Top 10 Tips from Photoshop Week on creativeLIVE

Didn’t have time to watch all of Photoshop Week?  Or maybe you watched it, but were overwhelmed by all the information crammed into one week.  I’ve seen semester-length college classes that don’t teach as much as what creativeLIVE did in one very-intensive week.  So whether you missed them, or just need a review, here is my list of top tips:

(I am not receiving any commission to endorse either Adobe nor creativeLIVE)

#10 – Use Adjustment Layers

This one is pretty basic so I didn’t rate it too high, but it is essential enough that if you are not doing it already -you need to learn about it.  This is essential for non-destructive editing.  Want to adjust the brightness/contrast/levels/colors/etc of your images?  Do it on an adjustment layer.  Want the effect to only affect part of the image?  Place a layer mask on your adjustment layer.  The original photo will remain in pristine condition.

  • Save files as PSD to preserve adjustment layers created

#9 – Auto Align Layers

Want to combine two images, but they weren’t shot on a tripod and therefore have slightly different perspectives?  No sweat – place them as two layers in the same document and the top layer can be automatically moved and/or warped to perfectly align with the bottom layer:

  • (select both layers) Edit > Auto-Align Layers…
  • customize settings (Auto does an excellent job on most projects)

#8 – Actions

If you do the same things to many photos, there is a way to program the actions you take in order to automate the process.  A similar method can be done in Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw using presets instead of actions.

#7 -Blending options

Credit: Ben Willmore

Many people are familiar with brush modes and layer modes that change how layers interact with each other, which can change the colors and capacities of different parts of the image.  Fewer people know about the “blending options” which can be found under the “fx” button at the bottom of the layers panel.  Here one can change the opacity different parts of the selected layer based on brightness of either that layer, or the brightness of the layers underneath – in the gray, red, green and/or blue channels.  Alt+click on the sliders to break them into two pieces that can be positioned separately to allow for a more gradual blend.  This effect can be modified at any time, even without converting to a smart object first.

#6 – Warp an image around another as if it was printed there

Credit: Lindsay Adler

This one is rather complicated.

  • Save a separate black and white copy of the image to be the background (layer 1) as PDF file.  This is the texture file.  Leave this open as a separate tab!
  • In a new file, open the background image (layer 1) and the image to be superimposed (layer 2) as separate layers.
  • Image > Apply Image
  • Under “source” choose the name of the texture file (the list will only show other tabs that are open)
  • Under “layer” choose the name of layer 1
  • Chose a blend mode, (such as “overlay” or “difference”) and any other settings you want.

#5 – Work in Adobe RGB, not sRGB

Credit: Kevin Kubota

Photoshop default usually sets images to sRGB mode, which allows for fewer colors than other color management systems like RGB.  It can always be exported at a lower color setting like sRGB for photos being uploaded

  • Edit > Color Settings

#4 – Edit texture and color separately

Credit: Lindsay Adler

This is similar to tip #6, but with a few differences:

  • The background image (layer 1) and the superimposed image (layer 2) should be different copies of the same file
  • The settings in the dialogue box will be different depending on whether it is an 8-bit image or a 16-bit image:
    • For an 8-bit image, use the blending style “subtract” on a scale of 2 and an offset of 128
    • For a 16-bit image, use the blending style “add” on a scale of 2, an offset of 0, and check the box for “invert”

#3 – Paint realistically to create art based on your photos

Credit: Jack Davis

Jack Davis not only came up with an amazing and unexpected use of the pattern brush tool, but he gives away all of his custom brushes and actions (as well as a tutorial PDF) all for free to anyone who likes his facebook page.  The results are stunning, really look like actual paintings, and the steps to create them are simple and easy to understand.  In a word, “wow!”

#2 – Convert for Smart Filters

Credit: Dave Cross

Want the ultimate in non-destructive editing?  Use Smart Objects to continually adjust any filters or other adjustments made to the image.  No effects are finalized – come back and modify the settings any time.  Smart filters can also be nested inside other smart filters.

  • Filters > Convert for Smart FIlters
  • Save as PSD file to preserve layers and smart objects
  • Raw photos can be imported as smart objects using Adobe Camera Raw, enabling you to make changes in Camera Raw at any time

#1 – Retouch in Lightroom / Adobe Camera Raw

Credit: Jack Davis

You don’t even need to use Photoshop for many retouches – some things can be done quicker, easier, and with better results in Lightroom.  (Adobe Camera Raw, which comes with Photoshop, has the same features as Lightroom.)  It is very powerful, and can adjust settings that can’t be adjusted in Photoshop, including luminance and clarity.  Plus it includes many of the capabilities of Photoshop like global effects, targeted adjustments, and adjustment brushes.  Snapshots can be created of each version of an image, which is stored in the image metadata resulting in a very small increase in the file size of the original image, rather than multiple large separate images.

  • Photos don’t have to be shot in raw in order to edit them in Camera Raw
  • Photos can be set to open in Adobe Camera Raw automatically: Edit > Preferences > File Handling > Camera Raw Preferences > Automatically open all supported JPEGs / TIFFs

How Layer Masks and Layer Modes Can Transform Photos

To create the final look of my Hope Ascending photo I used a technique in which I layered the same photo on to of itself repeatedly, while using various effects, in order to bring out different parts of the photo.  The result is an image far more dynamic than the original, enabling me to show my vision of the photo.  The process to achieve effects like this, is very fun and relatively easy to do once a few techniques are learned about layer masks and layer modes.

