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Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac: The Missing Manual by Barbara Brundage

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Chapter 4. The Quick Fix

With Elements’ Quick Fix tools, you can dramatically improve your photo’s appearance with just a click or two. The Quick Fix window gathers easy-to-use tools to help you adjust the brightness and color of your photos and make them look sharper. You don’t even need to understand much about what you’re doing—you just click a button or slide a pointer, and then decide whether you like how it looks.

If, on the other hand, you do know what you’re doing, you may still find yourself using the Quick Fix window for things like shadows and highlights because it gives you a before-and-after view as you work. Also, the Temperature and Tint sliders can come in handy for advanced color tweaking, like finessing the overall color of your otherwise finished photo. You also get two tools—the Selection brush and the Quick Selection tool—to help make changes to only a certain area of your photo. Besides making general fixes, do you want to whiten teeth, make the sky more blue, or make part of a picture black and white? It’s a snap to do any of these in the Quick Fix window. And in Elements 8, Adobe has made it easier to decide just what to do by adding a number of presets to the available adjustments, so you can pick one of these as a starting point if you need extra help.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how (and in which order) to use the Quick Fix tools. If you have a newish digital camera, you may find that Quick Fix gives you everything you need to take your photos from pretty darn good to dazzling.

Note

If you can’t wait to get started, try out the ultra-fast Auto Smart Fix—a Quick Fix tool for the truly impatient. Smart Fix tells you everything you need to know about it. Also, Guided Edit may give you enough help to accomplish what you want to do; Guided Edit has the full story.

The Quick Fix Window

Getting to the Quick Fix window is easy. Just click the Edit tab’s down arrow and choose EDIT Quick. The Quick Fix window that opens looks like a stripped-down version of the Full Edit window (see Figure 4-1).

The Quick Fix window. If you have several photos open when you launch this window, you can use the Project bin () at the bottom to choose the one you want to edit. Just double-click any of the image’s thumbnail and that photo becomes the active image—the one that appears front and center in the Quick Fix preview area. See for a close-up view of the right side of the window.
Figure 4-1. The Quick Fix window. If you have several photos open when you launch this window, you can use the Project bin (The Project bin) at the bottom to choose the one you want to edit. Just double-click any of the image’s thumbnail and that photo becomes the active image—the one that appears front and center in the Quick Fix preview area. See Figure 4-2 for a close-up view of the right side of the window.

Your tools are neatly arranged on both sides of the image: On the left side, there’s an eight-item toolbox; on the right side, there’s a collection of quick-edit panels (Figure 4-2) stored in the Panel bin. This chapter will first explain the Quick Fix tools, and then you’ll learn how to actually use them.

Tip

If you need extra help, check out Guided Edit (Guided Edit), which walks you through a lot of basic editing projects.

The Quick Fix Toolbox

Quick Fix’s toolbox holds an easy-to-navigate subset of the Full Edit window’s larger tool collection. All the tools work the same way in both modes, and you can also use the same keystrokes to switch tools here. From top to bottom, here’s what you get:

  • The Zoom tool lets you telescope in and out on your image—perfect for getting a good close look at details or pulling back to see the whole photo. (See The Zoom Tool for more on how this tool works.) You can also zoom by using the Zoom pull-down menu in the lower-right corner of the image preview area.

    Here are all the ways you can enhance your photos with Quick Fix. The left figure shows the top section of the Panel bin; the right, the bottom half. Besides these handy tools, you can also use most of the Full Edit menu commands if you need something more than the Panel bin provides.
    Figure 4-2. Here are all the ways you can enhance your photos with Quick Fix. The left figure shows the top section of the Panel bin; the right, the bottom half. Besides these handy tools, you can also use most of the Full Edit menu commands if you need something more than the Panel bin provides.
  • The Hand tool helps move your photo around in the image window—just like grabbing it and moving it with your own fingers. You can read more about this tool on The Hand Tool.

  • The Quick Selection tool lets you apply Quick Fix commands to specific parts of your image. The regular Elements Selection brush is also available in Quick Fix. To get to the Selection brush, in the toolbox, click the Quick Selection tool’s icon and choose the Selection brush from the menu that appears. What’s the difference between the two tools? The Selection brush lets you paint a selection exactly where you want it (or mask out part of your photo to keep it from getting changed), while the Quick Selection tool figures out the boundaries of your selection based on your much-less-precise marks on the image. Basically, the Quick Selection tool is far more automatic than the regular Selection brush. (You can read more about these brushes beginning on Selecting with a Brush.) To get the most out of both of these tools, you need to understand the concept of selections. Chapter 5 tells you everything you need to know, including the details of using these brushes.

  • The Crop tool lets you change the size and shape of your photo by cutting off the areas you don’t want (see Using the Crop Tool).

