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Learn Photography

Photoshop Elements > Workflow

If you don't follow some sort of workflow, Photoshop Elements can quickly become a jumble.

Use this article to guide your editing.

Keep it open, or beside your computer for quick reference.

Beginners may want to start with Workflow > First Steps.

Go to Organizing Your Photographs for the workflow for organizing your photographs.

1 - Color Management

Color management is essential.

If you do all of the steps below, your efforts may come to naught if you don't use color management.

Monitor Calibration

Your monitor has to be calibrated.

If the blue sky on your monitor looks like this . . .


It may look this . . .


To your printer, or on the monitor at the lab.

If so, your printer or the lab won't be able to match what you did with an uncalibrated monitor.

You may blame the printer or the lab.

But, the problem is your uncalibrated monitor.


Purchase a colorimeter.

This is what happens when you calibrate your monitor.

First, the colorimeter measures the colors of your monitor.

The software then compares these colors to an international standard.

If a color doesn't match the standard for that color, the software corrects your monitor.

These corrections are in a "recipe" called a profile.

After calibration, the colors on your monitor match the colors on other calibrated monitors.

Color Space

If you're using Photoshop Elements, go to Edit > Color Settings.

Select Always Optimize Colors for Computer Screens.

This selects the sRGB color space, which is used by most monitors, and by most labs and home printers.

Some photographers may want to use the Adobe RGB color space.

This color space is described in the color management tutorial below.

Print Color Management

Make sure you've deselected color management by your printer driver.

You don't want to Photoshop Elements—and your printer driver—to be "fighting" each other to do print color management.


Monitor Calibration

Color Management

2 - Keyboard Shortcuts

You should have a copy of the keyboard shortcuts beside your computer.

Shortcuts (PDF)

3 - Open Photoshop Elements

Open Photoshop Elements.

4 - Check Colors

To start, the foreground color should be black, and the background color, white.

If you haven't already, go to Foreground & Background Colors.

5 - Tools

If you're working in a computer lab, reset all of the tools to their defaults.

If another student used a tool and set it to an unusual setting, you won't be tripped up by the setting.

Go to Reset Tools.

6 - Open a Photograph

Open a photograph from . . .


iPhoto 6





7 - Copy

Create a Background Copy Layer of the photograph.

8 - Navigation

Navigation is making the image of your photograph bigger and smaller, and moving around on the image.

What's the magnification of the image? Answer

Do you know how to zoom? Answer Answer

BTW, z is the keyboard shortcut for the Zoom tool.

You enlarged your photograph.

How do you reduce its size to fit in the screen? Answer

Do you know how to use the space bar to move the image back-and-forth? Answer

9 - Crop

If necessary, crop your photograph.

Squares & Rectangles: Crop Tool

BTW, c is the keyboard shortcut for the Crop tool.

Circles & Ovals: Elliptical Marquee Tool

Shapes: Cookie Cutter Tool

10 - Straighten

If necessary, straighten your photograph.

Go to Straighten Tool.

11 - Compare

When doing many of the operations below, it's important to compare the original with the changed version.

There are three methods.

Method #1 - Side-by-side

Go to File > Duplicate to open the photograph in another window.

Then, click the tile icon in the top right corner of your screen.

Move and resize the windows.

Be sure to do your editing on the original, not the copy.

Don't use View > New Window For.

This command merely opens the photograph, not a copy, in a second window.

Because it's not a copy, changes you make to the original also appear in the new window for the original.

Method #2 - Eye Icon

Select and deselect the eye icon on layer to see the effect of a layer, such as a Levels adjustment layer.

Method #3 - Undo/Redo

Press Ctrl + z to undo a change, and Ctrl + y to redo the change.

Go back-and-forth to compare the original with the edited version.

Don't Resize Yet

Some photographers resize the photograph, if needed, at this point.

However, the editing steps below are best performed on the full-size file.

Wait to resize.

Global Changes

Next, you'll make global changes to the exposure, contrast, and color.

Later, you'll make local changes.

12 - Exposure, Contrast, & Color

Just about every photograph benefits from an adjustment of exposure (shadows and highlights) and contrast.

Here are two methods.

Method #1 - Shadows/Highlights

Go to Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights.

Method #2 - Levels Adjustment Layer

You can also adjust the exposure and contrast using a Levels adjustment layer.

If you don't know how to use Levels, go to Introduction.

13 - Color

If needed, you can adjust the color.

Color correction includes the:

• Removal of an unwanted color caste.

Go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color Cast, or go to Gray-point Eyedropper Method.

• Improvement of skin tones.

Go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Color for Skin Tone.

• Adjustment of the saturation, the vividness of the color.

Go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Hue/Saturation, and adjust the saturation slider.

You can also use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to do the above.

A Photo Filter adjustment layer is especially useful for warming or cooling the color of a photograph, and for correcting the color of scenes illuminated with florescents or light bulbs (tungsten lighting).

Go to Basic Photo Filter Adjustment Layers.

For more information, go to Color Correction Introduction.

Local Changes

Now, make local changes, if needed.


Be sure to use the Zoom tool to enlarge the area to be edited.

