Lesson 15

Tips and tricks

You have finally arrived at the last lesson! That's not to say this is the end of Photoshop's capabilities. Far from it! It's just the end of my knowledge on the subject.

This lesson is a collection of quick tips on things that weren't covered in previous lessons but that weren't large-scale enough to warrant lessons of their own.

1. Straightening images

Sometimes you take a picture or scan a picture and notice that the contents are crooked. This could be because you held the camera tilted or placed the image on the scanner slightly tilted. It could also be that the objects themselves simply look crooked from the angle that the picture was taken, such as when you are trying to capture tall buildings.

In a situation such as in this picture of Hikone Castle during cherry blossom season (left) where the objects in the image are tilted, rotating the image will solve the problem. Select the Measure tool (right). Use this tool to click and drag along a tilted line in the image. It will automatically calculate the angle for you. Then go to Image → Rotate Canvas → Arbitrary. The dialogue box will open with the angle already input from the Measure tool. All you have to do is press Enter or click OK and the picture will rotate to make the crooked line straight. This leaves some white space around the picture, so you will have to crop it to clean up the edges. This process is illustrated below.




Sometimes the problem isn't that the picture is crooked, it's that perspective makes the objects (especially buildings) appear slanted. If your intent is to show perspective, of course, you needn't change anything, but on occasion the picture would look better with nice, straight lines. In the example below, you can see that although the lines on the building are at a slant due to perspective, the actor is standing straight, so rotating the image won't correct the problem. In a case like this, you can use the Crop tool. Click the "Perspective" option in the menu bar and frame the image with the Crop tool. Adjust the borders of the area to be cropped so that they are parallel to the lines you want straightened. When you crop the image, the computer will automatically change the perspective to make the lines straight. This process is shown below, with pink lines indicating where to match the crop frame to the slant of the building.




2. Using filters on masks

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4

One of the main benefits of working with layer masks is that the mask can not only be pure black or white, it can also have shades of gray that allow some--but not all--of the layer's contents show through. You can take advantage of this property by applying filters to the mask itself to achieve interesting patterns. The contents of your fill, texture, or gradient layer will show through in accordance with that pattern. The pictures on the right show how this process can work to make a logo.

Step 1: Type the text of the logo. I used a font called Kelmscott. In this case, I wanted the masked layer to stand out, so I made the text and the background white. (Choosing different colors for the text can alter the way the logo turns out, especially if you also experiment with different blend modes.) Apply a Layer Style if desired. I used Drop Shadow and Emboss (smooth).

Step 2: Add a new gradient layer. (It could be a fill layer, or you could create your own texture or pattern in a new layer, whatever suits you.) I used a rainbow gradient set to Linear at -40°.

Step 3: Design the mask for the gradient layer. First, Alt + click on the mask and use Load Selection to mask everything except the area of the logo. Once that is done, deselect and apply filters to the mask. I used the Artistic filter Colored Pencil (5, 15, 0).

Step 4: Apply the mask to the gradient layer. Now the gradient only shows through in the pattern of the pencil strokes. If you don't like the way the color spills a little past the outline of the letters in places, you can clean it up by editing the mask with Load Selection again to paint black over any areas outside the actual text. In this case, I happened to like the somewhat sloppy/scratchy look, so I kept it as-is.

This same principle can be applied to create many different effects, so use your imagination to spice up your projects. By the same token, you can also use filters on alpha channels, or even the regular color channels.

3. Aligning objects

There are occasions when you want to align multiple objects, but this is very difficult to do accurately just by eyeing it. In such a situation, you can use Grid or Guides to help you, or you can use the align/distribution functions.

Let's say I'm designing a menu, and I want to put a fork/knife/spoon graphic just inward from the four corners. If I were to place the graphics manually, they would probably wind up at slightly different distances from the sides of the image, no matter how hard I tried to line them up properly. This is where the Grid is convenient.

In the View menu, you can set it to Show → Grid and Snap To → Grid. This makes a grid appear across your image. Whenever you move an object with the cursor under these settings, it will automatically snap to the nearest grid line. This way you can make certain that objects are aligned perfectly. The grid is only visible while you are editing the image, so you don't have to worry that it will show up after you save it. This grid can also be used to align text and selection areas as shown in the example below.

