limit. You can even make a digital brush of your signature… in case you have need of one.

Once you’re done and have saved your brush(es) you’ll need to load them into your software. So click on the little stack of parallel lines in your Brush tool menu and then select Load Brushes. Your new set’s name will appear and you can double click on it. It’ll go to the bottom of the list. Delete any brushes that aren’t your personal ones. They’re still there in their original set. And you’re ready to use them over and over and over.

I just whipped this St Patrick’s Day greeting together using a font (SNF Abernethy) and some dingbats (DB Gaelic Weave). It means “one hundred thousand welcomes”.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of March I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of the month.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Creating Clusters… not Clutter

When I first started digi-scrapping, I was convinced I would never be able to create the gorgeous layouts I was seeing from other people. My efforts were so patently amateurish and very simple. I wanted so badly to cluster like a pro. On Day One. How realistic of me! So I started using templates to help me figure out the basics of clustering. Then I started playing around a bit with my software and learning new things with it. And over time, I found my clusters were looking a lot more natural and I was getting closer to my goal. Today I’m going to talk a bit about composition, and show you some of the tricks I’ve learned to make my clusters look more pleasing and real.

There are no rules, but lots of possibilities. Our eyes like to see odd numbers of things, with 3 being an aesthetically-pleasing number, to quote my good friend Sandy. Are any of you gardeners? The way to create pleasing planters is to have a mix of textures, shapes and colours. The gurus of container planting call it the Thriller-Filler-Spiller theory. I use the same theory for my clusters; when I choose the items I’m going to include there’s always something bold and obvious, like the cream-coloured flower in my cluster. The key is also a thriller, as is the tin star. I used baby’s breath, roses, a pom-pom-shaped flower head and foliage as my fillers, and the gingham bow is my spiller. You might recall from last week that the frame I used is from Ooh La La ScrapsIn the Frosty Air collection. All the other items used in this layout/tutorial are in Ooh La La Scraps’ collection called Shabby Chic.

So let’s get started. Once again, this is MY work flow and you don’t have to do what I do. I’m making suggestions based on how I like to work. Whatever process you find that works for you is perfectly perfect. Having said that… I start at the beginning, the bottom. What do I want in the background? Leaves, of course!

Then I add in some filler material. Everything can be tweaked and and adjusted as you go along.

If you’re making a spray of flowers as the base of your cluster and you’re going to add a bow or some other type of fastener later, have the stems cross over each other a little or touch each other somehow so that there’s a natural place for your bow.

See how the bow just nestles right in there? That’s just how it would look if you gathered a bunch of leaves and baby’s breath in your hand and tied a ribbon around the stems.

Remember to use your Zoom In (WSNH tip: CTRL/CMD>+)and Zoom Out (WSNH tip: CTRL/CMD>-) frequently so you can get an up-close look at what you’ve got going on.

Ever wondered how others can wrap ribbon around something, or twine string between letters, or have just a single leaf hang down over the loop of a bow? You could just use the Eraser tool to erase the part that overlaps, but if you make a mistake, you have to Undo a lot to get back to where your oops is. The easier and non-destructive way to to that is to create a Layer Mask and do your erasing on that. Click on the blue rectangle with the gray circle in it and you’ve now got a Layer Mask.

Making sure you’re working on the Layer Mask, select the Eraser tool and have white as your foreground colour. Black reveals, White conceals. Setting the size of your Eraser just slightly smaller than the area you’re going to conceal, paint over the area where the leaf would hang over the loop of the bow. Don’t worry if you erase too much, because you can switch your foreground colour to black and paint it back in. (This was covered in the lesson on Extractions.) WSNH tip: Ctrl/CMD>X to toggle between reveal and conceal.

This screenshot just reinforces the important points of the narrative above.

Once you’ve painted the ribbon back up to the edge of the leaf, it’ll look like this. Try to ensure you can’t see any of the paper or whatever is immediately behind your items. If you have trouble seeing exactly what’s where, you can make a temporary fill layer underneath everything in hot pink, or black or whatever would work, and then delete it later. (WSNH tip: Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Color then use the colour picker to fill the area.)

When you’re satisfied with how it all looks, Simplify your layer. You’ll thank me later when you put in your drop shadows. If you forget to simplify the layer, you’ll have some shadowing where the masked parts are and it’ll look awful. Trust me on this!

Now let’s hang a key from the knot in our bow. This sequence can be modified to suspend other heavy items, tags, charms and such.

