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Photoshop Elements 11: The Missing Manual by Barbara Brundage

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Chapter 4. The Quick Fix

With Elements’ Quick Fix tools, you can dramatically improve a photo’s appearance with just a click or two. The Quick Fix window gathers easy-to-use tools that 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—just click a button or move a slider, and then decide whether you like how it looks.

Even if you do know what you’re doing, you may still find yourself using the Quick Fix window to tweak things like shadows and highlights because it gives you a handy before-and-after view as you work. Also, the new Vibrance slider and the Temperature and Tint sliders can come in very handy for advanced color tweaking, like finessing the overall color of an otherwise finished photo. You also get two tools—the Selection Brush and the Quick Selection tool—that let you easily change specific areas of photos.

Besides letting you make general fixes, the Quick Fix window also makes it a snap to whiten teeth and fix blemishes in your photo. You can even add text or crop your photo here. And Adobe has made it super easy to decide just what to do to an image by adding a number of presets to the adjustments; you’ll learn about them on Using Presets. These presets are great if you need extra help—just pick one of them as a starting point and work from there.

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.

Tip

If a whole chapter on Quick Fix is frustratingly slow, you can start off by trying out the ultrafast Auto Smart Fix—a quick-fix tool for the truly impatient. Getting Started in a Hurry tells you everything you need to know. Also, Guided Edit may give you enough help to accomplish what you want to do; Getting Help has the full story.

The Quick Fix Window

When you first start Elements 11, you see the Quick Fix window. If you click away from it, it’s easy to get back to, as long as you’re in the Editor: Just click the word Quick at the top of your screen.

The Editor remembers which component you were last using (Quick, Guided, or Expert). So if you’re working in the Organizer and want to send photos over to the Editor, if you right-click/Control-click a photo in the Organizer and choose “Edit with Photoshop Elements Editor,” your photo will go right to the Quick Fix window if that’s where you were the last time you used the Editor. If not, just click the Quick tab at the top of the screen.

You can also get to Quick Fix from some of the projects in Create mode: Just right-click/Control-click the photo you want to fix and choose Edit Quick; you get sent to Quick Fix with the photo ready for your adjustments. When you come into Quick Fix this way, you see a button at the left of the screen that says “Return to Creations.” When you finish editing the image, click this button to go right back to where you left off in your project.

Tip

You can also apply many quick fixes right from the Organizer, even in Full Screen view. See the box on Quick Fixes in the Organizer for details.

The Quick Fix window looks like a stripped-down version of the Expert Mode window (see Figure 4-1). Your tools are neatly arranged on both sides of the image: On the left, there’s an eight-item toolbox; on the right, the Quick Fix panel, which includes six sections for different adjustments you can make (Figure 4-2).

The Quick Fix window. If you have several photos open when you launch this window, you can use the Photo Bin at the bottom to choose the image you want to edit. Just click the Photo Bin button at the bottom of your screen to make the bin’s contents visible, and then double-click an image thumbnail and that photo becomes the active image—the one that’s displayed front and center in the Quick Fix preview area. See Figure 4-2 for a close-up view of the quick-edit panels on the right side of this window.

Figure 4-1. The Quick Fix window. If you have several photos open when you launch this window, you can use the Photo Bin at the bottom to choose the image you want to edit. Just click the Photo Bin button at the bottom of your screen to make the bin’s contents visible, and then double-click an image thumbnail and that photo becomes the active image—the one that’s displayed front and center in the Quick Fix preview area. See Figure 4-2 for a close-up view of the quick-edit panels on the right side of this window.

Each section name here is actually a big button. When you click one, that section expands so that you can use the commands it contains. Click another section and the previously open one closes. Besides these handy fixes, you can also use most of the Expert Mode menu commands if you need something that’s not included in the Panel Bin.

Figure 4-2. Each section name here is actually a big button. When you click one, that section expands so that you can use the commands it contains. Click another section and the previously open one closes. Besides these handy fixes, you can also use most of the Expert Mode menu commands if you need something that’s not included in the Panel Bin.