  • The Red Eye tool lets you darken those demonic-looking flash reflections in people’s eyes. It’s explained on Fixing Red Eye.

    Tip

    If the contents of your photo need straightening (see Straightening the Contents of an Image), you need to do that in Full Edit before bringing it into the Quick Fix window, since the Quick Fix toolbox doesn’t include the Straighten tool.

You also see the tools described above in Full Edit, but the bottom part of the Quick Fix toolbox includes three tools you won’t find anywhere else in Elements:

  • Touch Up tools. From top to bottom, these tools let you whiten teeth, make the sky more blue, and turn part of a photo to black and white. Their icons make it clear which is which, and you’ll learn how to use them beginning on Touch Ups.

The Quick Fix Panel Bin

When you switch to Quick Fix, the Task panel presents you with the Quick Fix Panel bin, which is where you’ll make the majority of your adjustments. Elements helpfully arranges everything into five panels: Smart Fix, Lighting, Color, Balance, and Detail. In most cases, it makes sense to start at the top and work your way down until you get the results you want. (See Adjusting Skin Tones for more suggestions on what order to work in.)

Note

There is one exception to this top-to-bottom order of operations: If you need to fix red-eye problems (Fixing Red Eye). The Red Eye tool is in the toolbox on the left of the window. You may want to use that tool before you do your other editing.

The Panel bin always fills the right side of the Quick Fix screen. There’s no way to hide it, and you can’t drag the panels out of the Panel bin as you can in Standard Edit mode. But you can expand and collapse them, as explained in Figure 4-3.

Note

If you go into Quick Fix mode before opening a photo, you won’t see the pointers in the sliders, just empty tracks. Don’t worry—the pointers will automatically appear as soon as you open a photo and give them something to work on.

Clicking any of these flippy triangles collapses or expands that section of the Panel bin. If you have a small screen, the Detail section at the bottom of the bin is usually collapsed, so just click the triangle to expand it when you want those tools. There’s no need to collapse another section before expanding it—the Balance section automatically collapses to make room for Detail when you open it.
Figure 4-3. Clicking any of these flippy triangles collapses or expands that section of the Panel bin. If you have a small screen, the Detail section at the bottom of the bin is usually collapsed, so just click the triangle to expand it when you want those tools. There’s no need to collapse another section before expanding it—the Balance section automatically collapses to make room for Detail when you open it.

Using presets

Elements 8 brings with it a new feature to help the undecided: presets. To the left of the sliders in the Panel bin are little grid-like squares (see Figure 4-4). If you think you need to use a particular slider but you aren’t sure what it does, click its square and a grid of nine tiny thumbnails appears below the slider. Each thumbnail represents a different setting for that slider. All the Quick Fix sliders have presets.

Hover your cursor over any of the thumbnails to see the effect displayed in your photo itself. To adjust the strength of the effect, click and drag left or right (this is called scrubbing) and watch as your image changes. To go back to what your image looked like when you opened the previews, click the one with the curled arrow on it.
Figure 4-4. Hover your cursor over any of the thumbnails to see the effect displayed in your photo itself. To adjust the strength of the effect, click and drag left or right (this is called scrubbing) and watch as your image changes. To go back to what your image looked like when you opened the previews, click the one with the curled arrow on it.

If you don’t have super-micro vision, you probably think these thumbnails are too small for you to tell the difference between them, but not so fast. Run your cursor over a thumbnail and Elements previews that setting in your image, so you can get a view as large as you need. You can even adjust the slider right from the thumbnail as explained in Figure 4-4. Once you like what you see, just click to apply the change to your photo. To reset your image to where it was when you began using your current group of presets, click the thumbnail with the curved arrow on it.

Different Views: After vs. Before and After

When you open an image in Quick Fix, your picture first appears by itself in the main window with the word “After” above it. Elements keeps the Before view—your original photo—tucked away, out of sight. But you can pick from three other layouts, which you can choose at any time: Before Only, "Before and After – Horizontal”, and “Before and After – Vertical”. Both of the before-and-after views are especially helpful when trying to figure out if you’re improving your picture, or not, as shown in Figure 4-5. Switch between views by picking the one you want from the pop-up menu just below your image.

Note

Quick Fix limits the amount of screen space available for your image. If you want a larger view while you work, click over to Full Edit.

Editing Your Photos

The tools in the Quick Fix window are pretty simple to use. You can try one or all of them—it’s up to you. And whenever you’re happy with how your photo looks, you can leave Quick Fix and go back to the Full Edit window.

If you want to rotate your photo, click either of the Rotate buttons, below the image preview area. (See Rotating and Flipping Options for more about rotating photos.)

Note

If you click the Quick Fix Reset button, just above your image, you’ll return your photo to the way it looked before you started working in Quick Fix. This button undoes all Quick Fix edits, so don’t use it if you want to undo only a single action. For that, just use the regular undo command: Edit → Undo or ⌘-Z.