The main purpose of this tutorial is to show what is possible using just layer masks and layer modes. I used GIMP to modify this image, but similar principles apply in Adobe Photoshop and other photo editing software.

Always make sure to have a separate saved copy of the original file. (I often make the original file “read only” for extra protection). In this tutorial, I layer the original image on top of itself repeatedly with different settings applied to it. To do so, go to “File>Open as Layer” and select the original file, or in the layers window right click on a layer and then click on “Duplicate Layer” to make copies of the original file in different layers before modifications.

layermasktutorial 00
This is the image that I started with, which is actually cropped from a much larger image. Don’t underestimate the gems that can be found in forgotten corners of photos!
layermasktutorial 10
Layer 1
For this layer I modified the Levels settings (Colors>Levels). The idea is to move the arrows in to the edges of the graph. This makes the darkest areas of the photos true black and the lightest areas of the photo true white, giving the photo the full spectrum of shades. I moved the black arrow on the left slightly over from 0 to 5. Then I moved the white arrow on the right way over from 255 to 180. (For more information, check out this this illustrated tutorial on The Levels and Curves in GIMP by Leanne Cole Photography.)
layermasktutorial 00

layermasktutorial 20layermasktutorial 21layermasktutorial 22
Layer 2 modifications

layermasktutorial 23

Updated composite image

Layer 2
I started with a clean copy of the original file. Then I modified the Levels again, this time focusing on increasing the brightness and visibility of the smoke, without regards to how it effected the rest of the photo (moving the white arrow to 100). Then I adjusted the hue (Colors>Hue-Saturation) to -7.
After that I created a Layer Mask by right clicking on the layer in the layer window, and selecting “Add Layer Mask.” This brings up an options window in which I chose “White (full opacity)” to create a white layer mask. Right click on the layer again to ensure that “Edit Layer Mask” has a check mark. Then I chose the “Blend Tool” from the tool menu (settings set to “Shape: Linear”), and changed my foreground and background colors to black and white. White areas of a layer mask show the current layer, and black areas are transparent and show whatever is underneath. I then moved to the main window and drew a short mostly-vertical straight line. This creates a gradient in the layer mask from black to white, showing the two layers as softly blending together. I played with the position, length (draw a longer line for a more gradual gradient), and angle of the gradient until I was happy with the results.
Lastly, at the top of the layer window there is a pull-down menu for layer mode. Each layer mode has very different effects on how the layer appears (when on top of other layers), and I usually play around with all of them until I find the one I like best for a particular image. This time I changed the mode to “Hard Light” which is good for highlighting contrasts.
layermasktutorial 23

layermasktutorial 30layermasktutorial 31
Layer 3 modifications

layermasktutorial 32

Updated composite image

Layer 3
This layer is a bit easier. I started by duplicating layer 2. Then I right-clicked on it in the layer menu, and selected “Delete Layer Mask.” Next I went to “Filters>Blur>Gaussian Blur” and set the blur radius to 20 pixels. Lastly I changed the Layer Mode to “Grain Merge” and on the Opacity bar right underneath layer modes, I set the opacity to 30%. The results are subtle, mainly a bit more of a glow in the highlights, and some crisper shadows.
layermasktutorial 00

layermasktutorial 41layermasktutorial 42
Layer 4 modifications

layermasktutorial 43

Updated composite image

Layer 4
I felt like some of the details from places like the lady’s hair and the top of the incense burner had gotten washed out by the previous few steps. So once again, I started with a new copy of the original image. I then created a black layer mask. Using the selection tools, I carefully selected a few areas that I wanted to show in the new layer. Then while editing the layer mask, I colored in the selection using a white pencil. In order make this layer blend seamlessly with previous layers, I used a gaussian blur (radius of 30 pixels) on the layer mask while the white areas were still selected. This blurs only the selected area, so that the objects blend into the background, but the background isn’t effected. I then set the layer mode to hard light.

layermasktutorial 51

Updated composite image

Layer 5
(Make sure that the previous four layers are all visible (open eye next to them in the layers window) and if there are any other layers, make them invisible by toggling the eye off). Right click on one of the layers and select “Merge Visible Layers.” (Note: do not merge down one layer at a time, or it will alter the way the image looks because of each layer being in a different mode.) Set layer mode to normal, then duplicate the layer. Set the layer mode of the copy to Overlay.

layermasktutorial 61

Updated composite image

Layer 6
I started with a new copy of the original image, then simply changed the layer mode to Hue. The effect is most noticeable as color correction on the woman’s face.
layermasktutorial 00

layermasktutorial 71layermasktutorial 72
Layer 7 modifications

layermasktutorial 73

Updated composite image

Layer 7
I wanted to reclaim a little more of the detail on the incense burner. Similar to what I did for Layer 4, I used a copy of the original image and created a layer mask to show just a select area, blurring the layer mask to make one layer blend into the next.I then set the layer mode to Value and the opacity to 30%.

Here is a comparison of the original image and the final image:
layermasktutorial 00
layermasktutorial 73

Questions/Comments? Requests for other tutorials? Leave me a message! Subscribe to stay updated!