Home How-To Image Processing Seven Steps For A Better Image
Monday, February 4, 2008

Seven Steps For A Better Image

Use these techniques to get the most out of even the trickiest exposures



7 photoshop stepsStep 6. Apply Selective Enhancements
Ansel Adams, known as the greatest landscape photographer of all time, was big on burning (darkening areas of a picture) and dodging (lightening areas of a picture) to bring out the main areas of his photographs. In Photoshop and Elements, you can use the Burn and Dodge tools for the same purpose. For my image, I used the Burn tool to darken the wall in the foreground, and then I used the Dodge tool to lighten the remains of the buildings on the mountain.

Using the Burn and Dodge tools are fairly basic methods for darkening and lightening areas of a picture. Using an Adjustment Layer, perhaps selecting Levels or Curves, and a Layer Mask, would be a more sophisticated choice.

The Benefits Of Using Adjustment Layers
Pros use Adjustment Layers (Layer > New Adjustment Layer) because the adjustment isn't made on the original image; rather, it's made on its own layer. One benefit is that you can save a file as a layered TIFF or PSD file and go back again and again and redo your adjustment on that adjustment layer, just in case you change your mind at a later date about your adjustment. Another benefit is that you can use a Layer Mask to paint out (with black selected as the foreground color) or paint in (with white selected as the foreground color) the applied adjustment.
Step 7. Sharpen Your Image
The final processing step for any image is sharpening. Most pros use the Smart Sharpen Filter (Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen) that lets you sharpen the highlights and shadows independently. Sharpening is a personal preference.

7 photoshop stepsThere are two things to keep in mind when you sharpen an image. First, all RAW files need sharpening—more so than JPEG files, which have some sharpening applied by the camera. I've sharpened RAW files up to 200 percent. Secondly, oversharpening can pixelate an image, therefore ruining it by creating halos around edges, so don't overdo it. Photoshop CS3 has a new Smart Filters feature that lets you apply a filter, such as Smart Sharpen, as a layer effect that behaves similarly to an Adjustment Layer in that it's editable and removable.

To sum up, the next time you see a potentially challenging landscape photograph, keep these seven steps in mind. You may be surprised at what you discover in your original image.

Rick Sammon, author of 27 books and host of more than a dozen television programs, is one of the top Photoshop and photography instructors in the country. Visit with Rick at www.ricksammon.com.

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