The Quick Fix window’s before-and-after views make it easy to see how you’re changing your photo. Here you see the “Before and After – Horizontal” view, which displays the before and after photos side by side. To see them one above the other, choose “Before and After – Vertical”. If you want a more detailed view, use the Zoom tool (the magnifying glass icon, not shown) to focus on just a portion of your picture.
Figure 4-5. The Quick Fix window’s before-and-after views make it easy to see how you’re changing your photo. Here you see the “Before and After – Horizontal” view, which displays the before and after photos side by side. To see them one above the other, choose “Before and After – Vertical”. If you want a more detailed view, use the Zoom tool (the magnifying glass icon, not shown) to focus on just a portion of your picture.

Fixing Red Eye

Everyone who’s ever taken a flash photo has run into the dreaded problem of red eye—those glowing, demonic pupils that make your little cherub look like someone out of an Anne Rice novel. Red eye is even more of a problem with digital cameras than with film, but luckily, Elements has a simple and terrific Red Eye tool for fixing it. All you do is click the red spots with the Red Eye Removal tool, and Elements fixes the problem.

To use the Quick Fix Red Eye tool:

  1. Open a photo.

    The Red Eye Removal tool works the same whether you get to it from the Quick Fix window’s toolbox or from the main Tools panel in Full Edit.

  2. Zoom in so you can see where you’re clicking.

    Use the Zoom tool to magnify the eyes. You can also switch to the Hand tool if you need to drag the photo so that the eyes are front and center.

  3. Activate the Red Eye tool.

    Click the Red Eye icon in the toolbox or press Y (this keystroke works in Full Edit, too).

  4. Click in the red part of the pupil (see Figure 4-6).

    That’s it. Just one click should fix it. If a single click doesn’t fix the problem, you can also try dragging the Red Eye tool over the pupil. Sometimes one method works better than the other. You can also adjust two settings on the Red Eye tool: Darken Amount and Pupil Size, as explained in a moment.

    Zoom in when using the Red Eye tool so you get a good look at the pupils. Don’t worry if your photo looks so magnified that it loses definition—just make the red area large enough so you can hit it right in the center. The left eye in this picture has already been fixed. Notice what a good job the Red Eye tool does of keeping the highlights (called catchlights) in the eye that’s been treated.
    Figure 4-6. Zoom in when using the Red Eye tool so you get a good look at the pupils. Don’t worry if your photo looks so magnified that it loses definition—just make the red area large enough so you can hit it right in the center. The left eye in this picture has already been fixed. Notice what a good job the Red Eye tool does of keeping the highlights (called catchlights) in the eye that’s been treated.
  5. Click in the other eye.

    Repeat the process on the other eye, and you’re done.

Note

You can also fix red eye in Full Edit or the Raw Converter (Finishing Up).

If you need to adjust how the Red Eye tool works, the Options bar gives you three controls, although 99 percent of the time you can ignore them:

  • Pupil Size. Increase or decrease the number here to tell Elements how much area to consider part of a pupil.

  • Darken Amount. If the result is too light, increase the percentage in this box.

  • Auto. Click this button and Elements automatically finds and fixes red eyes in your photo. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. In practice, it’s at least as likely to “fix” things like white teeth and bright streetlights. You’re almost always better off fixing red eye manually.

Smart Fix

The secret weapon in the Quick Fix window is the Smart Fix command, which automatically adjusts a picture’s lighting, color, and contrast, all with one click. You don’t have to figure anything out—Elements does it all for you.

You’ll find the Smart Fix in the aptly named Smart Fix panel, and it’s about as easy to use as hitting the speed-dial button on your phone: Click the Smart Fix panel’s Auto button, and if the stars are aligned, your picture will immediately look better. (Figure 4-7 gives you a glimpse of its capabilities. If you want to see for yourself how this fix works, download this photo—iris.jpg—from the Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com.)

Left: This photo, taken in the shade, is pretty dark.Right: The Auto Smart Fix button improved it significantly with just one click. You might want to use the tools in the Balance section () to really fine-tune the color.
Figure 4-7. Left: This photo, taken in the shade, is pretty dark. Right: The Auto Smart Fix button improved it significantly with just one click. You might want to use the tools in the Balance section (Balancing color) to really fine-tune the color.

Tip

You’ll find Auto buttons scattered throughout Elements. The program uses them to make best-guess attempts to implement whatever change the Auto button is next to (Smart Fix, Levels, Contrast, and so on). It never hurts to click these Auto buttons; if you don’t like what you see, you can always perform the magical undo: Edit → Undo or ⌘-Z.