Once I had the hat pin shrunk down to a size that would work with my other bits, I lined it up so it looks like it’s holding the key up and passing through the knot on the bow.

Yes, there’s another Layer Mask involved. Please don’t be intimidated by Layer Masks. They’re fantastic tools! This one lets me take a little bite out of the knot by removing the part of the pin that wouldn’t be visible.

To keep the realistic look going, you’ll need to use a Drop Shadow brush, which is very different from the Drop Shadow styles we’ve all used. (Yeah, I know… I have a LOT of brushes.)

The reason for using the Drop Shadow brush is to create a little hole or depression where the pin passes into the ribbon. You want it to surround the spot where the pin would pierce the fabric.

See how it makes it look more like the pin is actually going into the ribbon and not just sitting on top of it. Ensure you’re on the BOW layer and not the key or pin layer!

Before I moved on, I wanted to put down a shadow behind the pin. Because it’s overlying a green/tan/gray area I decided to change the colour of the Shadow style and double-clicked on the fx icon on the layer and then clicked on the colour picker box in the Style Settings menu.

I moved my sample source (the circular cursor) to a gray area and then clicked on the rainbow to choose a more golden gray.

The preview shows what the new colour will look like.

I decided not to put the shadow on its own layer and warp it because it looked pretty realistic as it was. Then I tucked my Thriller cream flower in behind it. I was very careful NOT to get any of it in the way of my hat pin.

Then I added in some smaller flowers, tucking them in where they looked good. You can always move them up or down in the Layers panel, and reposition them as many times as you want, until you like how it looks.

As I went along I made sure I wasn’t hiding the hard work I’d already done with the hat pin.

I added a few more things onto the cluster, moving them around until I was happy. (Think about what you like about other people’s clusters as a guide for placement. Also pretend the things you’re using are real, solid, dimensional articles and think about how you’d use them in that realm.)

I wasn’t totally happy with my cluster and felt like it still needed something. So I added in a ceramic heart. It would be very heavy, so it needed to go behind the rest of my things.

The spot next to the tin star was a little underwhelming so I put another rose in there.

Then I decided to tuck one of the points on the star, where it was overlying the leaf to, under the loop of the bow. Layer Mask time again.

Once I had everything where I liked them, I zoomed out and cast a critical eye over everything. The cluster just didn’t have the oomph I wanted it to have. So I made everything bigger. I think I also tilted it slightly. To keep all the things I’d already done in the appropriate places, I selected ALL the layers for the cluster and adjusted them at the same time. (Remember, Work Smart, Not Hard!)

Another close-up inspection suggested there should be some baby’s breath behind the ceramic heart, so another Layer Mask was created.

And then I was happy. I liked how my cluster looked, the various items in it were in a pleasing arrangement and looked natural. The last step was to add in my drop shadows. WSNH tip: I batched them by selecting all the flower layers then applied my drop shadow style to the entire batch in one move. Once all my layers were shadowed. I took another long look, tweaked shadows on a couple of layers to look more real, and opted to shadow the bow on a separate layer so I could warp it a bit. (See how I’m pulling in bits form so many of our previous lessons? 😉 )

The resulting layout was my January Inspiration challenge layout.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of March I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of the month. So far there are two entries, both from the same person… Anyone want to give her some competition?

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

When Is a Square NOT a Square?

When it’s a rectangle! Two of my fellow Sugar Cookies asked me to talk to you all about how to manipulate frames so they better fit photos that aren’t the same dimensions… but without distorting the frame itself. EvaMarie (mskinsey) and Jen (hclappy), this one’s for you!

The basic principles of this trick work in reverse as well, so don’t think you can only go in one direction. But for today, I’m going to turn this square frame below into a rectangle with a few easy steps. You’ve probably all tried to s-t-r-e-t-c-h a frame only to find that the pieces you’ve elongated are now skinnier and look funny compared to the sides you didn’t play with. And who wants that?!

It’s really noticeable when you use a striped frame like this one. You can see how skinny the top part of the frame is compared to the side, and the stripes…

ONE CAVEAT: The more detailed and complex the frame, the less likely you’ll be happy with the results. So choose a frame with obvious pattern repeats having enough space between details to allow this trick to work for you.

The frame in the screenshot is from Ooh La La Scraps‘ gorgeous In the Frosty Air collection, which is one of my favourites (and is on sale for the fire-sale price of $5!!).

