Tutorial Tuesday – Back to Basics

Anatomy of a Well-Composed Layout

Last week’s tutorial about stacking papers brought this comment from Franghurst: “I found this article very useful.  I have never stacked a paper digitally and I now feel comfortable enough to give it a try.  It’s great when you give us a brand new idea about doing something but I must admit, I like the articles when you go back to the basics.  It’s fun to be reminded how to do things that you learned about a while back.” Of course, that got me thinking. And thinking some more. Today we’re going to go right back the most basic aspect of scrapbooking: composition!

When I look at the layouts in the Gallery, there are layouts that snag my attention right away. I think you know what I mean. There are some things these really fabulous layouts have in common: they’re well-composed. It might not be obvious what makes them catch the eye, so let’s talk about the six basic components of composition. These are focal point, leading lines, balance, rule of thirds, white space and movement.

Focal point: Usually the purpose of a layout is to showcase a photo, or photos. So typically they will be the focal point. But not always. Sometimes the scrapper wants the focus on the story it’s telling, and sometimes the focus is on some other aspect of the layout. This piece by shawnbear is definitely focused on the large photo. She has used several tools from the composition list to achieve her goal.

The size of the photo is the first tool; the rays of paper and the column of elements does the rest.

Leading lines: What exactly are leading lines? They are whatever linear aspects of a layout that lead the eye right to the focal point. Like shawnbear‘s papers. This layout by gwalters goes even deeper into leading lines because they’re both in the main photo AND the layout.

The wire of the fence draws the eye to his face. with one eye framed by them. The chevrons lead the eye to her title. And the concentric paper squares emphasize the converging lines of the layout quite neatly.

Balance: There are lots of ways to create balance in our layouts. The goal is to have areas of equal weight. Flissy61 has done just that.

She’s got the large blended photo balanced by the trio of smaller photos at the bottom. Let’s talk about those small photos for a second. Notice how she has a photo of just the sculpture and a photo of just her daughter, flanking a photo of both. Bingo! Balance. Then she’s used repetition to add more balance to the image with the two vines and the pennants.

Rule of Thirds: This is something I discussed in a previous tutorial on taking better photos. The “Rule of Thirds” means imaginarily dividing your image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, then placing any (or all!) intersection of those imaginary lines over a focal point. lmtroch has done that in her layout below.

Do you see it? (My lines might be a little off… I eyeballed them.)

White space: This isn’t a literal thing… more of an uncrowded area of the layout where the eye can go to rest. Jill is a master at the use of white space – literally in this layout!

I think white space is a vastly underused tool. But see how effective it is to have these two large areas of just paper.

And last is Movement. By this I mean the way the layout guides the eye around to take in all its components. becky_a makes it look easy.

It really doesn’t matter where you start with this layout, your eye is moved around the whole thing perfectly. Here again, the placement of her photos is key; they all are facing the centre of the layout – harmonious and very pleasing. The bubbles act as a vector to move the viewer, as does the piece of string. And the three little flower clusters keep things on track.

Okay. There you have the factors that create strong compositions. I invite you take a good look at each of these layouts and see if you can pick out each of the “rules” in them. You might also take a critical look at the templates you really like and analyze what makes them attractive to you. I bet you’ll find at least a couple of ways to fit them into the “rules”!

Tutorial Tuesday (Potpourri)

Anatomy of a Paper Stack

I don’t often give a lot of thought to the process of creating layouts, but a comment I received from becky_a on a layout I prepared for Katie of Just So Scrappy and Ooh La La Scraps with her August Buffet collection Live Life started me thinking about it. The two layouts I created for this collection were a little unusual for me, because I didn’t use templates for either of them. (I just couldn’t find one that I liked enough!) The layout becky_a commented on is this one:

… and this is what she said: “I love stacked papers like this and I have the most difficult time making them look right, lol. You make it look so easy.” I had to go look at the layout because I wasn’t sure what she meant! And then I thought maybe it might be worth talking about.

There are no rules for paper stacking. None. It’s pretty much a free-for-all! You can use whatever papers you like, mixing patterns and colours, shapes and angles to suit your whims. Let’s talk first about choosing papers. I’ve always struggled with boldly-patterned paper. They don’t often work with my style of scrapping, but using them in a paper stack like this is one way I can feel comfortable using them. As you can see, that black and white patterned paper is pretty bold! But it’s black and white, so it can work with pretty much anything. I like the paper closest to the photos and elements and largest by area to be relatively neutral, so it doesn’t draw the eye away from the meat-and-potatoes part of the layout. If I’m not planning on journaling ON that paper, patterns can work. I also like to mix up scale. A bold paper needs to be balanced by some smaller patterns or solids. But that doesn’t mean you CAN’T use another bold pattern, because you can resize to so it works well with  your other papers and what you’re doing with them. This is pretty much how I approach paper stacking all the time, whether or not I’m using a template; I like to contrast bright with neutral, bold with subtle, pattern with solid and to have some visible difference between them. But that’s how JAN stacks papers. I’ve seen lots of fabulous stacked-paper layouts where the scrapper has used a monochrome palette, mixed lots of patterns together or only used solids, so as I said, no rules!

Let’s look at this layout, also with the same collection and sans template. I use the Marquee tool and Inverse (Select>Inverse or CTRL/CMD>Shift>I) to cut my random shapes. To make concentric circles or ovals, I make a copy of the first oval then use the Select>Modify>Decrease path, typing in a pixel count to make the new oval smaller. Clip a paper to it and move on.