If you’re happy with the Auto Smart Fix button’s changes, you can move on to a new photo, or try sharpening your image (see Sharpening) if the focus is a little fuzzy. You don’t need to do anything to accept the Smart Fix changes. But if you’re not ecstatic with your results, take a good look at your picture. If you like what Auto Smart Fix has done, but the effect is too strong or too weak, press ⌘-Z to undo it, and try playing with the Smart Fix panel’s Amount slider instead.

The Amount slider does the same thing Auto Smart Fix does, but you control the degree of change. Watch the image as you move the slider to the right. If your computer is slow, there’s a certain amount of lag time, so go slowly to give it a chance to catch up. If you overdo it, sometimes it’s easier to press the Reset button above your image and start again. Use the Accept and Reject buttons (which appear next to the Smart Fix label, as shown in Figure 4-8) to accept or reject your changes.

Tip

Usually you get better results with a lot of little nudges to the Smart Fix slider than with one big, sweeping movement.

Incidentally, these are the same Smart Fix commands you see in the Editor’s Enhance menu: Enhance → Auto Smart Fix (Option-⌘-M), and Enhance → Adjust Smart Fix (Shift-⌘-M).

When you move a slider in any of the Quick Fix panels, the Accept and Reject buttons appear in the panel you’re using. Clicking the X undoes the last change you made, while clicking the checkmark applies the change to your image. If you make multiple slider adjustments, the Reject button undoes everything you’ve done since you last clicked the Accept button. (The lightbulb takes you to the Elements Help Center.)
Figure 4-8. When you move a slider in any of the Quick Fix panels, the Accept and Reject buttons appear in the panel you’re using. Clicking the X undoes the last change you made, while clicking the checkmark applies the change to your image. If you make multiple slider adjustments, the Reject button undoes everything you’ve done since you last clicked the Accept button. (The lightbulb takes you to the Elements Help Center.)

Sometimes Smart Fix just isn’t smart enough to do everything you want, and sometimes it does things you don’t want. It does a better job on photos that are underexposed than overexposed, for one thing. Fortunately, you have several other editing choices, covered in the following sections. If you don’t like the effect Smart Fix has, undo it before going on to make other changes.

Adjusting Lighting and Contrast

The Lighting panel lets you make sophisticated adjustments to the brightness and contrast of your photo. Sometimes problems that you thought stemmed from exposure or even focus can be fixed by these commands.

Levels

If you want to understand how Levels really works, you’re in for a long, technical ride. But if you just want to know what it can do for your photos, the short answer is that it adjusts the brightness of your photo by redistributing the color information. Levels changes (and hopefully fixes!) both brightness and color at the same time.

If you’ve never used image-editing software before, this may sound rather mysterious, but photo-editing pros will tell you that Levels is one of the most powerful commands for fixing and polishing your pictures. To find out if its magic works for you, click the Levels panel’s Auto button. Figure 4-9 shows what a big difference it can make. (Download this photo—ocean.jpg—from the Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com, if you’d like to try it yourself.)

What Levels does is really complex. Chapter 7 has loads more details about what’s going on behind the scenes and how you can apply this command more precisely.

A quick click of the Auto Levels button can make a dramatic difference.Left: The original photo isn’t bad, and you may not realize how much better the colors could be.Right: This image shows how much more effective your photo is once Auto Levels has balanced the colors.
Figure 4-9. A quick click of the Auto Levels button can make a dramatic difference. Left: The original photo isn’t bad, and you may not realize how much better the colors could be. Right: This image shows how much more effective your photo is once Auto Levels has balanced the colors.

Contrast

The main alternative to Auto Levels in Quick Fix is Auto Contrast. Most people find that their images tend to benefit from one or the other of these options. Contrast adjusts the relative darkness and lightness of your image without changing the color, so if Levels made your colors go all goofy, try adjusting the contrast instead. You use Auto Contrast the same way you use Auto Levels: Just click the Auto button in the Lighting panel next to the word Levels.

Tip

After you use Auto Contrast, look closely at the edges of the objects in your photo. If your camera’s contrast was already high, you may see a halo or a sharp line around the photo’s subject. If you do, the contrast is too high and you need to undo Auto Contrast (⌘-Z) and try another fix instead.

Shadows and Highlights

The Shadows and Highlights tools do an amazing job of bringing out details that are lost in the shadows or bright areas of your photo. Figure 4-10 shows what a difference these tools can make.

Left: This photo has highlights that are too bright and shadows that are much too dark.Right: After adjusting the shadows and highlights, you can see there’s plenty of detail there. (Use the Color panel’s sliders to get rid of the overly orange tone.)
Figure 4-10. Left: This photo has highlights that are too bright and shadows that are much too dark. Right: After adjusting the shadows and highlights, you can see there’s plenty of detail there. (Use the Color panel’s sliders to get rid of the overly orange tone.)

