Category Archives: Processing Technique

Photoshop Elements 10 and the competition review – Frank Thomson

Last Monday, we had a chance to look at the competition entries and make constructive comments.  Gary suggested that Marjorie’s picture of two lemurs would look even better if the background was blurred.

Ringtail Lemurs by Marjorie Wilkinson

Here is my recipe for doing this with Elements 10, using

  1. the Quick Selection Tool (with Refine Edge) to select the Lemurs
  2. the Gaussian Blur Filter applied to a copy of the background,
  3.  the Clone Stamp Tool to remove the rather bright rocks just behind the lemurs.
  4. a layer mask to the blurred layer with a black to white gradient, to give a more realistic look to the background, and leave the foreground in focus.
  5. the Burn Tool to tone down the remaining whitish rocks.
  6. the Spot healing Brush to remove the eye-catching stick just below the further tail.
  7. flatten the image and save as a JPG

Here are the details:

1. Selection

Click on the Quick Selection Tool in the toolbox. Check that Auto Enhance is ticked. At this stage there is only one layer so “Sample All Layers is irrelevant”. The Refine Edge option is only available once a selection has been made.

Smart selection with marching ants

Paint over the lemurs, and the “marching ants” outline a rough selection { to increase the brush size, use the right square bracket ] }. To improve the selection, reduce the brush size by pressing the left square bracket [. Enlarge the image using the Zoom tool (Z) or pressing CTRL and = at the same time (CTRL+=), and using the smaller brush add in any missing lemur detail. To remove any selected background, press the ALT key whilst brushing over the unwanted selection (a small minus sign on the brush shows that it is subtracting from the selection). Concentrate not selecting any background from around the Lemurs’ faces. Any mistakes around the feet won’t matter, as the background won’t be blurred there.

Refine Edge

The Refine Edge tool improves the selection. There is no need to smooth it (remove jagged edges) as this would spoil the fur, or to feather more than a minimum amount. Expand the selection a little to include all the fur. The red mask shows the area not selected.

Windows Menu

If the Layers panel is not visible, open the Windows menu and click on Layers

Create a new layer with a copy of the selected area by pressing CTRL+J.

Cut-out of lemurs

The cut-out will look something like the above.

2.  Blur

To make a blurred background, copy the background layer by clicking on the background layer  in the Layers Panel to make it the active layer, and pressing CTRL+J. To change the name of the new layer to something more meaningful, click on the words “background layer”, which changes colour, and type Blur.

Blur Filter choices

With the Blur layer active (black background), click on the Filter menu -> Blur    ->  Gaussian Blur.

Gaussian Blur setting

Move the Gaussian Blur radius slider until the preview shows a suitable amount of blur.

3. Clone out the rocks.

Clone Stamp Tool

Select the clone stamp tool in the toolbox. Make sure that the option Sample All Layers is not ticked.

Clone out the rocks

Place the cursor over an area of blurred brown and click Alt to select that as the source area of the cloning. Paint over the white rocks behind the lemur heads, changing the source from time to time to get variety in the cloning. It does not matter if the cloning goes over the lemurs as the cut out will cover it up.

4. Apply a gradient to a layer mask

Add a Layer Mask

With the Blur layer active, click on the add layer mask button at the bottom of the layers panel. Click inside the layer mask to make sure the black to white gradient will be applied to the mask.

Gradient Tool

Click on the gradient tool and check that a black to white linear gradient is selected.

Gradient Mask settings

Hold down the Shift key to keep the line vertical, click on the start point and drag up to the finish point. Experiment with the start and finish points until the blurring looks right. Make the background layer visible to see the result.

5. Burn in the rock highlights.

Burn Tool

Settings for Burn brush

Tone down the white rocks by brushing over the highlights with the Burn Tool set to highlights and an exposure of 7%. The result is built up by repeated brush strokes with a low exposure.

6. Spot healing.

Spot Healing Brush Tool

Use the Spot Healing Brush with the background layer active, and brush along an irritating twig just under the rear tail remove the twig.

7. Flatten the image

Click on the Layer Menu -> Flatten image to make one layer to save as a jpg and save disk space. (Alternatively save the layered version as a PSD and then save as a JPG.)

Ring Tailed Lemurs


Creating an HDR Image

By Chris Francis

This is a brief run-through of the talk I gave on Monday 13th Feb where I showed the steps taken to produce an HDR image of the sunrise at St Mary’s taken in early 2011. The ‘correct’ exposure out of the camera is shown below.

While technically balanced when looking at the histogram of the image, it doesn’t really convey the mood of the sunrise (a warm light, with quite a lot of colour in the sky). Therefore, I decided to take a bracketed exposure of the scene to capture more of the detail in both the sky and the foreground rocks.

I tend to take a -2 stop to +2 stop exposure range when creating my HDRs, as I feel it gives a little more detail without being over the top in terms of processing resources required (if the scene was very contrasty you might want to go further). This produced the 5 images [below] with exposures of 0.3s, 0.6s, 1.2s, 2.5s, and 5s from left to right, at f/20 and ISO 200.