(My daughter and sister might not like to know I’ve called them both weird people. Or maybe they’d take it as a compliment. IDK!) When talking about colours, I often pull colour from my photographs. OR… I go for contrast. Here, the photo is pretty neutral, so the red, orange, purple and green from the kit all work together. You can see that I’ve mixed in some ovals and rectangles, some pennants and the square background papers. I’m going to tell you how I do those backgrounds, which might be news to those still learning digi-scrapping but is probably old hat to the more experienced in the group.

First step is to choose your papers. Then open a new 12×12 (or your favourite dimensions) canvas on your workspace. Decide which paper will be your main background, the one you want right under your elements and photo(s). Decide on the order of your other papers, keeping in mind the aesthetics of the layout as a whole. I usually use 3 papers for these stacked backgrounds because, as my dear friend Sandy Scott likes to remind me, 3 is an aesthetically pleasing number. You can drop them all onto your layout, turning visibility off to the topmost ones so you can see what you’re doing as you climb the stack. Or you can add them one at a time. Whatever suits your workflow. I’m showing them all piled on at once and in the screenshot after this one, you’ll see that the topmost paper is invisible.

To make a visually pleasing rotated stack, you’ll want to make the upper papers a bit smaller than the background paper. (Or not. Remember, no rules!) The easiest way to do it is to click on one of the corner “handles” on the bounding box, then either pull that handle in toward the centre, or take the quick-and-lazy route and type a number into that box I’ve shown you here. That keeps the papers centered one on top of the other. Just make sure you’ve got the Constrain Proportions box checked so it shrinks the paper in both horizontal and vertical planes.

Then rotate that second piece of paper. The Pivot point selected is the centre one – the default. The angle will be half of the percentage by which you’ve shrunk your paper, unless you want your corners to extend off the page. There are two spots where you can see the angle you’re rotating to, the black pop-up box and down in the Tool panel. I usually just eye-ball it.

I like to keep the papers in a rotated stack, other than the actual background, all the same size. It’s obviously not required, it’s just my OCD-ness. Shrinking the paper is done in exactly the same manner.

Then I tip the next/top paper in the opposite direction, to about the same angle. And that’s all there is to it! Shadow those babies up and you’re ready to move along.

The second example is even more straightforward.

When you’re doing this kind of stack, if you want a symmetrical border of the background paper visible, make sure your Pivot point is in the centre. It’s important! Typing a number into one of the dimension boxes – either one is fine, as long as you’re Constrained – is quick.

But if your Pivot point is in the lower right corner, for example, when you type in your number, this is what will happen. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because there are ways it can make your workflow more streamlined if you want to work from a corner out. (You can tell this screenshot was an after-thought. Sorry!)

Here, you can see what decreasing the paper size by 5% for the first one and 5% MORE for the second one will look like. You can use any amount you like; if you want a wider border of your very bottom paper, go with a bigger drop. If you want one border wider than another, choose a smaller or larger decrease. A nice solid paper with a narrow gap looks really good. Oh, and you CAN use a decimal in that box. You don’t have to go with whole numbers.

All of these tips can be applied to any stack of papers you might contemplate, either as part of a template or freehand. Give it a shot becky_a, you’re probably underestimating yourself a LOT!

Tutorial Tuesday (Potpourri)

Can We Talk?

Today I’d like to take a baby step outside my comfort zone and talk about journaling. I struggle with it. I don’t love it. I’m VERY uncomfortable with it. But I know it’s an important part of memory-keeping, so I work at it. I know some of you are shaking your heads, because you’ve read my tutorials and you know how wordy I am. 😉 But somehow, I hate to put all those words onto my layouts.

So let’s deconstruct journaling a little. Why is it important? Well, first of all, the viewer isn’t necessarily going to know who is in the photos, what they’re doing, when it occurred, why they’re together or where it happened. Basic journalism 101. Some of these factors aren’t important every time, but for a scrapbooking layout to be meaningful, at least a couple of them should be included. A date and a location might be all that’s needed. For other layouts, like heritage layouts using very old family photos, more detail isn’t only needed, it’s what makes the layout special. Take this one for example.

I’ve put all the pertinent details in there. Now when others see it, they know a little about this boy. What it doesn’t say is why this layout is important to me, how Kenneth is connected to me… it’s lacking context. But if I tell you it’s part of a family history scrapbook, where I’ll include an extensive, multi-generation family tree, then it might not matter. (Kenneth is currently part of a genealogical mystery my cousin Lynne and I are trying to solve. He’s my first cousin twice removed while Lynne is one generation closer to him; he may have been “born on the wrong side of the blanket”. Now to prove it!)

Another aspect of journaling that matters is format. My personal dislike of narrative journaling is reflected in many of my layouts by its absence. But to other scrappers, narrative works. They’re able to tell a complete story within their page, filled with detail… and my deepest admiration! When I try to do that, it sounds stilted and boring. Here’s a glimpse into Katherine Woodin‘s life; her pages are always filled with day-to-day events and are like a pictorial diary.

Others use narrative journaling to process difficult events, as Biancka did here. That takes GUTS, ladies!!

So how can I inject some context into my layouts without resorting to my brand of stiff, boring, wordy text? Oh there are SO many ways!

