Archive for the ‘Lightroom & Photoshop’ Category

As I said last time, I have been volunteering with the photo club at the high school where my wife teaches. Last post, I discussed some really valuable books for not just learning photoshop, but learning things the way pros do things. Today, I am going to cover the tools I went over during the demonstration.

First things first: Layers. Layers provide a very important and basic function: they allow you to make non-permanent changes to your image. Always make changes on new layers. This is just my opinion, and there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but for where we are going now, stick to it. Making a new layer is easy: Ctrl+SHFT+N or CMD+SHFT+N will do it, or you can find the same command in the menu under Layer->New-> Layer. Don’t worry about remembering hot keys now. You will learn them based on necessity, not memorization.

My main retouching tools are the Clone Stamp, the Healing Brush, and the Spot Healing Brush. I’ve found better explanations than I would have provided, so check those out. I have one important point to make, though. Each tool in photoshop has it’s own toolbar which pops up under the menu bar when you select it. For clone stamp, healing brush, and spot healing brush, you are going to want to check the option: “Sample all Layers” or “Sample Current and Below”, whichever it may be for your particular version of photoshop (it has changed over time). This will let you do your retouching on a separate layer (without this checked, your tool will ignore the pixels from different layers, visible or not). That’s super important for my workflow.

Here is a great tutorial on using layer masks. As you can see, layer masks are super useful. Best of all, they allow you to go back later and change what you’ve done. A popular trick among some retouchers is to use the Edit-> Fade tool to reduce the strength of a tool they’re using. After you make a brush stroke, let’s say, you can use the fade command to reduce that brush stroke’s visibility by a percentage of your choosing. That’s pretty handy, but you can’t come back later and change your mind. You can get the same thing from a layer mask by painting in black at a lowered opacity. And, since layer masks stick around, you, or a client, can come back and change your mind later.

The one thing I would like you to retain from this is that you should avoid making permanent changes to your image. If you can get away with making adjustments that you can change later, it’s worth it. Sometimes, though, a tool (usually a filter) can’t be used on a separate layer. I don’t touch my base layer, so here’s what I do:

I merge all visible layers, select all, copy, undo back to before the merge, create a new layer, and paste in the merged image. This takes everything I’ve done up to that, and puts it into a new layer, on top of everything else. I have an action set up to automate this repetitive task. Since this new layer covers everything underneath it, it negates the effect of any changes you make underneath it. I still say to keep those layers, though.

Finally, the Liquify tool. Here is a good video. Notice that you can use masks within the liquify tool to decide which areas of the image can be affected (and how much!) by your squishing things around. That’s handy for keeping your backgrounds from getting all loopy around your subject. The two main tools I use for retouching skin and faces are the the Forward Warp tool and the Push Left tool. The forward warp tool is not very smooth in my opinion, and I mostly use it when i need to make very small specific changes. If I need to, say, make a nose smaller, or move a chin around, I will use the push left tool. It allows me to retain smooth, natural, graceful lines that tend to become uneven with the forward warp tool.

So there you go, guys. Get good with these tools, keep your changes subtle, and not even your subjects will know! (hint: if you don’t tell them you retouched the image, they will just think that you are a really good photographer!) At the next photo club, I will talk about adjustment layers and field questions about this stuff that I have covered so far.


I volunteer my time with the local high school’s photography club, giving lighting, shooting and photoshop lessons, advice and whatnot. I really enjoy passing along knowledge, because qualified advice is difficult to glean from all the crappy advice on these topics. The kids have an absolute blast, and feeling appreciated is a good morale booster, especially when times are tough.

Hey, that’s a good idea: If you’re not getting any work, why not volunteer in your community and drum up some good PR? A post on public relations and press releases is in the works!

The last lesson was on retouching in Photoshop. I moved pretty quickly, and didn’t cover some things the way I ought to have, so I am going to point out some photoshop books that I found to be extremely useful. Next post will cover the tools I used in the photoshop demonstration. Stay tuned.


I showed off some really handy photoshop books. I am a big fan of learning with books. There are so many photoshop books that, at best, could be described as “redundant,” pointless, tired discussions over either useless minutiae, or self-congratulation. I’ve certainly owned a few of those, and what a waste of money (not to mention trees!) The books that I list here live on a small bookshelf under my desk for quick reference:

“Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio” by Glenn Honiball

Interesting things about Glenn: he doesn’t use a tablet and stylus. He does all his retouching with a mouse. I used to do this, too, but I have decided that I like the extra “input” of pen pressure. Anyway, this book covers a lot of the things you would come across as a retoucher: adding shadows to complex objects, changing an object’s color (sometimes dramatically!), and making digital composites. All very useful stuff.