It’s important when bracketing to just change the shutter speed and not the aperture, as you can introduce focus shifts into the image.

I loaded these images into Photomatix [you can check out this software at this website] , and through the tone mapping tools produced an output image as below.

This is normally a process of trial and error, using the various presets and fiddling with the sliders a fair bit! I felt this was a good image to base my final changes on in Photoshop to create the image I had in my mind.

First, I cleaned up the small points of lens flare in the image, and then introduced a slight ‘S-curve’ using the Curves tool to boost the contrast slightly (you tend not to have to do this very much after creating the HDR image). I then added a warming photo filter with a low opacity to give the image a slightly warmer feel, and then finally sharpened the image to produce this final version.

You can see the tweaks which were applied in Photoshop were very minor, but combined together I think they make the final image that bit stronger.

The above workflow can also be used on a single RAW file if you didn’t have the opportunity to bracket the exposures in camera (there is normally a couple of stops leeway in the RAW file providing you haven’t clipped either the shadows or the highlights). Again, Photomatix can do this (without the need for you to manually create the 5 exposures), and the result is shown below.

This hasn’t had the final Photoshop tweaks applied to it, but you can see it’s done a reasonable job of pulling out some additional detail out of the sky and rocks, but the range isn’t quite as good as the ‘true’ bracketing.

Non destructive Dodging and Burning

One other technique that we covered at the Workshop on 13 Feb. was non destructive Dodging & Burning. Simon Allen also talked about this last December.

The “non destructive” tag is important because it retains your original image intact and puts all the dodge & burn adjustments on a new layer. So if you change your mind – it’s very easy to alter. Although this illustrates the technique using CS5, the same can be done with later versions of Elements.

Let’s start with this image of “Three Amigos”  from a folk festival in Martigues. The image is bright enough generally but the faces, arguably the central point of interest, are a little dark and could do with some lightening (ie. dodging).

First create a new (empty) Layer above your original image by clicking the “new Layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.

Then we want to fill this new layer with 50% grey. So Click Edit/Fill/then select 50% grey from the options menu that opens up.

Your on screen image will then look completely grey ( from the new filled layer on top of your original image).

Then change the Blend Mode to “Overlay” and you will then see your original image again. Although the grey layer is above it, the “Overlay” blend mode applied to a 50% grey layer has absolutely no effect on the image below it. It’s only a darker or lighter colour that affects the image below.

If we now “paint” this 50% grey layer with either white or black, it will lighten or darken the on screen image wherever you apply the brush strokes. Set your brush opacity to a very low amount  because you want to build up the painting effect gradually.

Select a suitable soft edged brush size and paint white on the grey layer over the area of the three faces – they will gradually lighten. Because the opacity is so low, the “painting” can be fairly “rough”.

Some areas of the shirts are too bright, so we can paint these areas black on the grey layer, again with a very low opacity, to darken them

Here is the end result on the new grey layer by itself and you can see where you have “painted”.

You can also reduce the overall effect of this dodge & burn layer by using the opacity slider in the layers palette.

The end result on the image is to lighten the faces and darken the shirts  – hence “dodging & burning”.

The overall effect is quite subtle – exactly what you want. Relatively small adjustments can have a significant impact on the final image. A very useful technique for small area adjustments.

Cut and Paste – Frank Thomson

On Monday 13th Feb, I tried to demonstrate cutting and pasting. This proved more difficult to present in the time available than I had anticipated, so I have modified part of the demo to show more clearly what was happening.

The objective was to:-

Use an image of the National Museum of Art in Washington DC which I took on Kodachrome with a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex in 1959.

Washington DC National Gallery of Art

Cut out 2 characters from a photograph taken at a Folk Festival in Switzerland in June 2011 with a Canon 40D,

Swiss Folk Festival characters

And paste into the first image

Take me to your fine art museum

The idea was to depict two aliens seeking for the Fine Art Museum rather than “Your Leader”

As a first step open both images in Adobe Photoshop CS5, and then drag the character image onto the background, where it automatically becomes a layer. Next select the characters using the Quick Selection Tool, and, to improve the selection, use the Refine Edge option. The last stage is to use a scale transform to make the characters of a suitable size and move them to the desired position. As the light is coming from behind the photographer, the result looks reasonably “realistic” without the need for further work creating shadows.

To demonstrate more clearly the various aspects of the Quick Selection tool and Refine Selection Edge option, I am going to make the cut-out on a small area with some fairly sharp edges, some fine hairs, some coarser fur and some colours in the foreground very similar to the background, which makes it more difficult for the selecting algorithms.

Ready to start quick selection

I clicked on the Quick Selection Tool from the toolbar, and ticked Auto-Enhance. I checked that the Sample All Layers option was not ticked, as I want to concentrate on the one layer.