Quotes are a good way of both illuminating the layout and grounding the subject matter. If I can find a quote that says what I want to say much more eloquently than I can, I’ll take it! Here’s an example.

Song lyrics are, in my mind, PERFECT for journaling! When I heard this song for the first time, this girl instantly came to mind. Then the perfect photo (by Erin Wallis Photography) came into my hands. Meant to be?

Word art can help tell a story very effectively. This layout is part of my Ireland collection and will be bookended by other layouts related to the Famine to provide more context.

This layout has more detail to flesh out the story.

Let’s not forget journal cards. They’re a combination of word art and sentiment, which can be very useful. Even if they’re just a spot to put your journaling, they can be just what your layout needs. I know I don’t use them as often as I should. For this layout I used a card that had space for me to put my own words, and I used a quote from my daughter. It says it all!

What about word strips? I LOVE them! They can take on the whole job of telling your story; it’s just a matter of finding ones that work. If you have a sense of humour, you can use word strips that actually relate to something else, but communicate your message effectively. In this example, the word strips I used came from a 2014 July Buffet kit from Ponytails, who no longer is a member of the GingerScraps family. They’re Canadian slang terms: Double Double is a shorthand Tim Horton’s coffee order, Beauty is a synonym of fantastic and Eh! is a pure Canadianism. But they made sense with my photo.

What creative journaling methods do you use? Help a girl out here!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Pick Your Pivot Point

Today’s tutorial is a quickie – short, sweet and very much to the point. The PIVOT POINT that is! I’d seen a tutorial at another site that was compiled by the talented Yobeth Puckett, and I filed it away to examine more closely another time. Yesterday, I dragged it out and tried to make sense of it. Unsuccessfully. At first. Because I was overthinking it. But believe you me, this is going to be a boon to all of us because it’s going to speed up our scrapping and reduce frustration by a lot. I know I’m going to incorporate it into my workflow, starting today.

So you know how sometimes you’re using a template and you decide you really want the stripes on your paper to run diagonally instead of horizontally. So you drag and drop your paper onto your template, then you rotate it to the desired angle. But it looks like my screenshot – the paper isn’t covering the whole paper shape mask you’re planning to clip it to. Then you nudge the paper until it covers the shape. Many steps. But…

Have you paid any attention to the controls the Move tool provides? I know I didn’t. But I’m never going to ignore them again. See that little box made up of dots? It’s a POWERFUL thing. Notice that the central dot is selected.

That gray dot signifies the Pivot Point around which the object rotates. So if I left the centre dot selected, the paper would spin on centre. But if I MOVE the selection to another one of those dots, it changes the Pivot Point!

See? By moving the Pivot Point to the middle of the right side, then rotating my paper on THAT point, the shape is completely covered! To quickly get the exact angle I want on the pattern, I typed in a numeric in the Angle box rather than try to hit a moving target.

Then all I had to do was clip the paper to the shape. As you already know, I use keyboard shortcuts rather than click on a tab, drag the cursor down an options list then click on the one I want. Quick clipping is achieved by CTRL/CMD>G for versions prior to 14 and CTRL/CMD>ALT>G for versions 14 and up.

Sweet! Now I know a shortcut for rotating a paper. But what about something that isn’t symmetrical, like this piece of ribbon. I want the knot to sit on top of the bow’s knot, but I want the ribbon to be at about a 30° angle to the bow. How can it be rotated around a different Pivot Point? Is it even a thing??

Here’s what usually happens. I rotate the ribbon. Then I have to nudge it until the two knots line up. Not the end of the world, but boy, it would be nice to be able to do it even more quickly and easily. Work Smart Not Hard is my mantra after all!

The actual Pivot Point is at the centre of the bounding box around the ribbon, but I want it on the knot. I tried using the tool’s command box but it was a colossal fail. None of the options was right.

This is what happened when I selected the upper left corner of the box. Better, but not what I want.

This is the part where I struggled with Yobeth’s tutorial. I was really overthinking it, trying to drag the Pivot Point to where I wanted it while holding down the ALT key. But all I had to do was hold the ALT key down and CLICK on the spot where I wanted the Pivot Point to go.

It really IS that simple!!!!

I can think of so many ways to use this trick. One that immediately jumped to mind is for rotating photos to match the angle of photo spots on templates. It’ll save so much nudging, I’m not even kidding!

Now I’m ready to create my layout for the Storytelling Challenge. My examples here were set up using some of the items I’m going to use from LouCee CreationsShampoodle and Setter kit. It should be finished and in the Gallery by the time this tut goes live. See you all next week!



Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements 2019)

Even Sketchier Still!

I know, I know… I’ve already shown you more than one way to turn a photo into a sketch. But I haven’t shown you THIS way, which is the easiest and most interesting method I’ve learned to date. And it’s a GUIDED EDIT in PSE 2019 (Amazon Prime Day – $59!) so you know it’s going to be a cinch. Well, it can be as easy or complicated as you make it. I tried this Edit on several photos before deciding that for the sake of expedience, I’d go with the photo below.

This Partial Sketch Edit is reached via Guided>Fun Edits. Right there in the middle!

The Control Panel looks like this and completely leads you through the process. I’m going to show you the results of each of the four options so you can see how it looks and lets you imagine how you could use it.