The first thing to do is resize the canvas the frame is on. You want to do this so you have lots of room to make your changes, and so you can see what you’re doing. To me this is about the most important way to ensure I’m doing things well… so I use Zoom In and Zoom Out ALL THE TIME. (W[ork]S[mart]N[ot]H[ard] tip: Ctrl/CMD>+ to magnify, CTRL/CMD>- to shrink)

You can follow the steps as shown below or you can WSNH: CTRL/CMD>ALT/OPT>C.

Key in some numbers in the boxes as shown. You can always resize the canvas again if you find it’s still too small.

The actual size you go to doesn’t matter too much, you just want your canvas to be larger – in the direction you want to stretch your frame – than your frame.

Now select your Rectangle Marquee tool.

Select an area of your frame using the Rectangular Marquee tool as shown. Pick a specific detail of any pattern repeat so when you line things up later you won’t have too much cleaning up to do. I made two of the darker lines my reference points.

Next, Cut your selection out of the middle of your frame. WSNH: CTRL/CMD>X

And you get something that looks like this.

… you can Paste that chunk back onto the canvas for further manipulation. WSNH: CTRL/CMD>V

Now select the left side of the original frame, down there on the bottom layer and repeat the process of cutting and pasting so the three pieces are all on their own layer.

So now it’s time to reposition the two sides of the original frame using the Move tool so that there’s a nice big gap between them.

Take the guesswork out of aligning your layers by selecting all of them then with the Move tool still selected, go down to the control panel underneath your work space. You can use these quick little buttons to align whatever part of several layers that you want. The software will move all the layers into alignment based on the little boxes you see on your bounding box. These buttons can be really handy for aligning alphas, buttons, rows of stitches, paper strips, ribbons, you name it. (And… the Distribute buttons will do something similar, making the spaces between objects the same.) You have to click on the ICON, not the aspect. So go ahead and click on Align>Bottom. Boom!

If the section of frame that you cut out in several steps back isn’t as big as you need it to be*, Duplicate that bit. WSNH: CTRL/CMD>J 

* Put your photo on the workspace and move it to the bottom layer then shift the pieces around to see if the frame will be big enough. You can leave it there when you’ve got the outside edges in place, just turn the visibility off so it doesn’t distract you.

Now you have four layers with frame sections on them. Move the two cut pieces so that the ends butt up against the outside edges. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t match exactly.

When all the edges are butted together with no gaps and most of the details lined up, Merge the layers together. WSNH: CTRL/CMD>E

Sometimes all that’s needed is a little Spot Healing. That’s the band-aid icon in your Tools panel. Use a soft round brush just a little bit bigger than the area you want to blend and click away. Watch carefully so you don’t accidentally make things worse. If you see a whoops, just Undo it. WSNH: CTRL/CMD>Z… my best friend.

But sometimes a little more aggressive editing is necessary. For that you’ll use the Clone Stamp tool. It’s the “rubber stamp” icon just under the Spot Healing tool. To choose the area to be cloned, you’ll need to watch closely when you hold down the ALT/OPT key and click. A little cross hair will show up on your work space that shows you what little section of your image it’s going to copy. When you’re working with stripes like I was, you want to have that sampling spot on the edge of a stripe. Once you’ve “defined your sample” you can very carefully line up your cursor with the area to tweak and click. Do this as often as needed until your two pieces are blended together seamlessly.

Below you can see the result after a couple of clicks. I’ve only worked on the navy stripe so far in this image. I kept on going, carefully cloning the stripes until the seams disappeared.

Work your way around the frame, zooming in as much as you need to so you see what’s happening with your clicks. Just to be sure you’ve made the seams invisible, check again all the way around a couple of times, either cloning or spot healing as needed.

Ta-DA!! Virtually invisible seams, a much larger rectangular frame and it only took about 10 minutes of real time to do. Honest!

You’ll see this frame again next week when the topic is building a frame cluster without a template.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. (I apologize for putting the Challenge Gallery in an inaccessible spot, so we’re starting fresh from NOW. All previous entries are still in the running.) If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of March I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of the month. 

See you all next week!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Only the Shadows Knows… Take TWO

Holy moly! Where did January go? I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the faster time flies.

Two weeks ago I showed you one way to work around PSE’s blah shadows by cutting and pasting it onto its own layer so it can be tweaked to look more real. Today I want to show you another way to do that, along with a quick little trick for adding even MORE realism to your images. If you’re thinking you’ve already seen this tut, you are experiencing a little bit of déjà-vu but only that I’ve made this layout do double duty. (Remember, it’s a lot better to Work Smart Not Hard – WSNH!) I’m using this lovely ribbon and a paper from Seatrout Scraps‘ gorgeous Linen and Lace collection (retired).