Grid Visible

Grid Invisible

If you don't need a grid over the entire image, or if the lines on the grid aren't where you want them, you can create your own lines using View → New Guide. Such lines work the same as the grid lines. You can input a numerical value for the position of each guide, or you can drag them to where you want them. The pictures below show one way that the guides can be used.

Guides Visible

Guides Invisible

The defaults, such as the intervals marked by the grid lines, can be changed with Edit → Preferences → Guides, Grid & Slices.

Another way to align objects is to use the Align and Distribute functions of the Move menu bar (right). Each item must be in its own layer. In the Layers palette, click the box to the right of the eye icon to make the "link" icon appear for every layer you want to align. If you only link one layer to the active layer, only the Align menu will be available. You must link two or more layers to the active layer for the Distribute menu to become available.

For this example, open a new image and use the Custom Shape tool to scatter some shapes randomly across it. I used the cherry blossom shape created in Lesson 14 (left). Make sure you set the tool to create a new layer for every shape.

Next, choose which shape you want to be the active layer and link the other shape layers to it. The layer you select to be the active layer is the one used as the reference point for the rest. If I choose the topmost cherry blossom as the active layer and click "Align top edges," the remaining three blossoms will all move upward until their top edges align with the top edge of the highest blossom. If the bottommost blossom is the active layer, on the other hand, clicking the same "Align top edges" icon will make the other three blossoms sink to the bottom of the image. This is illustrated below.

Align top edges
(top blossom active)

Align top edges
(bottom blossom active)

The Distribute function, in contrast, does not match up the edges or centers of the objects. Instead, it spaces out the objects in the middle equally between the objects on either end. (This is why you need at least three layers involved to use this function; if you have only two, there is no middle layer to be distributed.)

You can distribute the objects either horizontally or vertically...or both, if you use the function twice in a row. The pictures below show the result of using Distribute.

Distribute top edges

Distribute left edges

Distribute top edges
Distribute left edges

Align and distribute can also be used to organize paths. For example, if you want to make certain that two paths are centered, you can select them both and use the Align function. This is illustrated below.

Polygon tool
Custom Shape tool

Align vertical centers
Align horizontal centers

4. Using the Actions palette

I have talked about many helpful palettes, but there is one in particular I have not yet mentioned, and that is the Actions palette (left). It is similar in function to the Styles palette. What it does is keep a record of a sequence of actions, such as the application of various filters, so that you can apply the exact same sequence later with a single click.

To see how this works, open a picture. I will use this image of a butterfly (right).

Select one of the items on the Actions menu. If you click on the triangular arrow next to the title of the effect, you can see the specific sequence of actions that will be applied. Once you have the desired item highlighted, click the triangular "Play selection" icon at the very bottom of the palette. Below are some examples of preset items in the Actions palette.

Sepia Toning

Oil Pastel

Light Rain

If you devise a sequence of actions that you want to be able to use again later, you can save the sequence to the Actions palette. First click the arrow in the upper right corner of the palette to bring up its menu (left). Select "New Set" and give your set a name, such as "Custom Actions" or "My Actions." (You can also do this by clicking the "Create new set" icon at the bottom of the palette.)

Once your new (empty) set has been saved to the palette, select your set and choose "New Action" from the menu. This brings up a dialogue box (right) that allows you to specify a function key for the action. If you do this, then pressing the function key will perform the action.

You can also give your sequence a name to describe what it does. If your sequence can only be applied to a certain type of content, such as a selection area or a type layer, it's a good idea to specify this in the name.

Note that it is a good idea to begin your sequence by making a snapshot. That way, no matter how many steps there are in your sequence, you can always use the snapshot to undo back to the starting point if you don't like the effect.

Go through all of the steps in your sequence exactly the way you want them recorded. When you are finished, press the square "Stop playing/recording" icon at the bottom of the Actions palette.