I’m going to move top to bottom and left to right with the options, starting with the Pencil Sketch. This photo is divided horizontally so it’s not going to be a lot of work to make my selection. The selection portion is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process. (Just a reminder… the Cancel button takes you right back to Square One, literally, so don’t click it unless you WANT to start all over.)

One thing I discovered right off the bat is that the effect appears as the selection is made. You can see it as it changes. I’m showing a selection made with a fairly small brush at 100% Opacity but there’s nothing that says you can’t do whatever you like. If you’re adept at selection, you can use a bigger brush; don’t forget that you can toggle back and forth between Adding to your selection and Subtracting from it. That means you can remove areas from your selection that you don’t want to convert to a sketch while you go. The Undo (CTRL/CMD>Z) command will take you back a single step if you find too much of the photo is selected with one click.

So, in the Pencil Sketch mode at 100%, there’s not a lot of detail visible in the lake. The mountains are well-defined but that’s about all. The clouds are so important to the overall composition so let’s find them.

Ah, there they are! To my eyes, this looks like it’s part sketch and part watercolour. After the Opacity is where you want it, if there’s any fine-tuning your selection needs to give you the look you want, you can click on the Detail Brush and fix it up.

The refining I did isn’t really obvious, and there wasn’t a lot needed.

The best sketch effects blend gently into the photo, and PSE makes that as simple as moving a slider over to the right. Watch as you slide so you know when to stop.

The software developers at Adobe are really upping their game. This Edit also includes a Flip Effect option. So you can turn the part of the photo you DIDN’T select into the sketch and the sketch part back to a photo just with one click.

The second option is a Colored Pencil Sketch. I didn’t know if it would look substantially different from the Pencil Sketch version once I adjusted the Opacity, so let’s take a look.

There definitely is a hint of colour in the lake this time.

With a little tweaking I’ve got this.

And with the edge between photo and sketch softened…

Before I use the Flip Effect button, let’s look at the Pencil and Colored Pencil side by side. Remember there’s a 20% difference in Opacity between them. There is a difference, but I’m not convinced the software is why.

Okay, here’s the Flipped Colored Pencil version.

This one has a lot of promise. How will an Old Photo sketch effect look?

Ah! Very cool!! For reasons I haven’t divined, I had trouble making my selection for this one to exclude the little spit of land at the centre-right of the photo. So after a number of failed attempts to duplicate the selection used in the previous versions, I just let PSE have its way.

See how the mood is SO different with this version? I can’t wait to try it on some of my real old photos.

I really like the way this one looks.

Flipped, maybe not so much. But I do love all the texture.

What will Old Paper do that Old Photo didn’t?

There is a noticeable difference; those creases are awesome!

Dropping the Opacity to about 45% (yeah, too quick on the PrtScr finger!) looks like this. Still moody, but not quite as stormy.

Flipped is pretty. I can’t pick just one!

I can see any (or all) of these printed and framed. Or on a greeting card. Or surrounded by beautiful elements on a layout. So many ways to use this!! I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how you like it.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements 2019)

Watercolor Effects – SO Beautiful!

Where did the week go? It’s Tuesday again and as promised, I have another glimpse into the new tools to be found in Elements 2019. There are some new Guided Edits, and we’re going to play with one today. It’s called Watercolor Effect, and you’ll see where to find it in just a minute. I chose this photo that I found at Pixabay (dragonflies are my spirit animal) and it looks amazing in each of the ways I’ve altered it. Wait until you see!

Click on Guided>Special Edits then scroll a little so you can see the Watercolor Effect down there in the lower left. You might notice that there are two new Edits within this menu, but otherwise the interface looks just like it did in previous versions. We’ll look at the other new one in a later tutorial. Promise.

The Control Panel here makes it easy to follow the process. The hard part is making choices! So I’ll be frank, I tried THEM ALL. But for the sake of keeping it all straight in my head – since I made all the screenshots last night – I’m going to go in order here. First up is Effect 1. [Remember that if you hit Cancel when you want to Undo something, you’re going to end up kicked out of the Edit. If you just want to go back a step or two use CTRL/CMD>Z. You’ll thank me!)

I just clicked on that Effect 1 icon. There isn’t a dramatic change, but the image, especially the background, looks a lot softer.

The next step is to choose a Watercolor Paper. It’s purely a matter of taste. Real watercolor paper is thick, heavy and has a very distinct texture to it. Elements 2019 is going to emulate that look. I tried all of the choices with my image and settled on the one with the blue outline.

And then I clicked on the first Canvas Texture button. You can instantly see the difference.

If you love what you’re seeing, you can stop here and move on to the Expert editor to play with it in other ways. But you know me, I’m never going to stop in the middle, because how will you see what you can do with this amazing software unless I keep going? Onward rode the 600! Time to use the Refine Effect Brush.

The Subtract tool does exactly that, it reduces the watercolor effect on the area you run the brush over. That means both colour and sharpness will be present again.

Elements 2019 has thought of everything. If I was going to use my finished watercolor for a greeting card, for example (which would be a perfect way to make use of this Edit!), I might want to put a sentiment of some sort on it. So they’ve included a Type Tool. One thing I discovered when I installed Elements 2019, which hadn’t happened with previous upgrades, is that it automatically transferred my entire font library for me. Dragonflies are ethereal creatures, so I looked for a script font that wasn’t TOO swirly. Indulge Script Regular was what I decided to use.

Until you Commit Current Operation, you can change your text as much as you want. You can select your text with the Type Tool and scroll through your library, looking at each font until you find the one that lights up your work. And you can adjust the size too.