I decided I wanted to play with this ribbon after I’d already constructed my layout, so to see what was happening to it, I turned off visibility of all the other layers as you can see in the screenshot below. Then I clicked on the Layer thumbnail in the Layers panel to get my marching ants around the ribbon.

Then I clicked on that little circle icon at the top of the Layers panel that is half blue and half light gray and has a little triangle next to it. That’s how you create a Fill Layer quickly and easily. (WSNH!) I chose Solid Color and then with the Color Picker I chose a gray.

In order to play with the shadow, the next step is to Simplify the layer. You can also rename the layer to help you remember what it is. I’ll confess I don’t often bother. Note that for the moment, this shadow layer is still ABOVE the ribbon, which isn’t visible because it’s covered up.

Okay, so now we can soften the edges of this new shadow layer, and we’ll do that with a Gaussian Blur Filter. Turn the visibility of the ribbon off so you can see exactly what’s happening.

You can see what is happening with your shadow both in the preview pane of the Gaussian Blur menu and on your layout as you move the slider left or right. Just play with it until you like the way it looks.

We haven’t actually touched on Blend Modes yet, partly because it’s a more advanced topic, and partly because we haven’t done anything needing a Blend Mode… until now. The menu for this handy, dandy tweak is found right at the top of the Layers panel under the other icons we’ve used before. Shadows look best when they’re a Multiply or Linear Burn, which I like better, so I selected that.

To keep working on natural and realistic, I decreased the opacity of my shadow to about 50% of its original appearance.

Looks pretty good, right?? Oh wait! We can make it even better! But to do that we need to see the ribbon itself, so turn the visibility for that layer back on, and move the shadow underneath it. WSNH tip: Ctrl/CMD+[ will do that for you. Then you can shift the shadow according to where your light source is coming from on your other layers.

The next tweak we’re going to make is to change the colour of the shadow itself. Because let’s face it, a black or gray shadow isn’t really what one would see against a pink paper. You can make your shadow colour similar to whatever it’s falling on by selecting that colour with your eye dropper Color Picker tool then moving the eye dropper to the right and down to choose a deeper, richer hue of the same colour. Make sense? You can go ahead and choose your colour first but before you move on, lock the transparency of your shadow layer by clicking on the icon shown below.

For my shadow, I chose a colour from the paint splatter I used and then adjusted it as I described above.

Now, with your shadow layer selected and locked down, click ALT/OPT+ Delete and bingo! Your shadow colour is transformed!

Now we can play with how the ribbon touches the paper. So click on the Image tab then Transform>Distort. Skew will work, but it doesn’t give you as much control. To distort your shadow, you’ll pull or push on the handles as shown in the screenshots below.

Pulling will move the shadow out and down in the direction you’ve chosen, while pushing movies it in and up.

The last thing you have to remember is to link the layers together by clicking on that little chain symbol so that when you move one, the other moves too. I know it seems like a lot of steps, but you can do all of this in less than a minute once you’ve got the steps down.

While we’re talking about shadows and the colour of shadows, a loyal GingerScrapper named Jen (hclappy in the gallery and forum) asked about shadowing elements against black or dark coloured papers. Obviously, using a black or dark gray shadow isn’t going to make much of a visual impact. So when I have a dark background, I’ll use a slightly brown shadow just to make some differentiation of colour. If you’re using drop shadow styles, they’re usually already a brownish shade, but if you find you’re not seeing them well, you’ll have to change each layer’s shadow colour individually. Unfortunately there isn’t a WSNH trick for that… I looked. You CAN, however, change one layer style colour then select like items (all your papers or flowers, for example) and shadow them all at once with your new colour by right-clicking with all your layers selected then selecting Paste Layer Style. Then it’s just a matter of tweaking where you see fit to make it all esthetically pleasing. That’s the goal, after all!

So far there is only one entry into the Tutorial Challenge. If you use any of the techniques or tips I’ve shown you this month, post your work to the GingerScraps Facebook fanpage Challenge Gallery, or if you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link in the comments here for me. Then I can enter you into a draw to have your very own personal tutorial right here in February.

Next week, we’re going to talk about clusters and what to do if you don’t want to use a template but want an awesome cluster or two. Stay tuned!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Heritage Photos Get a Makeover!

