Add A Creative Touch To Your Pictures


We all strive for pictures that look unique, artistic and creative. That goes for when they’re framed and hung on a wall, when they’re posted on the web, and maybe even when they’re published in a book or magazine article. One creative idea is to add emphasis to the main or central subject in an image. Another is to dress up the image with a digital frame or border. In this column, we’ll cover a few easy techniques for accomplishing both goals—and more.


As a main illustration for this column, I’ll use a photograph I took of a leopard while ?I was on a safari in Botswana. This image is a straight shot: a RAW file with some minor Levels adjustments.


Many of the Renaissance painters used darker color inks around the edges of the painting to draw interest and attention to the “centerpiece” of the work of art. We can create a similar effect in Photoshop CS3 and in Photoshop Elements 6.

In Photoshop CS3, go to Filter > Lens Correction and move the Vignette sliders all the way to the left. That’s what I did on my leopard photograph. In Photoshop Elements 6, go to Filter > Correct Camera Distortion and move the Vignette sliders all the way to the left to create the same effect. For a less intense effect, move the sliders only partially to the left.


A tight crop also draws more attention to the subject. So does creating an image that shows a full-color subject against a black-and-white background. I used those two techniques to create this image. After cropping, here’s the technique.

In Photoshop CS3, create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation and then desaturate the new adjustment layer. Then, with black selected as the foreground color, select a soft-edge brush and paint over (mask out) the main subject area on the Layer Mask (which restores the full color of the subject).

In Photoshop Elements 6, you can create the same effect by first selecting the Sponge Tool (near the bottom of the Tool Bar). Next, select Desaturate in the Option Bar at the top of the Photoshop Elements 6 window. Now, simply paint over the area of the photograph that you want to convert to black-and-white.


A variety of Photoshop plug-ins, which work with both Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Elements 6, can be helpful tools for making your images stand out from “straight” shots. Let’s take a look at two of my favorite plug-in effects.

I enhanced my leopard image by applying the Midnight filter in Color Efex Pro 3.0 from Nik Software ( Then I applied a Brush Frame in PhotoFrame Pro 3 from onOne software (


Adding a drop shadow, (which creates the impression that the image is floating on a page), and then adding a hairline border is a great way to add impact to an image, especially when you want to post an image on the web. In Photoshop CS3, you can add a drop shadow by going to Layer > Layer Styles > Drop Shadow and then by playing around with the different shadow options. In Photoshop Elements 6, go to Image Effects and select one of the Drop Shadow effects.


In both image-editing programs, you first need to create a duplicate layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer) and increase the canvas size of the image (in CS3, Image > Canvas Size; in Elements, Image > Resize > Canvas Size) so your drop shadow can be seen.

You also can add a hairline, again in both programs, by first selecting the Rectangular Marquee tool, selecting an area, and then by going to Edit > Stroke. Select the color and width of the hairline that best suits the picture and your creative needs.

As a final touch, especially for web images, I like to add my name to the image—making it look like an autographed print. Using the Type tool, select the type size and font that you like (I used Snell Rounded). Then, all you need to do is “autograph” your print. You can place the type anywhere in the image by using the Move tool.

Of course, the most important technique for making a creative image is to start with a great photograph. Sure, it’s a good idea to envision the end-result in the digital darkroom, but it’s important to always strive for the best possible in-camera image.

Rick Sammon teaches dozens of photo workshops and seminars, and has published 28 books, including Face to Face-Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Photographing People, Idea to Image and Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0. Visit for more information.

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