The last optional tool is the Text Style tool. The first one in the group is a basic font style to which I added a slight Bevel.

This option actually decreased the Opacity of the text to let the background colour show through!

Okay… on to Effect 2! Wow… not what I was expecting at all!

A simple Watercolor Paper choice – a single click – did THIS!

In keeping with what I said I was going to do, I chose the second Canvas Texture so you can see how each changes the image. The Intensity of this effect can be adjusted up or down, as is your choice. The change to the wings is a simple pixelation, but it’s really pretty.

On to the Refine Effect Brush. I went over the wings in the Add mode. Next, I want to pull some of the green back in.

I went back over the head and body with the Add mode and a smaller brush to restore the watercolor effect to them.

Same font… gets lost a little though.

The second Text Style button brought it forward a bit by adding a Drop Shadow and a Bevel.

And now let’s see what Effect 3 does. This background color change appeared with a single click on its button.

I tried ALL the papers more than once until I landed on just adding a bit of colour to opposite corners.

It’s hard to see the texture of #3, but it’s there.

I Subtracted over the background and brought back some green. See how the wings look more iridescent than they did?

I really wanted to make that iridescence more obvious, so I went over the wings with a slightly bigger brush at a very slightly decreased Opacity.

Same font, but such a different look!

That third Text Style went big, adding a Drop Shadow, a Bevel AND a Stroke! I made the stroke a lot narrower so it’s just a hint of an outline, and decreased the Opacity of the Drop Shadow a bit and got a pretty nice-looking label on my image. If I was ready to do something creative with this right now – or to save my work for later –  I’d go down to the lower right corner of the workspace, click Next then select either Save As or Expert and carry on in the usual way.

Now that I’ve seen this Edit in action, I know I’m going to use it. A lot! Greeting cards for sure, but imagine what one of these examples would look like clipped to a Layer Mask for an Art Journal layout. I’m sure I’ll come up with many more ways I can use this if I give it some thought. What might YOU do with it?

Tutorial Tuesday (Potpourri)

Summertime Funtime Fonts

So… I finally got around to updating the master link list for all the Tutorial Tuesday posts yesterday. This is TT post #139!! Amazing… that I’ve found that much to yammer on about! While I was going over the list, I realized that I haven’t done a post with summertime fonts and such. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’ve just past the summer solstice and welcomed the formal season. We’re under a huge bank of rain clouds and parts of Alberta and BC got snow on the 21st, so we’re not feeling summer love right now, but I’ve got a baker’s dozen today, a mixture of fonts and ding bats, all found free at dafont.com.

First up is this font, ironically named Summertime. It’s pretty and would be an amazing title font for garden photos, weddings and other celebrations.

Next up is a fun font with some alternate characters from some of the letters, like that cure sun for the “O”.

If you live in the parts of the world where temperatures soar in the summer, (or you have annual forest fires 🙁 )this font might catch your eye.

This one made me almost spew my coffee. It looks just like I did at work last Tuesday! But I think it could be super for titles.

Think about doing this one in a dark red, and you’ve got a great picnic layout title. Or a cookout, if you go for gingham tablecloths.

This one I threw in because two big celebrations are coming up fast. Canada Day and Independence Day. So fireworks are a natural.

This one and the next are different takes on a similar theme. I can’t decide which one I like better.

Can you?

Now for some ding bats. Ding bats are little mini line drawings that can be used in the same way as a font, but with very interesting and fun results.

These are all very summery and could be used in so many ways.

This set could be used for more adult layouts. They’re solid, but by duplicating the layers, it would be easy to change colours and add glitter.

Same for these ones. I’m an avid gardener and have scads of garden photos. I’ll have to think about how I can use these.

This set has a mixture of images. The cactus could be incorporated into a desert layout title with that Summer Fire font. Amiright?

This set looks like so much fun! A day at the beach…

I have one last piece of news to add to this week’s post. Tomorrow is my last day of work in my real job. After 24 years of pediatric critical care nursing, I’m retiring. So I’ll have more time for hobbies… <does the happy dance> which is great timing, because I jumped on the Adobe sale for Elements 2019. Time to learn a few new tricks! (More to come on my retirement plans when I have them firmed up.) Have a great week, see you right here again next Tuesday!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Deconstructing the Custom Shadow

I think we all agree that shadows are an essential and integral part of a great digital layout. There are lots of ways to add shadows in Photoshop Elements, and some of them are easier than others. But to create a true, realistic-looking shadow, there are a few things to keep in mind. Drop shadow styles are included with the software and can be useful; a number of digital designers have also created a set of drop shadow styles that make the task simple. However, to have the most realistic shadows, it’s not enough to “drop” them onto your layout. That’s because objects don’t have even lighting and they don’t have uniform and even shadows either. Objects CAST a shadow. So let’s deconstruct this concept a little.

Here are three identical flowers. I’m going to show you the default drop shadow style, a commercial drop shadow style and how I shadow a flower like this. See if you can pick out the differences.

First let’s look at the PSE default Drop Shadow set, found in the Styles menu. It’ll add a drop shadow to the object with one click. Because I’m shadowing a flower, I selected the Soft Edge version. Don’t know which is which? Hover your cursor over the thumbnail and it’ll tell you. These Styles are adjustable; by double-clicking on the fx icon on the layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel you open up the adjustment menu. Move the sliders for Size (this determines how sharp the edges of your shadow will be – the bigger the size, the softer), Distance (this isn’t accurate, because it adjusts the size of the shadow) and Opacity (darkness) until you like the look.