The Shadows and Highlights tools are a collection of three sliders, each of which controls a different aspect of your image:

  • Lighten Shadows. Nudge the slider to the right and you’ll see details emerge from murky black shadows.

  • Darken Highlights. Use this slider to dim the brightness of overexposed areas.

  • Midtone Contrast. After you’ve adjusted your photo’s shadows and highlights, your photo may look flat and not have enough contrast between the dark and light areas. This slider helps you bring a more realistic look back to your photo.

Tip

You may think you only need to lighten shadows in a photo, but sometimes just a smidgen of Darken Highlights may help, too. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this slider even if you have a relatively dark photo.

Go easy: Getting overenthusiastic with these sliders can give your photos a washed-out, flat look.

Color

The Color panel lets you—surprise, surprise—play around with the colors in your image. In many cases, if Auto Levels or Auto Contrast has done the trick, you won’t need to do anything here.

Auto Color

Elements has yet another one-click fix: Auto Color. Actually, in some ways Auto Color should be up in the Lighting section. Like Levels, it simultaneously adjusts color and brightness, but it looks at different information in your photos to decide what to do with them.

When you’re first learning to use Quick Fix, you may want to try all three Auto buttons—Levels, Contrast, and Color—to see which generally works best for your photos. Undo between each change and compare your results. Most people find they like one of the three most of the time.

Auto Color could be just the ticket for your photos, but you may also find that it shifts your colors in strange ways. Give it a click and see what you think. Does your photo look better or worse? If it’s worse, just click Reset or press ⌘-Z to undo it, and go back to Auto Levels or Auto Contrast. If they all make your colors look a little wrong, or if you want to tweak the colors in your photo, move on to the Color sliders, explained next.

The Color sliders

If you want to adjust your photo’s colors without changing its brightness, check out the Color sliders. For example, your digital camera may produce colors that don’t quite match what you saw when you took the picture; or you may have scanned an old print that’s faded or discolored; or you may just want to change the colors in a photo for the heck of it. If so, the Color panel’s sliders are for you.

You have two ways to adjust your colors here:

  • Saturation controls the intensity of your photo’s color. For example, you can turn a color photo to black and white by moving the slider all the way to the left. Move it all the way to the right and everything glows with so much color that it looks radioactive.

  • Hue changes the color from, say, red to blue or green. If you aren’t looking for realism, you can have fun with your photos by using this slider to create funky color changes.

You probably won’t use both these sliders on a single photo, but you can if you like. (Remember to click the Accept checkmark that appears in the Color panel if you want to keep your changes.) For fine-tuning your color, you may want to move on to the next panel: Balance. In fact, you often only need to use the Balance sliders.

Tip

If you look at the color of a slider’s track, it shows you what happens if you move in that direction. For example, there’s less color as you go left in the Saturation track, and more as you go to the right. Looking at the tracks can help you figure out where to move the slider.

Balancing color

Photos often have the right amount of saturation and moving the Hue slider makes everything look funky, but sometimes there’s something about the overall color balance that just isn’t right. The Balance panel has two sliders for adjusting the overall colors in your image:

  • Temperature lets you change the color from cool (bluish) on the left to warm (orangeish) on the right. Use this slider for things like toning down the warm glow you see in photos taken in tungsten lighting, or for fine-tuning your image’s color balance.

  • Tint adjusts the green/magenta balance of your photo, as shown in Figure 4-11.

Left: The greenish tint in this photo is a typical example of a common problem caused by many digital cameras.Right: A little adjustment of the Tint slider clears it up in a jiffy. It’s not always as obvious as it is here that you need a tint adjustment. If you aren’t sure, the sky is often a dead giveaway. Does the sky look robin’s egg blue when it was really more of a plain blue? If so, tint is what you need.
Figure 4-11. Left: The greenish tint in this photo is a typical example of a common problem caused by many digital cameras. Right: A little adjustment of the Tint slider clears it up in a jiffy. It’s not always as obvious as it is here that you need a tint adjustment. If you aren’t sure, the sky is often a dead giveaway. Does the sky look robin’s egg blue when it was really more of a plain blue? If so, tint is what you need.

In previous versions of Elements, these sliders were grouped with the Color sliders. You’ll often use a combination of adjustments from both groups. Chapter 7 has more about how to use the full-blown Editor to fine-tune your image’s color.

Sharpening

Now that you’ve finished your other corrections, it’s time to sharpen your photo, so move down to the Detail panel. Sharpening gives the effect of better focus by improving the edge contrast in your photo. Most photos taken with digital cameras need some sharpening because the sharpening your camera applies is usually deliberately conservative. Once again, a Quick Fix Auto button is at your service. Give the Auto Sharpen button (located in the Detail panel) a try to get things started. Figure 4-12 shows what you can expect.