Below the left side of the image preview area is the same group of buttons you have in Expert Mode: Photo Bin, Tool Options, Undo, Redo, Rotate, Layout, and Organizer. They work the same way in Quick Fix as they do elsewhere in the Editor (The Photo Bin/Tool Options Area).

The following sections give you a quick overview of the tools Quick Fix offers, and then explain how to actually use them.

Tip

If you need extra help, check out Guided Edit (Getting Help), which walks you through each step of basic editing projects.

The Quick Fix Toolbox

The Quick Fix window’s toolbox holds an easy-to-navigate subset of the tools available in Expert Mode. All the tools work the same in both modes, and you can use the same keystrokes to switch tools. And just as in Expert Mode, when you click a tool, its Tool Options replace the Photo Bin. (To bring the Photo Bin back into view, just click the Photo Bin button at the bottom of the screen.) 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 this tool.) You can also zoom by using the Zoom slider in the upper-right corner of the image preview area.

  • The Hand tool helps move your photo around in the image window—just like grabbing it and moving it with your own five fingers. There’s more about this tool on The Hand Tool.

  • The Quick Selection tool lets you apply Quick Fix commands to specific portions of the image. Once you make a selection with this tool, the commands you use will change only the selected area, not the entire photo. You can also use the regular Selection Brush in Quick Fix; just activate the Quick Selection tool and then click the Selection Brush icon in the Tool Options area (the brush that’s pointed down, like it’s painting).

    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 changing), while the Quick Selection tool makes Elements figure out the boundaries of your selection based on marks you make on the image (which don’t have to be precise). Also, the Quick Selection tool is far more automatic than the regular Selection Brush. You can read more about these tools beginning on The Selection Brush. (To get the most out of them, you need to understand the concept of selections; Chapter 5 tells you everything you need to know.)

  • The Red Eye Removal tool lets you darken those demonic-looking red flash reflections in people’s eyes. See Fixing Red Eye to learn how.

  • The Whiten Teeth Tool. This handy tool makes it super simple to brighten your subject’s pearly whites. Whitening Teeth explains how to use it.

  • The Type Tool. Just click in your photo with this tool and start typing to add text. The Tool Options at the bottom of the window make it easy to choose a different font and change the size and color of the text. In the Quick Fix window, you can do anything that doesn’t require access to the Layers panel, including bending and warping text (see Warping Text). Chapter 14 is all about the many things you can do with text in Elements.

  • The Healing Brushes. The Spot Healing Brush lets you make truly invisible corrections to fix blemishes in a snap. The Spot Healing Brush: Fixing Small Areas explains all about using this helpful tool. For now, if you’re a beginner, first zoom in so you can see what you’re doing, and then use the slider in the Tool Options to choose a brush size that just barely covers the spot you want to fix. Click that spot and Elements fixes it right up so it blends with the surrounding area.

    You can also use the regular Healing Brush in Quick Fix—just click its icon in the Tools Options area, which looks like a Band-Aid without a dotted semicircle next to it. The Healing Brush: Fixing Larger Areas explains how to use this tool.

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

Tip

If the contents of your photo need straightening (see Straightening the Contents of an Image), usually it’s easier to do that in Expert Mode before switching to Quick Fix, since the Quick Fix toolbox doesn’t include the Straighten tool. However, there’s a sneaky way to straighten with the Crop tool that you can use in Quick Fix, too—see The Crop Tool.

The Quick Fix Panel

When you switch to Quick Fix, the Quick Fix panel appears on the right side of your screen. This is where you make the majority of your adjustments. Elements helpfully arranges everything into five panels—Smart Fix, Levels, Color, Balance, and Sharpness. In most cases, it makes sense to start with the top section and work your way down until you get the results you want. (See Quick Fix Suggested Workflow for more suggestions on what order to work in.)

Note

There’s one exception to this top-to-bottom order of operations: You may want to use the Red Eye Removal tool (which is in the toolbox on the left of the window) before you do other editing. Fixing Red Eye has details on using it.