There’s the default shadow on the far left, unadjusted. For the flower in the middle I’m going to use a commercial drop shadow styles set from Tracie Stroud. (Tracie has retired from designing, so her products are no longer available. Mommyish and Sahin Designs currently have drop shadow style sets in their stores.) This set is the 120° lighting angle set and I hovered until I found one called Flower. Click!

Hmm. Do you see much of a difference between the first one and the middle one? The one on the right side is the one I created a custom shadow for. This method seems to be really hard, with a lot of steps, but with practice it’s become almost automatic for me now and takes about the same amount of time as using a style does. I think you can see the difference here.

Here are the steps. The real thinking-about-it comes later with the adjustments. Start off by creating a NEW LAYER underneath your object. To do this hold down the SHIFT key and click on that little icon that looks like a piece of paper with the corner turned up at the left-top of the Layers panel.

This is what you’ll see in the Layers panel. If you forgot to hold down the SHIFT key, you can move the new layer down using the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD>[.

Next, click on the object’s thumbnail in the Layers panel. The thumbnail is the little picture.

Now the outside edges of the object have been Selected and have a line of marching ants around it.

Before you go on, make sure the BLANK LAYER is the active one. Otherwise you’ll be undoing. Then choose the Paint Bucket tool (K), set your foreground colour to whatever your desired shadow colour will be (I just used black, 000000 but some people like to use a slightly browner colour like 2C1902) then click on your workspace. Elements will fill the selection with the foreground colour.

And there it is!

To Deselect the object’s outline you can go Select>Deselect, or just CTRL/CMD>D.

Next, decide where your light source is. Looking at the object can help with that, because there will be subtle highlights and shadows there already. For this flower, the light is clearly coming from the upper left. Now you need to activate the Move tool. I usually just go V. Then move the dark outline in a direction AWAY from your light source. Use the arrow keys to nudge it, if you like.

This is the interesting, fun part! Think about what parts of your object would actually touch whatever it’s resting on. The centre of this flower will be resting right on the paper, so the shadows around that part will be less noticeable – light can’t get underneath whatever is touching the surface, so no shadow can be cast. Use the Smudge tool (R) to push and pull the edges of the shadow into place.

Can you see how I’ve adjusted this shadow? I pushed the shadow toward the centre between the petals. I pulled the shadow sideways and away from some of the petals and imagined the petal at the very bottom is twisted a bit so the left edge is touching the paper.

When you feel like you’ve got the shadow looking natural and real, it’s time to soften it up. Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur is how that happens.

To see how much of an effect the Gaussian Blur has, click your cursor on a point somewhere over the edge of your shadow and your preview pane will shift to that spot. Move the slider until you’ve got a nice, soft edge. How soft will obviously depend on what it is you’re shadowing. A button would have a sharper edge, string a softer edge.

Almost done! Change the Blend Mode to Linear Burn for more of a shadowy look nearest to the object. It also allows the shadow to take on some of the colour of whatever is under it, in this case the blue of the paper.

Then lighten up up by decreasing the Opacity to somewhere around 40%, plus or minus. Keep an eye on what’s happening and you’ll see when it looks right. If you think the edges are still too sharp, use the Gaussian Blur again.

Last thing to do is to Link the shadow layer to the object layer. To do that, select the two layers then click on that little icon that looks like a couple of chain links. Alternatively, you can Merge the two layers by selecting them then right-click>Merge or CTRL/CMD>E. Why do this? Well, if you move the object and it’s not either linked or merged with the shadow, the shadow is going to be left behind and you’ll have a bunch of hassle positioning it right later.

When your layers are linked to each other, this is what you’ll see in the Layers panel.

This was a very basic custom shadow operation. Practice it a bit, then I’ll show you how to layer objects on top of other objects and get the shadows right in that situation. Even more fun!! Just let me know when you’re ready to take it up another notch.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

How Do You Know When to Upgrade?

Today’s tutorial is going to be a really wordy one. Lisa R made this comment on last week’s post: “That’s why I adore digital scrapbooking! I still have PSE 11 and since I use it mostly for photos (not scrapping), it would be interesting to hear the best things YOU like about it … I’ve been thinking of upgrading for quite some time but again, because I use it mostly for photos, I’m still on the fence.” I hope to make her decision easier by discussing some of the things that have evolved since V.11. I’ve never been one to upgrade just to stay at the front of the pack. There has to be something in the upgrade that I want… and I’m pondering whether it’s worth the money (about $120 Canadian for an upgrade, $140 for a new purchase) to jump to PSE 2019. But before I talk about that, let’s look at the changes from Lisa’s V.11 to my current V.15.

V.11 brought us some fabulous sketchy filters, and introduced automated actions to ElementsPhotoshop CS/CC has had them for a long time. If you’re not familiar with actions, they’re little scripts that automatically perform a series of adjustments to your work. They’re especially useful for photo editing and professional photographers have their favourites, which then let them develop a personal style. Photographers whose specialty is newborns, for example, will use actions that tone down jaundiced skin, hide newborn “acne”, reduce mottling and so on. There are also actions that take the work out of getting the background right. There are lots of sources for free or low-cost actions online, with demonstrations of how they work. Here’s a demo of a free action from The Coffee Shop blog. It’s called Perfect Portrait 3. It’s pretty amazing!

