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Lesson 9 - Tricks of the Trade

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics

Bringing Things Into (or Out of) Focus

In our last lesson, we looked at layers and how they affect the work we do. We talked about the Layers palette, working with multiple layers, how to blend, and how to merge layers. That lesson helped you to balance and structure your images.

Now it's time to learn how Photoshop can help you tweak and turn your images to either make them better or artier than the originals. Whether you want to add a little focus to a blurry image or the other way around, or even remove certain objects from the background altogether, Photoshop has what you need, in spades! Now before we start, it's worth saying that these tools can't save that photo that's a complete mess. But for the image that's just a little off, these tools can work wonders.

You don't have to be a photographer to work with the Photoshop tools. You just have to understand what they can and can't do to your image. These are the kind of tools you want to use to correct a less-than-perfect image, or to add a more professional look. Let's review each one briefly. The Focus tools are located in the Toolbox (Figure 9-1). The Sharpen tool cranks up the contrast in the image to give the illusion of sharper focus. The Blur tool is best used when you're actually removing existing focus from parts of an image you consider unimportant. The Smudge tool allows you to smudge areas of paint to remove any pesky unwanted visitors that have popped up uninvited in your image.

Figure 9-1: The Focus tools are located in the Toolbox.

Blur Tool

This tool is pretty self-explanatory: it gives you the ability to add blur or remove focus from parts of an image. Like most other Photoshop tools, the Blur tool has its own Options palette, which you can just double-click to open (Figure 9-2).

Figure 9-2: The Blur tool Options palette.

As you can see, there is a Pressure measurement (with the usual hidden slider control), which allows you to control the amount of contact that is made with the canvas. Also, you can check the Use All Layers box to apply the Blur tool to multiple layers without having to blur each layer manually. Try the image below or one of your own to see what effects you can create using different pressures (Figures 9-3 and 9-4). Using the Blur tool on the head of the foxtail, I was able to remove some of the focus. I used a medium-sized soft-edged brush and set the Pressure to 100% over the image several times. Try working with the image yourself using different brushes, pressures, and repetitions. You usually cannot overuse the Blur tool, but you can experiment to see what type of effects you enjoy.

Figure 9-3: The foxtail is the central focus.

Figure 9-4: Using the Blur tool on the head of the foxtail, I can remove the focus. I used a medium-sized soft-edged brush and set the Pressure to 100%. Then I passed over the foxtail's head four times until I was satisfied with the blur.

Sharpen tool

Although it's pretty difficult to overuse the Blur tool, the same is not true for the Sharpen tool. The Sharpen Tool Options palette (Figure 9-5) includes the same functions as the Blur tool, which allows you to choose how much pressure you want to apply with the tool to the canvas. The Sharpen tool should be used with much caution and scrutiny. It's really easy to burn the colors out of an image by applying too much Sharpen tool, which will actually harden the pixels of the area selected (Figure 9-6 and Figure 9-7). You can use the Sharpen tool, though, to work on certain portions of your image, not the whole image.

Figure 9-5: The Sharpen Tool Options palette.

Figure 9-6: Look at the photo here and the after photo in Figure 9-7.

Figure 9-7: Can you see how we've used the Sharpen tool to bring the subject into focus?

If you want a good idea of how these two tools can really affect an image, try this. Open the foxtail photo (Figure 9-3) and click the Zoom tool to magnify the image to 200%. Now try out the Blur and Sharpen tools on either side of the foxtail itself by setting the pressure to 50% and selecting a medium-sized soft-edged brush. Do you see the different effects these tools have? Each tool is very helpful when used correctly, but the Sharpen tool can actually damage your image if you don't use it correctly.

Smudge Tool

Using this tool should take you back to those happy childhood days of finger painting. When you select the Smudge tool, a finger appears and you can use it to blend unwanted objects into the background of your image. Basically by selecting the Smudge tool and then by clicking and dragging your mouse, you can collect color from one area and move it across the canvas to another. The Smudge tool has its own Options palette (Figure 9-8).

