Getting started with Photoshop Elements

Basic tips on making the best use of Photoshop right out of the box

06-17-2010 // Rob Sheppard

Screenshot of Photoshop elements

As you take more nature photos, you will eventually want to get more from the original shot. That’s because a digital camera—for all its convenience and high-tech wizardry—sometimes fails to capture the scene the way we see it. A camera is designed to handle a huge range of conditions, from a quiet nature scene to a wild night scene on the Las Vegas Strip. As we all know, when you try to do everything well—from contrast to color to sharpness—it is difficult to do everything perfectly.

That’s why I recommend that nature photographers become familiar with Photoshop Elements. It’s a good, relatively inexpensive program that includes both an organizer, which helps you keep your photos in order, and an editor, which gives you controls for processing and improving your image.

The Help menu really does help. There is also a whole section in the Edit part of the program called Guided Edit. This gives specific information on how to work with an image.

Start with Quick Edit. This section has a panel of commonly used adjustments ready for use. You don’t have to search for controls. Each section uses intuitive names such as Lighting and Sharpness to help you find the right adjustments.

Think Smart. There is even something called Smart Fix, which with the click of a button will often significantly improve the image—a very useful tool to tide over a new user while she is learning the more complicated edits; the program includes additional controls that you can grow into as you learn to work with your photos.

Don’t let the computer intimidate you. Fear of new technology can really limit photographers’ use of programs like this. A few tips to help with that:

    1. Remember that you are the boss of your photos, not Photoshop Elements. Do what you think is important, not what the program has available.
    2. Nothing is permanent until you save your photo. If you make a mistake, simply use Control (PC) or Command (Mac) plus Z to undo anything. Plus you can use the Undo History Palette to undo your adjustments at any time.
    3. Experiment! If you aren’t sure how or if to use an adjustment, try it. And use it boldly to see what it really does. On most controls, nothing is set until you press OK. Even then, you can undo it with Control/Command + Z.
    4. Never work on your original image. With RAW files, you cannot change the original file, but with JPEG, you can. Do a “Save As” for your image as soon as you can, saving your photo as either a TIFF or PSD file (you will find these choices when you click on the Format option). Then work on that file rather than your original.

Finally, try a plug-in. Plug-ins are software programs that work inside another program (in this case, inside Photoshop Elements). These plug-ins often let you fix your photos faster and more easily than working directly with the program. Take a look at color Efex Pro or Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software.

If you really start to get into this, go down to your library or bookstore. There are lots of good books on Photoshop Elements, including my book, Photoshop Elements 8: Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks.

Rob Sheppard is a photographer, writer and photography teacher in the Los Angeles area of Southern California. Visit his blog Nature and Photography for more photography tips.


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