I am trying to think of what I want to cover first with Photoshop and how I should explain everything.  I’ll try to do a good job with explaining, but I can’t guarantee anything…I pretty much suck at explaining things.

I will start with a few basic quick tips that I use on most photos and then I will point you to a few plugins that you need to get to make the most of Photoshop.  I don’t want to overwhelm!  I will cover this with Photoshop Elements, since that is what I started using initially, and what I imagine most beginners will need instruction with.  If you have CS2, you probably know how to use it!

So, onward….

Using Layers – One thing you need to learn when working with Photoshop is how the layers function.  Think of it as if you have your photo and you are adding different sheets of colored transparancies over it.  Each one will make the original change.  That is what you do with Layers in Photoshop. 

The original photo is the bottom layer, and then you can add a duplicate layer (right click over the original layer) over it and adjust the opacity.  To adjust the opacity of the layer, look above the layers on the right of the screen and you will see a box that has “100 %” in it.  You can adjust the percentage to allow the original to show through.  This works well if you  make changes to the top layer, but if the change is too drastic, so you can lessen it with the opacity change.  Also, there are some things that you can only do to the duplicate layer.  I’ll show you some ways for changing that top layer.

Defog – This is the first thing I do on EVERY photo I open up.  Do this on the original as soon as I open up the picture.  Basically, digital cameras have a “haze” in the photographs, and this little tool helps clean that up.  This is what you need to do:

Go to Filters -> Sharpen -> Unsharpen Mask and enter these numbers: 20/60/0. 

Watch the magic happen.  It really helps to clean up the haze…notice how everything is now more defined? If the effect is too much you can fiddle with the numbers…nothing is set in stone here.

Add a Screen layer – This layer basically lightens up the photo.  You could also do this in Levels but it takes more time…its a personal preference of what to use.  So…duplicate the original and above the layers box you will see a little box that says “Normal”.  Click there and you will be able to select “Screen” (you can check out all the other things you can do, too).  Now, it is probably way too light, so adjust the opacity until the picture looks right.  Then “Flatten Image” (right click over the layers box).

I don’t want this to get too lengthy, so I’ll stop here and show you what these two little things did to this photo: 

Original Photo

After defog and screen

Now, I need you to download a few things and add them to your Photoshop.  They are called plug-ins and I used them all the time in Photoshop Elements because there are limits to what that program can do…and they are FREE!  I’m pretty sure that one or all of them give you instructions for installing files.  It’s pretty easy.  They will show up in Photoshop at the bottom of your Filters menu.

Virtual Photographer – Many, many, many cool effects that you can add to your photos.  I always add them in a layer and adjust the opacity because most of the time they are too much.  It also has a black and white conversion.  Good stuff, and allows quick changes.

Mehdi Curves – CS3/4/5 has the curves tool, and it is pretty nice to have.  This give you a little taste of it.  I really only used the second one down, but it is worth installing it just for that.

Until next week…