The panel fills the right side of the Quick Fix screen. If it’s in your way, you can make it disappear by clicking the Hide Panel button at the bottom right of the window. That changes the button to say Show Panel; click it again to bring back the panel. You can also expand and collapse sections within the panel as you work, as explained in Figure 4-3.

Clicking the name of a section in the panel collapses or expands that section. In Elements 11, you can see the tools and commands for only one section at a time, so when you click another section, the previous one closes. In sections like this one that offer multiple editing options, just click the tabs at the top of the section to see what’s available. Here, for example, if you click Highlights, you’ll see the previews and thumbnails for adjusting the brightest areas of the photo.

Figure 4-3. Clicking the name of a section in the panel collapses or expands that section. In Elements 11, you can see the tools and commands for only one section at a time, so when you click another section, the previous one closes. In sections like this one that offer multiple editing options, just click the tabs at the top of the section to see what’s available. Here, for example, if you click Highlights, you’ll see the previews and thumbnails for adjusting the brightest areas of the photo.

Using Presets

Elements has a handy feature to help the undecided: presets. When you click a section in the panel, a grid of nine tiny thumbnails appears below the slider (see Figure 4-4). Each thumbnail represents a different preset for that slider.

Put your cursor over any of the thumbnails to see its effect displayed on your photo. To adjust the strength of the effect, click the thumbnail that’s closest to what you want and keep pressing your mouse button; then drag left or right (this is called scrubbing) and watch as your image changes (let go of your mouse when the image looks good). When you start scrubbing, your cursor disappears and you see a white band with numbers that change as you scrub, as you can see in the middle-right thumbnail here. If you decide not to make any changes, just click the thumbnail with the curved arrow over a line on it (the center image here) to return your photo to how it looked when you opened that section.

Figure 4-4. Put your cursor over any of the thumbnails to see its effect displayed on your photo. To adjust the strength of the effect, click the thumbnail that’s closest to what you want and keep pressing your mouse button; then drag left or right (this is called scrubbing) and watch as your image changes (let go of your mouse when the image looks good). When you start scrubbing, your cursor disappears and you see a white band with numbers that change as you scrub, as you can see in the middle-right thumbnail here. If you decide not to make any changes, just click the thumbnail with the curved arrow over a line on it (the center image here) to return your photo to how it looked when you opened that section.

If you don’t have super-micro vision, these thumbnails are probably too darn small for you to be able to tell the difference—but not to worry: Place your cursor over a thumbnail and Elements previews that setting on your image itself so you can get a good view. You can even use scrubbing to adjust the effect, as explained in Figure 4-4. Once you like what you see, click the thumbnail to apply that change to your photo, although if you’ve been scrubbing you may find, you’ve already made the change. To reset your image back to what it looked like when you began using the current group of presets, click the thumbnail with the curved arrow on it. (If you’ve already moved on to another preset group, you can use the Undo button at the bottom of the window, or just use the standard Undo command [Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z] instead.)

Tip

As you make changes with the sliders or the presets, Elements displays a numeric value to the right of the slider. If you have several similar photos to fix, note what this number is for the first photo when you get it how you like it. Then, when you open the next photo, just click the number for that setting (it turns into a text box) and type in the value you want.

Different Views: After vs. Before and After

When you open an image in Quick Fix, your picture appears by itself in the main window with the word “After” above it to let you know that you’re in After Only view. Elements keeps the Before view—your original photo—tucked out of sight. But you have three other layout options, which you can choose anytime: Before Only, “Before & After - Horizontal,” and “Before & After - Vertical.” Both of the before-and-after views are especially helpful when you’re trying to figure out whether you’re improving your picture, as shown in Figure 4-5. You switch between views by picking the one you want from the View pop-up menu just above your image.

The Quick Fix window’s before-and-after views make it easy to see how you’re changing a photo. Here you see “Before & After - Horizontal,” which displays the views side by side. To see them one above the other, choose “Before & After - Vertical” instead. If you want a more detailed view, use the Zoom tool or the Zoom slider at the top of the screen to focus on just a portion of the image.