Left: The original image. Like many digital photos, it could stand a little sharpening.Middle: What you get by clicking the Auto Sharpen button.Right: The results of using the Sharpen slider to get more sharpening than the Auto button did.
Figure 4-12. Left: The original image. Like many digital photos, it could stand a little sharpening. Middle: What you get by clicking the Auto Sharpen button. Right: The results of using the Sharpen slider to get more sharpening than the Auto button did.

Note

Mac OS X has some pretty sophisticated sharpening tools built right in. Preview lets you apply Luminance Channel sharpening, a complex technique you might like better than Elements’ sharpening options. Open a photo in Preview and give it a try (Tools → Adjust Color → Sharpness) to see whether you prefer it to what the Quick Fix can do.

The sad truth is that there really isn’t any way to actually improve the focus of a photo once it’s taken. Software sharpening just increases the contrast where the program perceives edges, so using it first can have strange effects on other editing tools and their ability to understand your photo.

If you don’t like what Auto Sharpen does (and you may not), you can undo it (press ⌘-Z) and try the Sharpen slider. If you thought the Auto button overdid things, go very gently with the slider. Changes vary from photo to photo, but usually Auto’s results fall at around the 30 to 40 percent mark on the slider.

Tip

If you see funny halos around the outlines of objects in your photos or strange flaky spots (making your photo look like your subject has eczema), those are caused by too much sharpening; reduce the Sharpening settings until they go away.

Always try to view Actual Pixels (View → Actual Pixels) whenever you sharpen because that gives you the clearest idea of what you’re doing to your picture. If you don’t like what the Auto button does, undo it, and then try the slider. Zero sharpening is all the way to the left; moving to the right increases the amount of sharpening Elements applies to your photo.

As a general rule, you want to sharpen photos you plan to print more than images for Web use. You can read lots more about sharpening on Sharpening Images.

Note

If you’ve used photo-editing programs before, you may be interested to know that the Auto Sharpen button applies Adjust Sharpness (Adjust Sharpness) to your photo. When you use the Auto button, you don’t have any control over the settings, as you would if you applied it from the Enhance menu. But the good news is that if you want more control, or if you prefer to use Unsharp Mask (Unsharp Mask), you can get it—even from within Quick Fix. Just go to the Enhance Menu and choose the sharpener of your choice.

At this point, all that’s left is cropping your photo, if you’d like to reduce its size. Cropping Pictures tells you everything you need to know about cropping. You can also give your photo a bit more punch by using the Touch Up tools, explained next.

Touch Ups

The Quick Fix toolbox contains four special tools to help improve your photos. (You can see them back in Figure 4-1.) You’ve already learned how to use one of them—the Red Eye Removal tool—earlier in this chapter (Fixing Red Eye). Here’s what you can do with the other three:

  • Whiten Teeth. No surprise here: This tool makes teeth look brighter. What’s especially nice is that, as shown in Figure 4-13, it doesn’t create a fake, overly-white look.

    Just a quick swipe across the teeth selects them and whitens them, while keeping a realistic look.
    Figure 4-13. Just a quick swipe across the teeth selects them and whitens them, while keeping a realistic look.
  • Make Dull Skies Blue. It’s a common problem with digital cameras: The subject’s exposure is perfect, but the sky is all washed out. Unfortunately, if your sky is really gray or blown out (white looking), this tool won’t help much. Adobe probably should have called it Make Blue Skies Bluer. It is useful for creating more dramatic skies, though.

  • Black and White – High Contrast. You’re probably wondering what the heck that means. It’s Adobe’s way of saying, “transform the area I choose from color to black and white.” This tool is a great timesaver when you want to create a photo where only part of the picture is in color. (“High Contrast” refers to the style of black-and-white conversion this tool uses.)

All three tools work pretty much the same way: Draw a line over the area you want to change, and Elements makes a detailed selection of the area and applies the change for you:

  1. Open a photo and make your other corrections first.

    If you’re an old hand at using Elements, use the Touch Up tools before sharpening. But if you’re a beginner and not comfortable with layers (see Chapter 6), sharpen first. (See the note on Adjusting Skin Tones for more about why.)

  2. Click the icon for the tool you want to use.

    If you aren’t sure which is which, hover your cursor over each one until a little label (called a tooltip) pops up telling you the name of that tool.

  3. Draw a line over the area you want to change.

    When you click one of the Touch Up tools, your cursor turns to a circle with crosshairs in it. Just drag that over the area you want to change. Elements automatically expands the area to include all of the object it thinks you want. (It works just like the Quick Selection tool, only it also applies changes to your image. Selecting with a Brush has more about using the Quick Selection tool.) You’ll see the marching ants (Selecting Rectangular and Elliptical Areas) appear around the area Elements changes.