Result of quick selection

I have used a blue coloured Quick Mask (the bottom button on the toolbar) to show the result of a first pass with a larger brush, and a second one with a small brush to refine the smaller areas. Pressing the Alt key changes to an un-select brush, so unwanted selections in the first pass can be removed by brushing over them. The aim is not to select the hairs etc at this stage, to allow Refine Edge to do its stuff in selecting the finer detail.

I am now ready to use Refine Edge. This is to the right of the Auto-Enhance in options bar. This tool looks rather complicated, and it is certainly true that I have had to experiment with the various settings to get the desired effect.

Start of cut and paste

First choose the View Mode. Press the F key to cycle through the 7 options to choose the current best one. The On White one shows that my quick selection is lacking fine detail. Now decide on the width of the edge to be detected. This is called the Radius. A large radius is good for hairy detail, a small one for simple edges, so Adobe provide a Smart Radius facility that automatically adjusts the width of the radius for hard and soft edges in the border region.

There are various options to use to get closer to the desired result:

1. Smooth reduces the hills and valleys of the selection border to create a smoother outline. While this is good for the simpler edges,I did not want much of this as I did not want to smooth the hairs.

2. Feather blurs the transition between the selection and the surrounding pixels border and the smoother outline, so in this example I did not want much.

3. Contrast With increasing contrast, soft-edged transitions along the selection border become more abrupt. I suspect I used too much, and would have been better with the Refine Radius tool.

4. Shift Edge moves soft-edged borders inward (negative) or outward (positive). It can help to remove unwanted background colour from selection edges. I did not uses this control

The button on the left below the move tool is the Refine Radius tool. Brush over soft areas to add fine detail to the selection. This is very useful for fine tuning the selection by brushing over the hairy regions. (Press ALT and brush to use the Erase Refinements tool to back out).

With 'show radius' turned off

When painting with the Refine Radius tool on a Black background, I could see the effect of each brush stroke and if there was any colour fringing with background colours.

Decontaminate colours gets rid of any residual colour showing through from the red and blue striped shirt in the background.

Output can become a selection or a mask on a new layer or document. I wanted my output to be the original character image with a layer mask. This meant that I could modify odd bits where too much was showing, by painting with black on the layer mask.

Layers showing layer mask

Note that it is also possible to apply Mask Edge to refine the edges of a layer mask, but that is for another time.

Now to see the cut out characters’ fur pasted onto the 1959 background.

Final demo cutout

I suspect that I could improve on this with a bit more experimentation, but then is there enough time in life for this?

Adobe offer a video at

which shows to process of selecting a model with flowing hair from a plain background. It lasts about 12 minutes.

Adding Richness and Glow

Here’s an easy technique to give your images a boost, adding richness and a glow to many photos. Lets start with this image taken at Beamish.

Make sure that you have the Layers Palette open (Window and tick Layers) – it will look something like this with the image shown as the “Background” layer

Next duplicate this Background Layer (Ctrl J is a useful shortcut).

With the copy layer selected in blue, go to Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur.

Use the slider to blur the image quite a lot so that only the shape of the image is visible but little of the detail. Your screen will now show the blurred image

With this blurred layer still selected, go to the box near the top of the Layers palette which is labelled Normal and click the arrow to open up the drop down menu. Select the Soft Light option.

Immediately the image on screen will change from blur to a richer more saturated version of the original image. If the effect is too much, use the Opacity slider to reduce it.

The final image shows rich saturation with a hint of Glow. The technique works better on some images than others, but it’s very easy to try out and discard if you don’t like it. Because it works on a new layer, your original image remains untouched.

Sharpening with the High Pass Filter

Try this method of sharpening; it uses a new layer so doesn’t alter the original image.

Start with your image and duplicate the Layer ( Ctrl J is a useful shortcut).

Go to Filters/Other/High Pass

This will turn your duplicate layer into a grey image with the edges of objects in the images showing slightly darker.

It looks awful but don’t worry. Adjust the slider control to show some edges but not too much – you will need to experiment. Then click Ok .

Finally – change the Blend Mode to Hard Light and you will see the image “jump” into sharpness. You can reduce the Opacity slider if you think the image is too “crisp”.

That’s all there is to it!

Adding Borders and Frames to your Images

A simple border or frame can add style to your image. And it’s very easy to do. Let’s start with this image of Urn and Fruit.

In Photoshop, click Select/All then click Edit/Stroke. This opens up the Stroke dialogue box where you set the Width to (say) 15 pixels and the colour to White. make sure the Location is set to “Inside” and the Blend Mode to “Normal” .

Now click OK and a white border/frame will appear round the edge of your image. You may want to try a different Width setting if your white frame is too small/large.

Now with the “marching ants” still showing you have selected all the image, repeat the Edit/Stroke/ procedure but this time set the width at a smaller amount, say 6, and the colour to Black. Click OK and you now have a black edge to your White frame – a nice effect on this image?

A very simple technique- but it’s just the start. Just Google “Photoshop Borders” and you’ll discover a cottage industry of free frames and borders to experiment with. Lets try a couple……..

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