Ever wondered how other scrappers got that subtle-but-lush, hand-tinted look to their black-and-white photos? It’s super-easy, doesn’t take long and adds a really elegant look to your images. I’ll show you how, using this lovely 100-year-old photo of my great-grand aunt Ethel.

I started by making 4 copies of my photo, for a total of 5 layers. I selected my Brush tool and a royal blue from the Colour Picker. The eyes are done on my top layer because they’re the feature I want to have the most control over in this process. ZOOM in a LOT.

For eyes, I like to use a round, soft mechanical pencil brush. The edges of the brush are softened a little, which lets a tiny bit of the underlying layer to outline the area being brushed over. The size should be small enough to fit inside the area and allow for complete coverage. 9 pixels worked well for me. I painted over her irises with that blue colour I chose earlier. One thing to keep in mind: If you’re brushing over an area with an opacity of less than 100%, do all of your brushing in one action, with the left mouse button clicked the whole time. Otherwise, wherever your brushstrokes overlap the colour will be darker.

This is what her eyes looked like after I’d covered both irises completely with blue. Freaky and unnatural!

By pulling the Opacity of this layer down to 32% I could make the eyes look soft and let some sparkle through in the catch-lights.

Turn off the top layer before you move on. It eliminates distraction and gives you a clearer view of the changes you’re making on the layer underneath it. Bye-bye, blue eyes.

I’m still going to use the blue for the ribbon around her neck. I want the edges of my brush to be sharper, so I chose a hard mechanical pencil brush, and it could be a little bigger because I was covering a larger area. In the Brush settings it shows the Opacity as 60%, but I changed it to 100% before I did my painting because I knew I’d have to adjust the size of my brush to get into the tiny corners. I didn’t want those lap marks to show.

Very garish! But infinitely adjustable.

I decreased the Opacity to 45% – I left it just a little darker than I wanted my finished ribbon to look, because when I turn on all the layers again, the layers above are going to add their opacity adjustment to everything below.

The next item I painted was this brooch, on the centre layer. It was this that let me date the photo. I know Great-Grand Aunt Ethel had her first child, a boy she named George Albert, in April, 1913. I used a gold-yellow for it.

With the Opacity decreased to 35%, it doesn’t look nearly so tawdry. And you can read the embossed lettering better too.

On to the lips… second-to-last layer.

I liked this rosy pink for her lips and cheeks. Did you know that your blush will be the same hue as your lips, but slightly less saturated?

100% opacity. Clown school, any one?

Opacity decreased to 34%. Much better!

To blush her cheeks on the very bottom layer, I used a round spray brush – darker at the centre and gradually fading toward the edges – I found for free at Brusheezy.com. But having a circular patch of colour on our cheeks is really and truly clown-school unnatural. So I adjusted the shape/roundness and angle of the brush to match the contours of her left cheek. Did you know that you can “see” the outlines of your brush just by hovering the tool over your image? That’s how you adjust these settings.

First blush. Notice how all the other layers are not visible.

To do the other cheek I adjusted the brush angle to its negative value but left the roundness alone.

Yes, she looks very embarrassed.

I left the opacity exactly as is, at 100% and turned on all the rest of my layers. And magically, her face just looks pretty, with a hint of colour in her cheeks and on her lips. As long as you haven’t merged your layers, you can tweak the opacity of your colours on each layer until you’re in love with the result. Just remember that a light touch gives the best result.

It really is that simple! I bet you have a favourite black-and-white photo you want to try this with. Have fun!!

Below is just a quick-and-easy mini-tut especially for mskinsey. She wanted to know how to apply a border around photos and other items. So here you go…

My photo extended a long way past the edges of my frame. I used the Elliptical Marquee tool to select an elliptical area on my photo layer that just overlaps the edge of the inner area of the frame where the photo goes. Then I inverted the selection [CTRL/CMD>SHIFT>I] and cut away the rest of the photo [CTRL/CMD>X]. That makes the next step super-easy. I just clicked on the layer thumbnail for my photo and that selected the outside edge of my ellipse.

I clicked on the Select tab then chose Modify>Contract from the pop-down menu.

I first typed in “15” but it didn’t give me enough space between the frame and the marching ants, so I changed the number to “30“.

With my marching ants now 30 pixels inside the frame (you can see them peeking around the left upper edge of the menu box) I clicked on the Edit tab, then Stroke (Outline) Selection and entered the width and colour I wanted to use. I also chose for the stroke to go inside the marching ants. That’s a personal preference.

