Friday, 26 February 2010

The Powerful Layer Mask Tool

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Next to adjusting colors and contrast, the most-used tool for me would probably be the Layer Mask Tool. The Layer Mask is a method for making areas of a layer selectively transparent or opaque (and varying degrees of transparency in between). It's the tool that finds use for very fine adjustments to small areas of your image, to making composites of images -- everything from cheesy portraits inside a brandy snifter to amazing image transformations). Right now we'll deal with everything you need to know about the Layer Mask Tool. It's so threaded into the image-editing process that it has to be taught, I feel, before most anything else.

I'll start with an image with two layers. (Feel free to follow along or experiment by creating an image with any two layers you want to combine.) Here's the bottom layer:

and here's the top layer:

(You already know this is going to be cheesy.)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Removing Dust and Scratches Correctly (Part 1)

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Valentine's Day has me going through family albums, looking at my parents' wedding pictures. Unfortunately, for older prints, the lamination isn't that sophisticated and time has scratched their surfaces so they are, on close inspection, quite dirty. Even for newer prints not taken with a digital camera, careless handling and storage adds clingy, practically permanent dust. Fortunately, Photoshop and Elements has a tool for easy removal of these artifacts - the Dust and Scratches Tool. Today I'll show you the correct way to use the tool on a basic level (I'll need to teach another basic skill - Layer Masks, coming soon - to show how to use it on an intermediate level). Hopefully this way you can breathe new life into your old pictures (with the help of a scanner, of course).
Click on the image to see the dust and scratches in all their glory. By the way, that is my aunt, not my mum. I'm using Elements here, but the instructions for Photoshop are exactly the same.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Straightening Out Pictures

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When you process plenty of photographs, it's useful to have a workflow to make the work systematic and therefore, faster. Also, it ensures that you don't forget to do something to your images before you send them out. There's many ways to go about it and I confess that I don't have a set one. Often the recommended sequence will be something like 1) indexing the images (adding tags for easy searching), 2) initial cropping and cleaning up the image, 3) image adjustments, 4) sharpening, 5) final cropping, and 6) compressing and saving. These steps are highly condensed and vary widely among Photoshop users. Today we're going to tackle something that belongs to step 2: straightening out a picture.
You could very well straighten out a picture after you've done everything else, but I like to do it first because it helps to orient your mind properly as to what the picture should look like. Looking at a crooked picture for too long gives you a pervasive feeling that something is wrong with the picture, and it's bothersome.