3 fast photo tricks

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Photoshop Elements 3 Down & Dirty Tricks , by Scott Kelby (2005; reprinted by permission of Pearson Education and New Riders).

Looking to spice up your photos? Many of the hottest photographic tricks (the ones you see every day in magazines, in movies, and on the Web) only look hard. In fact, they’re quite simple—once you know the secrets behind them. Here are three interesting photo effects that take just minutes to perform in Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 ($80) or the full version of Photoshop.

Burned-in portraits

The burned-in edge effect adds an amazing amount of warmth to your portraits (see “Fading Fast”), which is one reason it’s so popular with professional photographers. In fact, once you’ve learned this simple technique, you’ll use it again and again.

Step 1 Open the portrait that you want to burn in.

Step 2 Create a new blank layer by clicking on the Create A New Layer icon in the Layers palette. Press the D key to set your foreground color to black, and then fill this new layer with black by pressing option-delete. Press the M key to switch to the Rectangular Marquee tool, and click and drag to create a rectangular selection just inside the edges of your image.

Fading Fast By dimming the edges of your shot, you can draw the viewer’s eyes to the center of your image and add warmth.

Step 3 To soften the edges of your selection, go to the Select menu and choose Feather. When the Feather Selection dialog box appears, enter 40 pixels (for high-resolution, 300-ppi images, try 150 pixels), and click on OK.

Step 4 Press the delete key to knock out a soft-edged hole in this black layer, revealing the photo on the layer beneath. The edges will be too dark, but you’ll fix that in the next step.

Step 5 Press Command-D to deselect. Then go to the Layers palette and lower the opacity of the black layer to around 40 percent to complete the burned-in effect. To see how effective this technique is, click on the Eye icon to the left of your black frame layer to hide it, revealing just your original image. Now click again in the box where the Eye icon was. Notice the difference?

Instant stock-photo effect

The “wild color” effect is incredibly popular right now. In fact, there are entire collections of royalty-free stock photos that use this technique, and you often see it used in print ads, in magazines, and on the Web. It’s ideal for taking an otherwise boring image and using wild colors to make it trendy and interesting (see “Color Me Wild”).

Step 1 Open the photo you want to apply the effect to. In this case, it’s a regular RGB photo that looks kind of, well, boring.

Step 2 Go to the Layers palette, and from the Create Adjustment Layer pop-up menu, choose Gradient Map. This will bring up the Gradient Map dialog box.

Color Me Wild Add a gradient map to give an otherwise boring shot a modern, colorful look.

Step 3 Click on the little down-facing triangle to the right of the current gradient swatch to bring up the Gradient Picker. From the Picker’s fly-out menu (the right-facing arrow), choose Color Harmonies 2 to load this example’s set of gradients; when they appear, choose the Purple, Green, Gold gradient.

Step 4 Click on OK. This applies a Gradient Map adjustment layer over your photo. This gradient map is usually too intense and pretty much trashes your photo. To fix that, go to the Layers palette and change the layer blend mode of this layer from Normal to Color. Now the color of the Gradient Map layer blends in more smoothly, and it replicates the wild color effect that’s so popular in stock-photo collections.

Step 5 To fine-tune the effect, press the X key until you’ve set your foreground color to black, and then press B to switch to the Brush tool. Up in the Options bar, lower the opacity for your brush to 50 percent and then click on the brush thumbnail and choose a large, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker. Now paint over areas where you want to have more detail. You’re actually painting on the layer mask of the Gradient Map adjustment layer, and as you paint in black, some of the original color will start to reappear.

Painted-edges technique

This technique, where you essentially hide the photo and then paint it back in, is particularly popular with landscape and portrait photographers (see “Framed”). But it works so well for so many different styles of photos, you’ll be amazed at how many other uses you’ll find for it.

Framed The frame’s straight edges dampen the free spirit of this photo. But a custom frame gives it that just-painted look.

Step 1 Open the photo you want to apply the effect to.

Step 2 Create a new blank layer by clicking on the Create A New Layer icon in the Layers palette. Press D-X to set your foreground color to white, and then fill this new layer with white by pressing option-delete (your image will disappear, but we’ll get it back in a minute).

Step 3 Press the E key to switch to the Eraser tool. Go up to the Options bar, and bring up the Brush Picker by clicking on the brush thumbnail. You’re going to load a set of brushes, so click on the Brush Picker’s fly-out menu (it’s the right-facing black arrow in the top right corner of the Picker) and choose Load Brushes. In the Load dialog box, click on the Thick Heavy Brushes set and click on Load. (Note: You may need to navigate on your hard drive to find the brushes. If so, find the Photoshop Elements 3 folder, open the Presets folder, and then open the Brushes folder. The presets will appear.) These brushes will automatically be added to the end of the Brush Picker, so scroll down near the end of the Picker and click on the first Thick Heavy Brush, the 111-pixel Flat Bristle brush.

Step 4 To help you see what you want to paint back in, lower the opacity of the top white layer to around 50 percent in the Layers palette. Now you can paint over the areas you want to be visible. Start painting a few strokes with this brush from left to right across your image area. As you do so, the original photo will paint back in. One of the cool things about this brush is that it has some gaps in it (like a real dry brush), which helps give your image a realistic, painted look. Notice the bottom stroke in particular, and you can see the gaps (some upper areas don’t have as many gaps because I painted more than one stroke over those areas).

Step 5 Go back to the Brush Picker in the Options bar and choose the next 111-pixel brush, the Rough Flat Bristle brush. Paint a stroke along the top of the painted effect with only a very small portion of this brush tip extending over the top of the already painted areas. This adds a more random, spattered look along the top edge. Do the same along the bottom. Raise the opacity of this white layer in the Layers palette back to 100 percent so you can see your painting effect.

Step 6 For the finished piece, you can add a line of text to the bottom. Press D to set your foreground color to black, press T to switch to the Type tool, and then enter your text (the typeface used here is Minion).

[ Scott Kelby is the editor in chief and a cofounder of Photoshop User magazine, and the president of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. ]

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