And that’s all it takes!

Next week I’m going to show you another way to play with shadows on their own layer, using the same layout, which is my January Color Challenge entry. (I’m all about working smart, not hard!) Take a look and see if you can guess what we’re going to do…

Don’t forget! If you use any of the techniques or tips I’ve shown you this month, post your work to the GingerScraps Facebook fanpage Challenge Gallery, or if you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link in the comments here for me. Then I can enter you into a draw to have your very own personal tutorial right here in February.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Yes! You CAN Warp Shadows in PSE!

Photoshop Elements is a great program for most applications the average digi-scrapper wants to accomplish, but it does have limitations. One of these is that shadows aren’t on their own layer. That means getting your photos or other objects to look like they’re lifting off the page isn’t possible. Or is it…….? Actually, there are a couple of ways to move your drop shadows onto a separate layer and the one I’m going to show you today is the one I find to be the easiest.

I wanted to have a photo lift at one corner within my layout for the Mix It Up challenge this month. I chose a template created by Krisztina of Tinci Designs, found in her Autumn Stories V.2 collection. Krisztina’s templates come pre-shadowed, which makes them especially awesome for beginners.

To start the process of making this photo spot look like it’s lifting, first I had to move the shadow onto its own layer. To do that, double-click on the little fx icon as shown below. That opens the Layer Style menu for that layer.

It looks like this. By moving the Distance slider to the right, the shadow is offset – it moves away from the item.

To make the process easier I temporarily changed the angle on the shadow to 180°, which moved the shadow off to the right of the photo spot. (This step might not be necessary, depending on the size of your item and its location on the page. This photo spot is in the lower left corner, so I was a little restricted in what I could do with it.) You’ll see that I also set the distance to 1000 pixels. This gives me some space between the shadow and the photo spot, which is essential to make this technique work. Once I’m done moving the shadow to its own layer I’ll move it back into position at the same angle as the other photo spots.

Now that I’ve set the distance, it’s time to Simplify the layer. VITAL STEP!! Right click on the layer in the Layers panel and select Simplify Layer. That effectively eliminates the fx icon so you can manipulate the visible layer on your layout.

Select the Rectangle Marquee tool then click and drag a rectangle around the shadow portion of your image as shown.

Now I’m going to Cut that shadow away from the photo spot. Edit>Cut or CTRL/CMD+X will do it.

Now Edit>Paste (CTRL/CMD+V) the shadow back onto the layout… and look! It’s on its own layer!

Elements will have put the shadow layer ABOVE the item, so move it down so it’s underneath where it belongs. You can click and drag the layer down or CTRL/CMD+[ will do it for you. Now you can shift the shadow back to its correct angle under the photo/item.

Now we’re getting into the really fun part! Select Image>Transform>Skew.

I grabbed the lower left handle (the little box at the corner) and pulled it to the left. See how the bounding box looks wonky? That’s the Skew in action. Then I clicked OK.

There’s another way of changing the shape of an item. Image>Transform>Distort give a little more variety to how the shape can be altered.

Looking at the new shadow, it looks like the photo is resting on something underneath it and it’s too umm… ordinary. So the next step is to nudge the edges of the shadow a little so it’s closer to the photo in some areas. The Smudge tool is the way to make that happen. It looks like a finger.

Using a fairly big setting, click and drag the Smudge tool along the edge of the shadow, positioning the tool’s cursor something like shown below. Don’t take it all the way to the very end of the shadow though, because then it’ll have a tail and it’s not going to make you happy.

The image below shows what happens when you get carried away. It’s very bizarre looking and NOT what I want at all. Rather than try to correct it, I undid (CTRL/CMD+Z) back to where I was still liking the look, and then continued.

Now that’s more like it!

And for that final touch of realism I hit the Image>Transform>Distort again and pushed the corner of the PHOTO (see that the photo layer is the active one) in just a tiny bit. You can see the final result in the gallery. The effect is subtle but it’s there.

Think about how you could apply this new skill to a paper item you’ve stapled to your layout. You can use the Smudge tool to bring the shadow in really close to the edge of the paper where the staple is for a much more realistic look. It also lets you make your photo look like it’s cupped a little and the centre of the photo is closest to the paper. This technique can be used to adjust shadows for a lot of things other than paper too. Flowers, butterflies, string, ribbon, the sky’s the limit! Give it a shot and let me know how you like it!