  4. If Elements included too much or too little, tweak the size of the selected area.

    At the left side of the Options bar are three little brush icons. The left icon lets you start a new selection, and the other two let you change what Elements selected in step 3. Click the one on the right and drag over any area you want to remove, or click the middle one and drag to add to the selected area. (You can also just drag to extend your selection, or Option-drag if Elements covered too much area and you need to remove some of it, without going to the Options bar at all.)

  5. Once you’re happy with the area covered by the change, you’re done.

    You can back up by pressing ⌘-Z to undo your changes step by step. Keep going to eliminate the change completely if you don’t like it. (Clicking the Reset button doesn’t undo the Touch Up changes.)

The Touch Up tools can be helpful, but they work based on the colors in your photo, so they may not always give you the results you want, as you can see in Figure 4-14. If you want to use the Color sliders (Color) to adjust things, you’ll need to switch from the Touch Up tools and use the Selection brush to reselect the area, because the sliders aren’t available when the Touch Up tools are active.

Note

The Touch Up tools create a layered file. If you understand layers, you can also go back to Full Edit and make changes after the fact, like adjusting the opacity or blend mode of the layer (see Chapter 6 to learn about layers). You can always discard your Touch Up changes by discarding the layer they’re on. You can even edit the area affected by the changes by editing the layer mask, as explained on Using an Adjustment Layer and the Saturation Slider, or use the Smart Brush tool (Correcting Part of an Image) in Full Edit. (The one exception is the “Black and White – High Contrast” tool—you can’t change the settings for the adjustments it makes. If you try to, you’ll see a weird message that your layer was created in the full version of Photoshop, even though you know it wasn’t.)

Make Dull Skies Blue can help punch up the sky color in your photos—sometimes.Left: Smog makes the sky in this photo look dull.Right: One quick drag across the sky with the Dull Skies tool produces a much more vivid sky—maybe too vivid (and a tad green). Elements used a gradient (see ) to give a more realistic shading to the new sky color.
Figure 4-14. Make Dull Skies Blue can help punch up the sky color in your photos—sometimes. Left: Smog makes the sky in this photo look dull. Right: One quick drag across the sky with the Dull Skies tool produces a much more vivid sky—maybe too vivid (and a tad green). Elements used a gradient (see Applying Gradients) to give a more realistic shading to the new sky color.

Also, if there isn’t enough color to begin with, the Touch Up tools may not produce any visible results. If your subject has very white dentures, Whiten Teeth may not do anything. And Make Dull Skies Blue may prove to be a dud if your sky is just solid gray or completely overexposed. You may find, however, that after using a Touch Up tool, nothing happens when you try to make other changes to your photo. If you run into that problem, read the following Note.

Note

As mentioned above, Elements leaves you with a layered file after you use the Touch Up tools (except for the Red Eye Removal tool). That isn’t normally a problem, even if you don’t know anything about layers, but once in a while you may find that nothing happens when you try to make other changes to your photo.

If that happens, at the top of the screen, click the Edit tab and select EDIT Full. Then find the Layers panel. (It should be in the Panel bin unless you’ve removed it. If you can’t find it, go to Window → Layers to bring it back.) In the Layers panel, look for the word Background and click that. That part of the panel should be blue. If it isn’t, click it again. Then you can go back to Quick Fix and do whatever you want to your photo, but the part you used the Touch Up tools on may behave differently from the rest of the photo. If that happens, and you haven’t closed the photo since using the Touch Up tools, use Undo History (Escape Routes) to back up to before you used the Touch Up tools.

Quick Fix Suggested Workflow

There are no hard-and-fast rules for what order you need to work in when using the Quick Fix tools. As mentioned earlier, Elements lays out the tools in the Panel bin, from top to bottom, in the order that usually makes sense. But you can pick and choose which tools you want, depending on what you think your photo needs. If you’re the type of person who likes a set plan for fixing photos, here’s one order in which to apply the commands:

  1. Rotate your photo (if needed).

    Use the Rotate buttons below the image preview.

  2. Fix red eye (if needed).

    See Fixing Red Eye.

  3. Crop.

    If you want to crop your photo, now’s the time. That way, you get rid of any problem areas before they affect other adjustments. For example, say your photo has a lot of overexposed sky that you want to crop out. If you leave it in, that area may skew the effects of the Lighting and Color tools on your image. So if you already know where you want to crop, do it before making other adjustments for more accurate results. (It’s also okay to wait till later to crop, if you aren’t sure yet about what you want to trim.)

  4. Try Auto Smart Fix and/or the Smart Fix slider. Undo if necessary.

    Pretty soon you’ll get a good sense of how likely it is that this fix will do a good job on your photos. Some people love it; others think it makes their pictures too grainy.

  5. If Smart Fix wasn’t smart enough, work your way down through the Lighting, Color, and Balance sliders until you like the way your photo looks.