Figure 4-5. The Quick Fix window’s before-and-after views make it easy to see how you’re changing a photo. Here you see “Before & After - Horizontal,” which displays the views side by side. To see them one above the other, choose “Before & After - Vertical” instead. If you want a more detailed view, use the Zoom tool or the Zoom slider at the top of the screen to focus on just a portion of the image.

Editing Your Photos

As this section explains, the Quick Fix window’s tools are pretty easy 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 Expert Mode window or the Organizer.

Tip

To rotate a photo, click the Rotate button below the image preview area. If you want to rotate in the opposite direction, click the tiny arrow to the right of the Rotate button and then click the button that appears. (See Straightening Individual Photos for more about rotating photos.)

In Quick Fix, any changes you make are automatically applied—you don’t have to do anything to accept them. If you’re tweaking an image and decide you don’t like how it’s turning out, click the Reset button at the top of the Panel to return your photo to the way it looked before you started working in Quick Fix. The Reset button looks like an arrow arching over a straight line, and it’s just below the word “Create” (which, incidentally, lets you start a Create project [Chapter 15] right from the Quick Fix window). Keep in mind that this button undoes all Quick Fix edits, so don’t use it if you want to undo only a single action. For that, just click the Undo button at the bottom of the window, or use the regular Undo command: Choose Edit→Undo, or press Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z. When you make a change and then close a section, your image remains changed, so remember to undo that edit or reset the photo if you’re just experimenting and don’t want to keep that change when you go to the next section.

Fixing Red Eye

Anyone 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 a character from 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 tool for fixing it. All you need to do is click the red spots with the Red Eye Removal tool, and your problems are solved.

This tool works the same in both Quick Fix and Expert Mode. Here’s what you do:

  1. Open a photo and zoom in so you can see where you’re clicking.

    Use the Zoom tool to magnify the eyes. (Switch to the Hand tool if you need to drag the photo around so the eyes are front and center.)

  2. Activate the Red Eye Removal tool by clicking the red-eye icon in the tool-box or by pressing Y.

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

    That’s it! Just one click should fix the problem. If it doesn’t, press Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z to undo it, and then try dragging over the pupil instead. Sometimes one method works better than the other. And, as explained in a moment, you can also try adjusting this tool’s two settings: Darken Amount and Pupil Size.

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

Zoom in when using the Red Eye Removal tool so you get a good look at the pupils. Don’t worry if your photo is 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 here has already been fixed. Notice what a good job this tool does of keeping the highlights (called catch lights) in the eye that’s been treated.

Figure 4-6. Zoom in when using the Red Eye Removal tool so you get a good look at the pupils. Don’t worry if your photo is 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 here has already been fixed. Notice what a good job this tool does of keeping the highlights (called catch lights) in the eye that’s been treated.

Tip

You can also apply the Organizer’s Auto Red Eye Fix in Quick Fix and Expert Mode. In either window, just press Ctrl+R/⌘-R or go to Enhance→Auto Red Eye Fix. (In Expert Mode, you can also activate the Red Eye Removal tool, and then click the Auto button in the Tool Options area.) The only tradeoff to using Auto Red Eye Fix in the Editor is that you don’t automatically get a version set like you do when using the tool in the Organizer, but you can create a version set when you save your changes, as explained on Saving Your Work.

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

  • Pupil Radius. Drag this slider to tell Elements how large an area to consider part of the pupil.

  • Darken. If the result is too light, drag this slider to the right.

Tip

You can also fix red eye right in the Raw converter (The Raw Converter) if you’re dealing with Raw files.

Smart Fix

The Quick Fix window’s secret weapon 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. This command generally works better on photos that are underexposed (too dark) than overexposed (too bright), but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try even on overexposed shots.

You’ll find the Smart Fix command in the aptly named Smart Fix section of the Panel Bin, and it’s about as easy to use as hitting the speed-dial button on your phone: Click the 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 try this fix for yourself, download iris.jpg from this book’s Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com/cds.)