In V.15 there are two ways you can access actions, both the very basic ones that came with the software and those you’ve installed. The first is to click Window>Actions and the second is to click that More button then choose the Actions tab. If you look closely at this photo of my son, his skin is pretty gnarly-looking so let’s see how Perfect Portrait 3 fixes it.

When you’ve chosen the action you want to run by clicking on the folder to the left of the title, you can either click on the dark blue triangle to the left of the folder’s contents, or the dark blue triangle circled below. That sets the action in motion.

There may be some parts of the action that require your input, like this one. It’s actually the second spot where I told it what to do; the first was a Levels adjustment. In this screen I could change the source of the colour I want to replace.

After I hit the OK button for Replacing Color, the action took off and in 30 seconds I had all these adjustment layers that I can now fine-tune. But even without any further input from me, those blemishes on Adam’s nose are gone, his skin tone is more even and his teeth are whiter. I think his crows’ feet aren’t as obvious too.

Another new feature that came with V.11 is in the Organizer. (I don’t use the Organizer because I didn’t like it with my first couple of versions, and created my own filing/organization system.) This version introduced user-determined tagging, allowing many more options for finding what you’re looking for by using your own tags. Options could be by name, by date, by location or by event, for example.

Last but not least, V.11 had the first Out-of-Bounds Guided Edit that allows cutting away the background from part of a photo but leaving things like heads, arms and legs in there. Think of those cool layouts where the photo looks 3D, like it’s bursting out of a frame.

V.12 brought a few more useful improvements. Content-Awareness allows for quicker, easier editing with the Spot Healing tool and with the Content-Aware Move tool. (I haven’t played with that tool yet, so I won’t try to explain how it works. We’ll save that for another day!) This version gave us a pet-eye correction in the Quick and Expert edit menus for the first time.

It also gave us the Zoom Burst Guided Edit that lets you add motion blur to an action photo that looks natural. That one looks like a lot of fun! Another new option in the Guided Edit menu in V.12 is Rotate and Straighten, making adjusting the horizon in photos super-simple. Here’s where the Puzzle edit and the Photomerge edit also came into play. One big drawback to V.12 was that everything was turned into a Smart Object, resizing things like buttons to the size of whatever the workspace it was moved onto was… 12×12 for example. It was a REAL pain in the butt having to then manually resize every. Single. Element. On my layouts.

V.13 got rid of that. It introduced the Refine Edge function to selections, which was a game-changer for lots of people. It allows for sharper extractions and cleaner edges. Some other benefits V.13 had include Auto-crop options – the software provides a preview of several ways to crop an image. [I turned that off eventually because I don’t want to be told what to do. ;)] They added Black and White (automatic and simple conversion to black and white), Black and White Color Pop (keeping a specific area of a photo in color while making the rest of it black and white) and Recompose (resizing your photos without losing important parts of them) to the Guided Edit menu.

And then there were these very useful additions! I haven’t actually played with these either, but I think I should!

V.14 is where there were huge changes made to Elements. Many of the techniques I’ve shared were made possible by these additions: Remove Camera Shake; Remove Haze (!); Batch Edit; one-click Whiten Teeth, frames, photo effects and textures; Photo Illustration; Paint-On Effects; select detailed edges (hair?); remixing 2 photos, improvements to the Recompose edit; RAW editing; new options in Photomerge and an opportunity to print at home came with V.14.

Compared to V.14, there weren’t a lot of changes in V.15, but improved function of some of the menus were a bonus. The Filter Gallery has been simplified and there were a few additions to the Guided Edit menu such as Photo Text (there was a tut on this one), Effects Collage (which lets you apply several effects to sections of a single photo), Painterly (there was a tut on this one too) and Speed Pan (giving a moving object a blurred background). There’s also a cool effect that lets you change a frown into a smile.

Changes to the appearance of the workspace, the location of toolboxes and buttons and other sort of housekeeping things have continued from version to version. There will always be a bit of a learning curve when you upgrade; the larger the gap between your old version and the new one, the steeper the curve.

So this is where my dilemma lies. Do I go from V.15 to Elements 2019? How hard will it be for me to learn the new stuff, and then translate it into easy-to-follow tutorials? Are there enough new things (there are 8 new Guided Edits) I can’t live without to make it worthwhile? 2019 has a powerful new function called Adobe Sensei AI, which does a lot of things automatically in both the Organizer and the Editor. It uses artificial intelligence to tag and organize your photos and videos based on image recognition, it allows for video editing, which V.15 does not, and it has several social media features. Oh and did I mention slideshows?? If you’ve ever had to create a slideshow, you’ll know how much work they are and how hard it is to get them just right. 2019 will automatically select the best photos from a selection and turn them into an animated slideshow guaranteed to impress. There’s also a more useful home screen. It looks like I have some thinking to do…

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Restoring those Vintage Snapshots

Halfway between my birthday and Mother’s Day, I had the most amazing visit with some relatives I’d never met before. One of the ladies I spend the day with is my Grandmother’s first cousin, who is actually only four years older than my mother. This delightful woman brought along a huge collection of vintage photos, some of them well over 100 years old. Today I’m going to show you one of them and take you through a Guided Edit to restore it. (Spoiler alert: This is NOT a quick edit. It took me about 2 hours to get it to the final version.)