“The Photoshop Channels Book” by Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby writes three photoshop books every day. As you can imagine, some are good, and some are birdcage liner. The channels book is good. Largely, though, this book is about layer masks. Layer masks were a tricky thing to understand for me, and this book was invaluable towards my getting comfortable with using them. Masking is a big part of how I do my photoshopping. Kelby likes to lay his books out as a series of step-by-step guides, awesome for use as a quick reference tool.

“Photoshop Classic Effects: The Essential Effects Every User Needs to Know” by Scott Kelby

This book is a list of easily-refenced tutorials for just about every cheesy and over-done photoshop effect out there. That’s why it’s so great. Photoshop cliches are cliches because everyone asks for them at one point or another. You can find a lot of this info on the internet, but I don’t trust internet photoshop tutorials. Kelby is a professional retoucher, and I would rather my workflow be built on that basis.

“Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace” by Dan Margulis

This book might just make your head explode. It’s not a series of tutorials, like the Kelby books. LAB (spell it out when you say it) is a massively useful tool, and it certainly does things that RGB can’t touch. What’s more, you can frequently do everything you need in LAB with one tool: Curves. It’s a complex topic, and Dan explains things with a dorky series of analogies that make things a lot easier. It’s a very big, long book, and it covers a ton of ground, all of it useful. The curves tool is difficult to understand at first, and this book’s reliance on it is a great way to get yourself used to it.

“Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies” by Lee Varis

This book is awesome. It really is the complete guide. One of the big misconceptions about photoshop is that you can fix anything later. And it’s easy! Because it’s Photoshop! Mercifully, Lee covers a very important topic: Start with the absolutely best source image possible, so your later retouching will be more effective. He covers lighting for flattering skin tone, among other things, before jumping into the nitty gritty of sculpting, molding and radically altering faces and skin.

“Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2” by Bruce Fraser

This is a very dry, technical book. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish examples of different sharpening techniques on the same images. That said, this book is a great resource. Bad sharpening can really ruin an image, and worse, not sharpening can send your overly-soft images to a photo editor’s trashcan. Sharpening is a very nebulous topic for new photographers, and Bruce lays things out in a way that makes it easy to get from point A to point B, and why you’d want to in the first place.

So, there you go. If you have some amazon gift certificates lying around, and you want to get better at Photoshop (or gain that first initial understanding, then these books are a great place to get started. I’ll start working on the photoshop tools post now.

So, when I was browsing through Steve Thornton’s site the other day, I noticed that he named all his images with his business name and image type. I didn’t realize it then, but I’ve decided that that’s a really good idea.

Here’s the idea. You should name the image with your business name and maybe even your phone number. This is a breeze to do in lightroom, too. (I’ll cover that later.) There’s a huge limit to the number of characters allowed, but be concise. Google indexes image filenames, so you become that much more searchable. Moreover, if a prospective downloads one of your images from your emails or website, you become searchable on their computer. If they’re using a Mac, this is the sort of thing that will pop up fast with a Spotlight search.

So get rid of those awful, wasteful IMG4552.JPG names, and utilize this not often thought of branding means.

One of the things that I’ve struggled with is getting my image library cleaned up and organized. I underestimated the importance of having an organized, keyword-ed library, and I’m paying the price now with forgotten images, images that are difficult to find, and images that are keyworded wrong or poorly. It wasn’t that difficult early on, because I could quickly scan through a library of just a few thousand images to find the one I’m looking for. As your image library grows, it becomes that much slower to find the image you need quickly.

To be fair, though, as a new photographer, knowing what systems will be most useful to you later is a challenge. When you’re just beginning, and you’re shooting your friends or stringing for a local paper, it’s difficult to know what you will be doing 2, 3 or 5 years later. So, which information is relevant? Like I said, it’s tough to tell.

I have recently decided that I am going to submit a great deal of my image library to stock libraries, as a way to monetize the images I shoot for fun, or when possible with images I shoot for clients. So, I am going back through and keywording images by subject matter. For people images, I tag based on their gender, physical appearance, profession, and other criteria. So, if I need to find a picture of a female blonde lawyer, I can do it quickly, and I don’t have to waste time looking through my whole library of irrelevant architecture, live music, or wedding pictures.

I am also tagging images based on their lighting, setting and any other ‘internal’ criteria. The idea is that I can build a ‘lighting library’ where I can keep track of which shots were lit by different means. So, for upcoming shoots, I can look through other images I’ve shot and brainstorm ideas based on previous results. It’s a great way to make progress as a technical photographer, because you never forget anything you’ve done. Already, I’m finding this to be a handy resource.

Adobe Lightroom, my manangement/editing software of choice, has an extremely robust keywording system. You can read all about using it in this awesome 5 part tutorial. I found this guide to be extremely useful in learning how Lightroom handles keywords, and how you can quickly and efficiently get a big, disorganized pile of images into a clean, tightly organized library of find-able images. When I export these images, the keywords stay with and move on to my stock agencies, where photo buyers can search for them based on all the criteria I’ve specified. Cool.