Figure 9-8: The Smudge Tool Options palette.

You must set your pressure settings in the Options palette from 1 to 100%. The higher the setting, the more pressure is exerted on the canvas. At 100% the finger just wipes away the paint, but as you decrease this setting you will be creating more of a smear (Figure 9-9).

Figure 9-9: Can you see how changing the pressure changes the smudge effect?

If you check the Finger Painting box in the Options palette, you'll be able to push the foreground color across the canvas or your image. This is an effective way to hide unwanted elements. Remember that if you have this option checked, you are adding the smudged foreground color to the canvas during the operation. If you leave this option unchecked, you are merely smudging the paint in the area you're working on. Check out page 95 in Adobe Photoshop 6.0 Classroom in a Book for a good example of how to use the Smudge tool.

The Digital Darkroom

Many of the tools in Photoshop incorporate ideas or names from the photographer's darkroom. You certainly don't have to be a photographer to use Photoshop. Actually, using Photoshop could even make you a better photographer, since you will learn all the different techniques available to enhance images after you photograph them. In this section, we're going to learn a little about a few of those tools that let you correct light problems in your images.

Dodge and Burn Tools

These are both photographic terms to describe actions that occur during the developing process. Let's go through each tool individually (Figure 9-10).

Figure 9-10: Dodge, Burn, and Sponge in the Toolbox.

The Dodge tool can be used to increase the amount of light to certain parts of your image, while limiting light to other parts. When you use this tool in Photoshop, you are actually adding white paint to part of the image.

The Burn tool, on the other hand, adds black paint and will make selected areas of the canvas darker. In this case, you are removing light or white from your image and decreasing the light in your image. Both these tools are extremely useful if you're dealing with images that either looked washed out or too shadowy.

Figure 9-11 shows an unmodified image. The effect of the Dodge tool appears in Figure 9-12. Then in Figure 9-13, we see the Burn tool. See the difference?

Figure 9-11: This is the original image.

Figure 9-12: This is what it looks like after we used the Dodge tool. Now the flower and background have a garish, cartoony quality.

Figure 9-13: And then I burned the same area. Now the daffodil almost looks like Pop Art.

If you click the pop-up menu in the Dodge and Burn Options palette, you'll see three choices: Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights. Choosing the right option if you're using both tools can be tricky, so stick with Midtones until you gain more experience.

Sponging Tool

In traditional photography, sponging refers to a process used to bring out the best in a bad image by sponging chemicals onto the image during developing. In Photoshop, using the Sponging tool will either increase or decrease the color saturation in the part of the image you choose. The Options palette pop-up menu allows you to choose whether you want to add color -- saturate -- or remove color -- desaturate. This is a tool that requires patience and care. It is not easy to control the change in saturation, especially when you're working with an image containing a lot of different colors that are in close proximity. When working with the image in Figure 9-14, I zoomed in on the boy's head and used a small, soft-edged brush with a pressure setting of 50. I had to be careful not to desaturate the color in his face just below his eyes (Figure 9-15).

Figure 9-14: Before applying the sponge, we have a classic case of red eye.

Figure 9-15: After the sponge, no more red eye!

You can also use the Sponge tool to alter the contrast on black-and-white images. Instead of changing color saturation, the Sponge tool moves the selected areas either toward or away from what's known as Middle Gray, which is partway between Black (100%) and White (0%) in the Grayscale spectrum.

Moving On

There is only a brief quiz for this lesson and an assignment that I think you will enjoy. Once again, it covers many topics we've looked at and a couple we haven't. But if you follow the instructions, you'll find that it's easy to learn as you go.

In the next and final lesson, you'll learn about some of the filters that you can apply to your images to create all manner of artistic effects. You can even use some of the filters to sharpen your image. It's a fun lesson and a good one to finish off your initiation into the wonderful world of Photoshop.

Next Lesson: Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics Lesson 10: Fun With Filters

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