The Guided Edit I’m going to demonstrate today is simply called Restore Old Photo. It’s in the Special Edit toolbox. What I love about these Guided Edits is that everything you’re going to need (pretty much) is all in the Edit toolbox. It’s especially helpful for those who are still learning how to use their software, because each tool in the box has a little explanation of how to use it. Like a mini-tut, if you will.

Here’s my photo. The little girl is my first cousin twice removed, Lily Annie Delia. She was nicknamed Laddie (for her initials) and she really didn’t like it! This photo was taken in the fall of 1916 and was sent to her grandmother as a Christmas gift.

This Guided Edit has more tools within it than can be shown all at once, so don’t forget to scroll down and take a peek. Be cautious of that Cancel button I’ve circled. It resets EVERYTHING back to the original.

The tools are listed in the order you’re most likely to use them, but I found I was bouncing between them as the condition of the photo demanded. Zoom in really closely so you can see the imperfections better and what changes the tools create when you use them.

But first… This is a personal preference here. I like to crop off the white paper border before I do anything else. But there may be times when you want to leave it. Here I show you how I cropped this one. The image was printed slightly askew so I straightened the Crop window level to the demarcation between the carpet and the wall.

This is my new starting point.

The Spot Healing tool in the Expert edit mode has a number of options for the tool, but within this Guided Edit, it doesn’t. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll be surprised at how one click can make a huge difference. The secret to a great, invisible edit is to take your time and use a SMALL diameter brush.

See how all that discoloured scratchy stuff is gone now? Typo spotters… that should read “down”. You can move your photo around on your workspace by using the Hand tool.

That scratch and the messy corner will need more help than the Spot Healing tool can provide, so I’ll use the Healing Brush. It’s similar to the Clone Stamp but can be stroked across a blemish like a brush. More details on how this tool works best are to follow.

Now you see it, now you don’t!

This is where I started moving back and forth between the Spot Healing tool and the Healing Brush.

This shows how sometimes there are several types of blemishes in a small area.

The Spot Healing tool is active in this screenshot. I’ve removed most of the discoloured stuff.

It’s very easy to change the size of the brush you’re using in either the Spot Healing tool or the Healing Brush. Those square brackets that don’t have much use outside of algebra are the volume up and volume down buttons for brushes. The [ one makes your brush smaller, while the ] one makes it bigger. I just made my Healing Brush slightly bigger than the scraped area, selected an unblemished area of my photo and painted over it.

These scratches and creases might be erased with the Spot Healing tool, but I didn’t take any chances. I used the Healing Brush.

Here’s the secret to making the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tools work to their best advantage. (And I literally discovered the trick LAST NIGHT!) If you don’t move the cursor away from your ALT>Click selection before you start using the tool, your “source” point will be… what you’re trying to cover. So always move it, even just a little bit, before you start trying to fix an area. You’ll be able to see where your source is because there will be a little white “plus” sign at the spot where the colour or texture is being sampled. Below I’ve mocked up what you’ll see, but in black to make it more easily seen.

When using either the Healing Brush or the Clone Stamp, work AWAY from your source so you’re moving from clear to unclear. You’re trying to blend away the blotches, not replicate them.

No matter what tool you’re using, when you’re in a spot where there’s lots of detail, you need to slow down and use the smallest brush possible. If you’re too close to an area where the colour or tone is different, your correction will actually only create another flaw.

Hair. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it things!

Use the zoom! The keyboard shortcuts – and + make it easy to do. Get in tight where you need to, pull back to make sure it looks right when you need to.

I used the Spot Healing tool, the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp freely in this area. The Clone Stamp tool is terrific for repeating shapes and sharp edges. By selecting a spot along the edge, for example, I can replicate that perfect spot all the way down the rung.

And on it goes.

Spot Healing worked well for the cross piece here.

I made my way across the photo from the upper left corner over to the right, dropped my working area down then worked back from right to left, repeating until I’d covered the whole photo.

I could stop here, but I want to show you some more options, so let’s press on.

Even though I think I’ve done a great job, I think I want to use the Dust Removal tool to refine the image even more. It’s one of the hidden ones I had to scroll down to find. Adjusting the pixel size, I can tell Elements to find all the remaining flaws that size or smaller and Elements will fix them.

I wanted the Dust Removed first before I went on to the Blur tool. It does exactly what it says it does. It softens the hard edges of an edited area so it doesn’t stand out. I just brushed it over some of the background.

The next several adjustments aren’t using any of the tools, just adjustment modes, so the Blur tool looks like it’s still active. But this screenshot shows my photo after I used the Auto Levels mode.

Then I let Elements adjust it with Auto Contrast.

And a touch of Sharpening.

When I’ve gone as far as I want to with the Guided Edit, I can click on that Next button and go into the Expert edit mode.

Since I discovered Enhance>Haze Removal, I’ve used it SO OFTEN! It does several things all at once – sharpening details and deepening contrast.

And the effect is fully adjustable. I’ve moved both sliders to the left from the default settings.

Don’t worry that you’ve gone too far… you can ALWAYS Undo it all! CTRL/CMD>Z is a scrapper’s best friend! (CTRL/CMD>Y will Redo, so you’ve got options!)

Don’t foget to save your hard work! I named my new photo Laddie Xmas 16 for ease of finding it later.

What do you think?