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Learning Lab

A Random Collection of Photoshop CS Tips

by Deke McClelland, author of Adobe Photoshop CS One-on-One

I'll be honest with you. When O'Reilly approached me about doing a Photoshop CS Tips-and-Tricks article, my heart sank. Pardon me, I asked (tears of indignation smarting in my eyes), are you speaking to moi? No, no, no, I am not a common tipster/trickster, peddling his "Gosh, didya know this"s from corner to corner like a foolish Photoshop street monkey. I am an Educator!

But then it came to me. Why not put a new spin on it, reinvent the paradigm in a way only a classically trained Educator like myself can? Instead of an elaborate parade of 101 tips, I'll write, say, fourteen. And instead of one tip following another in a thematic, logical order, mine will be completely random. And instead of short, pithy tips, mine will be long and intricate and occasionally flat-out bizarre. An article so strange and meandering as to be immediately mistaken for Genius!

Then I thought, ah give it a rest. Just slap some tips down on the page and have done with it. And that's what I did. So, alas, I am a foolish Photoshop street monkey after all. Look at me dance, do my silly antics amuse you? Well, such is life, eh?

But there is one small twist: in addition to being random, meandering, and occasionally bizarre, the tips are actually shockingly helpful. Really, there are some good ones here, especially if you know a thing or two about Photoshop CS. In fact, I have to admit, this introduction has nothing to do with the tips that follow. I just wrote it so I could work in the word "monkey" in a few times, which I find inherently funny. So join me as we take a tour of fourteen random tips and tricks--well, OK, that part's the same--plus one to grow on.


Let's start at the beginning. Are you still greeted by the Welcome Screen every time you launch Photoshop CS? Personally, I like that third button down, Working With What's New. Click it to see a really useful Total Training video (or, more precisely, a page that explains how to insert the CD that contains the really useful Total Training video). But once you've done that, it's time to make the Welcome Screen go away forever. With the Screen on screen, as it were, turn off the itsy bitsy Show This Dialog At Startup check box in the lower left corner. Then click Close to quash said screen like a bug. If you decide later you want to see the screen again--because, say, you've completely lost your mind--choose Help > Welcome Screen and there it is.


OK, that was simple; this is more complicated. If you own one of the many mid-range and high-end cameras that can capture "raw" data, then you've probably experienced the miraculous Camera Raw dialog box. Pictured below, it lets you correct the colors in an image as you convert them to something Photoshop can use. The Exposure and Shadows values (midway down on the right) control the white and black points, respectively. Here's the tip: To preview exactly which pixels will change to white or black, press the Option key (PC: Alt) as you drag either slider triangle. All pixels colored something other than black (Exposure) or white (Shadows) will get clipped. The second screen below shows me option-dragging the Shadows slider triangle.

Click for full-size view (Click for full-size view)


Most cameras that offer a raw format capture 10 or 12 bits of data per channel. This means you interpolate away millions of potential colors when you convert to Photoshop's 8-bit-per-channel standard. (Yes, you can upsample to 16 bits per channel, but it's rarely worth the overhead.) As long as you're downsampling the colors, you might as well upsample the pixels. To do so, select the next larger pair of values in the Size pop-up menu--the first set with a (+) after them. In the case of my Olympus E-1, this turns a 5 megapixel image into a 7 megapixel one while at the same time retaining moderately sharp edges. Mathematically speaking, it's a more sound upsampling technique than any other available inside Photoshop. (This really is an incredible tip; try it and see if you don't agree.)


Before you accept your Camera Raw settings, be sure to save them as a preset. You do this by clicking the right-pointing arrow next to the Settings pop-up menu and choosing Save Settings, as illustrated below. Then name the file, click OK, and it becomes a Settings option. Now you can apply these settings to other images shot under similar circumstances.



How? (you ask, with that darling quizzical look on your face). Why, inside the File Browser, of course. After opening a raw image, do this: Go back to the File Browser. Then select the range of thumbnails shot in a similar space under similar lighting conditions. Right-click one of the thumbnails (or, if you have a single-button Apple mouse, throw it in the trash and drive to the store and buy a two-button mouse) and choose Apply Camera Raw Settings, as below. Choose your saved preset from the Apply Settings From pop-up menu and click Update. The thumbnails will actually update right there before your very eyes.

Click for full-size view (Click for full-size view)


Now that you've associated specific Camera Raw settings with your digital photographs, you can open them without revisiting the dialog box. Select the images that you want to open in the File Browser. Then press Shift-Return (PC: Shift+Enter) to open the photos subject to your preset. I ask you, could life be any easier?


OK, enough Camera Raw tips. Now let's turn our attention to one of my favorite new functions, Shadow/Highlight. I devoted an entire Deke Space to this command in the April/May 2004 Photoshop User, during which I showed how great it is for fixing photos shot under inconsistent light. The problem with this command are its default settings, which overcompensate in the shadows and ignore the highlights. Fortunately, you can establish your own defaults. Choose Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlight. Modify the Shadows and Highlights values to taste. Then click the Show More Options check box. Among the many new options, you'll see the Save As Defaults button. Click it, then click OK. For what it's worth, my preferred default settings appear below. They won't fix every image by any means, but they come closer than Photoshop's defaults.

Click for full-size view (Click for full-size view)


By now, you probably realize that you can scroll the image willy- nilly in either of the full screen modes. If not, open an image, press the F key, and then press the spacebar while dragging your image. Look at it go--really, it is a sight to behold. But here's the rub: what do you do if you want to recenter the image? Sometimes, you can press Command-minus and then Command-plus. Other times, you have to double-click the hand tool icon to fit the image to the window and then zoom back in or out to where you were. But my favorite method is to press the F key three times a in a row. This cycles through the screen modes and centers the image without changing the zoom setting.

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