14 - Brushes, Selections, & Masking


You'll be using brushes for burning and dodging, retouching, and making selections.

Do you know how to make your brush appear on the screen at its actual size? Answer

Do you know how to make a brush bigger and smaller?


Do you know how to change the feathering of a brush Answer

Don't confuse the Selection Brush tool with the Brush tool.


You'll be making selections.

Selections have three main purposes.

Purpose #1 - Cookie Cutter


A selection can be like a cookie cutter.

You can select, let's say, a dog.

Then you can copy and paste the dog elsewhere.

Purpose #2 - Stencil


A selection can be like a stencil.

The paint is applied only where the stencil has openings.

Similarly, when you make a selection, you can change the exposure, contrast, color, and so forth, inside the selection.

The area outside the selection isn't affected by the changes you make inside the selection.

Purpose #3 - Blue Masking Tape

You can use a selection like blue masking tape.

Let's say you're painting a window.

You may use blue masking tape to keep the paint off of the glass.

Likewise, a selection will prevent the Healing Brush tool or Clone Stamp tool from editing part of your photograph.

Make a selection where you want the above tools to operate.

The tools will change only the area inside the selection.

The tools won't change the area outside the selection.

If you haven't already done so, go to Selection Tools.


Masking is similar to making a selection.

You use the Brush tool to paint a mask.

If you paint with black, the affect of an adjustment layer is blocked.

If you paint with white, the affect is revealed.

Black blocks; white reveals.

For example, let's say you used a Levels adjustment layer to increase the contrast of a photograph.

You can block the increase in contrast on a face in the photograph by painting with a black on the face.

If you haven't already done so, go to Masking.

15 - Burning & Dodging

Burning is when you darken an area of your photograph.

Burn in areas that are too bright, such as a sky.

Burning in shadows can add depth, texture, and volume.

Dodging is the adding of light to an area, such as eyes in the shadow of a baseball hat.

Use the Overlay Layer Method to lighten and darken portions of your photograph.

You can download the Burning & Dodging Swatches.

For more burning and dodging methods, go to Burning & Dodging Introduction.

If there are overexposed areas, you won't be able to burn them in.

Go to Painting Overexposed Areas.

16 - Retouching

Retouching includes working on a face, of course.

But, retouching also includes dust spots in skies, creases and tears on old photographs, and so forth.

Fix any dust spots, and retouch faces, as needed, using the Spot Healing Brush and the Healing Brush tools.

The above tools blend the correction into the photograph.

So, if there's a blemish, use the Spot Healing Brush tool.

If you need to cover an area completely, use the Clone Stamp Tool.

For example, if there's a brown spot on a lawn, use the Clone Stamp tool to cover the brown grass with green grass.

17 - Color

There are several ways you can adjust the color locally.

Here are two methods.

Method #1 - Hue/Saturation

Adjustment Layer

Make a selection of the area.

Then, open and use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to modify the color inside the selected area.

Or, make a change with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and then apply the change locally with a mask.

Method #2 - Photo Filter

Adjustment Layer

You can also do the above with a Photo Filter adjustment layer instead of a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Go to Basic Photo Filter Adjustment Layers.

More Global Changes

Now, you'll make more global changes.

18 - Resizing

You may want to resize the photograph for printing, use on a website, or as an e-mail attachment.

Go to Change the Size.

19 - Composite Layer

If you only have the Background and Background copy layers, skip this step.

If you have more layers than those, you must merge them into into a single layer called a composite layer.

You'll use the composite layer for noise reduction and sharpening.

After you make the composite layer, it'll be at the top of the stack of layers.

Your other layers will still be there, below the composite layer.

Go to Composite Layer.

20 - 100% Magnification (Actual Pixels)

When you judge noise reduction and sharpening, do so when your photograph is enlarged to 100% magnification.

100% magnification is also called Actual Pixels.

Double click the Zoom tool icon, or press Alt + Ctrl + 0 (zero).

You'll need to view your enlarged photograph in areas where the noise is pronounced, or where sharpening is needed or is not desirable.

Do the following.

1) Hold down the space bar to activate the Hand tool.

2) Click, hold, and drag the photograph to move it around.

21 - Noise Reduction

Noise is anomalous specs of the wrong tone or color.

Luminosity noise are specs of the wrong tone or brightness.

Color noise are specs with the wrong color.

Noise is most visible in areas that are even colored.

If you used a high ISO, such as 800 or 1600, you may need to reduce the noise in the photograph.

ISO is the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light.

If you used a long shutter speed (seconds), you may need to reduce the noise in the photograph.

The sensor heats up during long exposures, causing noise.

Go to Noise Reduction.

22 - Sharpening

Nearly all photographs benefit from being sharpened.

As you know, digital photographs are made from square boxes—pixels.

Where there's an edge—a transition between different colored areas—the corners of the pixels boxes stick out.

The photograph doesn't look sharp.

Sharpening increases the contrast along these edges to make it appear sharp.

Go to the High Pass Filter Method.

To read more about sharpening and other methods, go to Sharpening / 1 - Theory: 1.1 - Introduction.

23 - Save

Save your photograph.

If you haven't already done so, go to Saving Files.