    Read the sections earlier in this chapter to understand what each command does to your photo.

  6. Sharpen.

    Try to make sharpening your last adjustment because other commands can produce funky results on photos you’ve already sharpened. But if you’re a beginner and not comfortable with layers, you can sharpen before using Whiten Teeth, Make Dull Skies Blue, or “Black and White – High Contrast”. (See Quick Fix Suggested Workflow for more about why you’d wait to use these.)

Tip

When you’re in Quick Fix mode, you can switch back to Full Edit at any point if you want tools not available in Quick Fix. If you want to close your photo while in Quick Fix, click the Close button above the preview area or press ⌘-W.

Adjusting Skin Tones

If you’re like most amateur photographers, your most important photos are pictures of people: your family, your friends, or even just fascinating strangers. Elements gives you yet another tool for making fast fixes—one that’s designed especially for correcting photos that have people in them: the "Adjust Color for Skin Tone” command, available in both the Quick Fix and Full Edit windows.

The name “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” is a bit confusing. What this command actually does is adjust your entire image based on the skin tone of someone in the photo. The idea behind “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” is that you’re probably much more interested in the way the people in your photos look than in how the background looks, so this command gives the highest priority to creating good skin color. It’s an automatic fix, but it brings up a dialog box where you can tweak the results once you’ve previewed Elements’ suggested adjustments. To use the “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” command:

  1. Call up the “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” dialog box.

    In either Quick Fix or Full Edit, go to Enhance → Adjust Color → “Adjust Color for Skin Tone”. The dialog box shown in Figure 4-15 appears. (You may need to move it out of the way of your photo so you can see what’s happening.)

    When this dialog box appears, your cursor turns into an eyedropper when you move it over your photo. Click the best-looking area of skin you can find. (You don’t see any sliders in the dialog box’s tracks until you click.) After Elements adjusts the photo based on your click, the sliders appear and you can use them to fine-tune the results. Clicking different spots produces different results, so try clicking different places.
    Figure 4-15. When this dialog box appears, your cursor turns into an eyedropper when you move it over your photo. Click the best-looking area of skin you can find. (You don’t see any sliders in the dialog box’s tracks until you click.) After Elements adjusts the photo based on your click, the sliders appear and you can use them to fine-tune the results. Clicking different spots produces different results, so try clicking different places.
  2. Show Elements an area of skin to sample for calculating the color adjustments.

    Once the dialog box appears, your cursor turns into an eyedropper. Find a spot in your photo where your subject’s skin has relatively good color, and click it.

  3. Tweak the results.

    Elements is often a bit overenthusiastic in its adjustments. Use the sliders in the dialog box to get a more pleasing, realistic color. The Tan slider increases or decreases the browns and oranges in the skin tones. The Blush slider increases the rosiness of the skin as you move the slider to the right and decreases it as you go left. And the Ambient Light slider works just like the Quick Fix Panel bin’s Temperature slider (Balancing color). You may get swell results with your first click, or you may have to use all the sliders to get a realistic result. It all depends on the photo.

    You can preview the changes right in your photo as you work. If you mess up and want to start again, click Reset. If you decide you’d rather use another tool instead, click Cancel.

    Tip

    The "Adjust Color for Skin Tone” sliders are like the Quick Fix sliders in that you can get an idea of which way to move them by looking at the colors in the sliders’ tracks.

  4. When you like what you see, click OK.

    Elements applies your changes. If you want to undo them, press ⌘-Z.

“Adjust Color for Skin Tone” seems to work best on fair skin, and not so well on darker skin tones. And it’s most suited for making fairly subtle adjustments, so you may have to reduce the amount of change from what Elements first did.

Also, notice that Elements doesn’t just change the skin tones—it adjusts all the colors in the photo (see Figure 4-16). Sometimes you may find you’ve acquired quite a color cast by the time you have the skin tones just right (see Removing Unwanted Color). If this bothers you, try a different tool. On the other hand, you can create some nice late-afternoon light effects with this command.

While “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” is really meant as a kind of alternative fast fix, you may find it’s best for making small adjustments to photos you’ve already edited using other tools.

Tip

If you understand layers (explained in Chapter 6), you can make a duplicate layer and apply this command to your duplicate. Then you can adjust the intensity of the result by adjusting the layer’s opacity (see Managing Layers).

Top: This photo shows a slight greenish cast, giving the boy a somewhat unappealing skin tone.Bottom: “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” warms up his skin tones, and it even removes the greenish tinge to the wood of the bench he’s sitting on.
Figure 4-16. Top: This photo shows a slight greenish cast, giving the boy a somewhat unappealing skin tone. Bottom: “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” warms up his skin tones, and it even removes the greenish tinge to the wood of the bench he’s sitting on.

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