Every step that you went through is saved, including all of the settings for any filters that you applied. If you have devised a sequence of filters that produces an effect you like, and you want to be able to reproduce the same effect exactly, the Actions palette is a great way to do so. One thing to watch out for is using filters, gradients, or other functions that depend on the foreground and background colors. You can still use them, you just have to make sure you include setting the foreground and background colors as part of the sequence.

Below is an example of an action that I created and named "Prismatic Glow."

5. Making further adjustments

I've talked about how to use automatic functions such as Auto Color and more manual functions such as Brightness/Contrast to enhance images. There are many more functions available for making adjustments to the colors, brightness, and contrast. I'm going to go over three more of them that you may find convenient.

The first is the Levels dialogue box (left). This breaks down the pixels in terms of light and dark and displays them in terms of a histogram. By moving the arrows for the Input Levels and Output Levels, you can adjust the brightness and contrast of the image with fine precision.

The eyedroppers in the lower right of the dialogue box allow you to set values for the darkest tones, lightest tones, and midtones by clicking on the appropriate eyedropper and then sampling an image pixel. For example, clicking on a dark green pixel where indicated by the white circle (right) sets that as the darkest color in the image, thereby darkening the image overall. Compare this darkened image with the version above.
The Curves dialogue box is another tool for adjusting the image. What this does is set up a curve showing the relationship between the lightness/darkness of the input pixels and the output pixels. You can change the shape of this curve to brighten or darken the pixels at any value you choose. The pictures below illustrate what happens when you click on the curve to create anchor points and move the anchor points around.

Finally, a handy item on the Adjustments menu is Gradient Map. This function maps the pixels to a gradient of your choice based on their brightness. A simple black-to-white gradient will produce a grayscale image. Choosing a gradient with different colors can produce interesting effects.

I mapped the butterfly picture to a custom gradient (left) to obtain the result shown (right).

Where this function really comes in handy is when you are designing textures and patterns. You can use filters on a simple grayscale image and then map the image to a color gradient to colorize it. This can produce textures such as fur, wood grain, fire, stone, and other designs that you may wish to use in your images. An example of this is given below.

Step 1: Open a blank white image and use a combination of filters to make the desired texture. I used the combination Add Noise (100%, Uniform, Monochromatic), Motion Blur (0°, 15px), Unsharp Mask (250%, 50px, 0), and Ocean Ripple (3, 1) to create a grayscale image of waves.

Step 2: Select a gradient to apply to the image. There wasn't a preset gradient that I liked, so I created the custom gradient shown and saved it to the gradient menu.

Step 3: Use Image → Adjustments → Gradient Map to apply the gradient to the image.

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3

6. Having fun with text

Adding text to your image to make captions is already fun, of course. Choosing a font, warping the text, using masks and styles and other techniques to decorate the caption--all of it contributes to the enjoyment. One more thing you can do with text, however, is to use each letter (not just the dingbats) as an artistic element to be manipulated.

For example, you can use filters to distort the text into unusual shapes. You can also rotate the text into unexpected angles, or copy it to make patterns. The process below illustrates these possibilities.

Font: Hancock

Filter: Distort: Twirl

Gradient Overlay
radial, 125%)

Copy (×3) and rotate
(90°CW, 180°, 90°CCW)

In fact, copying and rotating is a great way to make instant patterns and decorations. Plus, once you strike upon a design you like, you can save it either to the pattern menu or the brush tip menu, as shown below. No one will ever guess that it started out as plain text!

Font: Times New Roman
(^ x v T)

Copy (×5) and rotate
(60° increments)

Define brush
(Size Jitter: 100%, Scatter: 180%)

Finally, another thing you can do with text is to change the shapes of individual letters to suit the theme of your caption. Right-click on the text layer with the Type tool, then use the pop-up menu to convert the selection into a path. Manipulate the resulting path as you would any other shape. When finished, fill the path with the desired color. The picture on the left shows how the word "love" (written with the font Arial Black) was changed to add hearts.

If you don't feel confident manipulating the paths of the letters directly, you can always combine them with paths drawn using the Shape tool.

There you have it! That does it for this series of Photoshop lessons. Now it's up to you to turn your imagination loose and use these techniques to make wonderful pictures!