And we’re back, commencing the subject that you all want to know about. How do I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 to take my photos from okay looking to great looking? If you prefer you can watch the tutorial by clicking on the video embedded below, or read on for step by step written instructions.
It all begins with adjustments. But be wary. Unless you plan to bridge the gap between photography and abstract art, you should limit your adjustments to tweaking, as opposed to morphing. The key with adjustments is to keep them subtle.
Before we get to work make sure you’re with us in the Quick panel, and that the Adjustments panel is open. You will find the button to turn on the Adjustments panel on the bottom right of your screen. Just click the button on the bottom that says “Adjustments”. Now, let’s take a gander at each of these adjustment tools to see what they do.
As you acclimate to Photoshop Elements, it helps to have the before and after pictures showing as you make adjustments so that you can tell if you are improving the photo, or making things worse. We talked about how to change that view in the Quick Edits Panel tutorial on the tool and tool options panel. This Smart Fix tool is basically going to analyze your photo’s histogram and adjust it accordingly.
To use Smart Fix, or any of these adjustment tools on the right side panel, double click on the category you want to adjust—in this case, Smart Fix—and then click Auto. Usually the Smart Fix adjustment is a good bet, but I’m not wild about the way the Smart Fix “fixed” this photo, so I’m going to undo it (Ctrl+Z, or the Undo button on the bottom left of the screen) and tweak it on my own.
So, instead of leaving it totally up to the program, I’m going to apply the auto fixes to the degree that I want them. Take a closer look at the adjustments panel. We’ve got the slider bar, and below that a series of example pictures to show how the photo will look when applied. You can either select one of the photo options, or move the slider tool to slowly apply the changes until you are satisfied. Also note: the photo with the backward arrow on it in the panel, that’s where your original picture was on the scale. To revert to the original, click on that picture. The same thing is true in the other adjustment sections.
I’ve decided that I don’t want any Smart Fix influence in this pic, so I’m going to revert to the original and proceed to the other sections, which happen to be all the things that the Smart Fix tool was adjusting automatically.
The next section is Exposure which is a great place to start, although I usually adjust levels first. Anyway, Exposure. I like my photos nice and bright, so I increased the exposure by .5 (see, just a tiny bit goes a long way). This is how you adjust your exposure compensation if you didn’t have time to change your camera settings before taking the picture.
And now that you have the exposure pretty well taken care of, we’ll move on to Levels adjustments. This baby is meant to correct the color tone range and balance, and the above picture is just an extreme example of what it is capable of. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen if you get carried away with level adjustments. As with all these tools, they might seem kind of clunky here in the Quick panel, but when we get to the Expert panel it is easier to really fine tune these adjustments instead of relying on the program to decide what looks best for you. Once again, I’m going to undo the adjustment and proceed to the Color adjustment section.
There’s a color spectrum that runs from black and white at one extreme to fluorescent at the other. This spectrum is called saturation, which is the first of three options in the Color adjustments area. If you really dig the Samsung look, try notching up the saturation just a smidge. Or if black and white is more your style, take the slider in the other direction. Then there’s Hue. The Hue will change the actual colors in the photo. I’ve never used this on an entire picture, only vectors that were the wrong color, or small sections (like my son’s bright red shirt in the family photo when everyone else was wearing gray and black). And Vibrance is essentially a more subtle iteration of Saturation.
You know how on your camera you can adjust your settings according to the lighting conditions (like outdoors, tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy)? Well that’s your white balance, and if you have it set wrong, that’s when you get pictures that have color casts. Sometimes they look bluish, or more commonly they take on a yellowish orange tint. Best practice is to use the right white balance when taking the shot, but if it’s too late and you really want to salvage the photo, you can change the color cast with the Balance feature here in Photoshop Elements. If your pic looks too yellow, push the slider toward the blue section, and vice versa. Boom, color cast gone. Now you can move on with your life.
Sharpening is meant to make your photo look a titch more in focus, and it’s another example of a tool that can get out of hand quite easily. You’ll know you’ve crossed the line when your photo looks grainy—unless for some unfathomable reason, that is the look you are going for. Joking. There are actually some effects that are enhanced by a little bit of grit, but for the most part you’ll want to keep yourself to the left of gritty.
And here we are at the end. Since you’ve stuck with me for so long, I’ve added a little bonus for you. Remember the Selection tool we talked about last time on the left panel? Well, when you are doing the adjustments on the right of the screen and you only want it to affect part of the picture, just use one of your Selection tools to select the parts of your photo that you want included in the adjustment. Ta-da!—vibrant skies, without coloring my subject neon orange. You’re welcome.
Next time we’ll dig in to the Effects and Textures panels. This is where the fun begins! Leave your questions and future tutorial requests in the comments. We’ll take care of you.
Thanks again to Adobe for giving me this copy of Photoshop Elements 12 to make this tutorial possible, as I’m sure you people wouldn’t want tutorials on an older version of PSE. To download a free 30 day trial of Adobe PSE 12, click here.
I’m a technological enthusiast with a completely unrelated degree in English Literature. I’ve also been known to dabble in photography and DIY furniture refinishing, with occasional stints of fitness sprinkled among all of the above.