Top: This photo, taken in the shade, is pretty dark.Bottom: The Auto Smart Fix button improved it significantly with just one click. You might want to use the tools in the Balance section (page 129) to really fine-tune the color.

Figure 4-7. Top: This photo, taken in the shade, is pretty dark. Bottom: The Auto Smart Fix button improved it significantly with just one click. You might want to use the tools in the Balance section (page 129) to really fine-tune the color.

Tip

You’ll find Auto buttons scattered throughout Elements. When you click one, the program makes a best-guess attempt to apply whatever change the Auto button is next to (Smart Fix, Levels, Contrast, and so on). It never hurts to at least try clicking these buttons; if you don’t like what you see, you can always perform the magical undo: Edit→Undo or Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z.

If you’re happy with Auto Smart Fix’s changes, you can move on to another photo, or try sharpening the same photo a little if the focus appears a bit soft (see Sharpening). You don’t need to do anything to accept the Smart Fix changes, but if you’re not thrilled with the results, take a good look at your picture. If you like what Auto Smart Fix did but the effect is too strong or too weak, press Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z to undo it, and then try one of the tool’s presets or play with the Smart Fix slider instead. This slider does the same thing as the Auto Smart Fix button, only you control the degree of change. Watch the image as you drag the slider to the right. (If your computer is slow, there will be a certain amount of lag, so go slowly to give it a chance to catch up.) If you overdo it, click the Undo button at the bottom of the window and start again.

Tip

You’ll usually get better results by moving the Smart Fix slider in several small increments rather than in one big sweeping movement.

Incidentally, these are the same Smart Fix commands you see in the Editor’s Enhance menu: Enhance→Auto Smart Fix (Alt+Ctrl+M/Option-⌘-M) has the same effect as clicking the Auto button in the Smart Fix section of the Quick Fix panel, and Enhance→Adjust Smart Fix (Shift+Ctrl+M/Shift-⌘-M) displays a Smart Fix slider you can tweak.

Sometimes Smart Fix just isn’t smart enough to do everything you want, and sometimes it does things you don’t want. Fortunately, you still have several other editing options that are covered in the following sections. (If you don’t like what Smart Fix has done to your photo, remember to undo its effect before making other changes.)

Tip

Auto Smart Fix is one of the commands you can apply from within the Organizer, so there’s no need to launch the Editor if all you want to do is run this command. See the box on Quick Fixes in the Organizer for more about making fixes from the Organizer.

Adjusting Exposure

The Exposure section is new to the Quick Fix window in Elements 11. You can use the presets or the slider to make adjustments to your photo’s overall exposure. You may want to use this section first, if you think your image needs it. But if the image’s exposure looks fine, you can skip this section and move on to the Levels section.

Adjusting Lighting and Contrast

The Levels section lets you make sophisticated adjustments to photos’ brightness and contrast. You might be surprised: Sometimes problems you thought stemmed from exposure or even focus can be fixed with these commands.

Levels

If you want to understand how Levels 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 their brightness by redistributing their color information. Levels changes (and hopefully fixes!) both brightness and color at the same time.

If you’ve never used a photo-editing program before, this may sound rather mysterious, but photo pros will tell you that Levels is one of the most powerful commands for fixing and polishing pictures. To find out if its magic works for you, click the Auto Levels button at the bottom of the Levels section. Figure 4-8 shows what a big difference it can make. If you’d like to give it a try, download ocean.jpg from this book’s Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com/cds.

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 that the colors could be better.Right: Here you can see how much more effective the photo is once Auto Levels has balanced the colors.

Figure 4-8. 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 that the colors could be better. Right: Here you can see how much more effective the photo is once Auto Levels has balanced the colors.

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

Note

Although the Auto Levels and Auto Contrast buttons appear at the bottom of each tab in the Levels section (Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights), they always work on your entire image, so you get the same result no matter which tab is displayed when you click these buttons.

Contrast

In Quick Fix, the main alternative to Auto Levels 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 an image without changing its color, so if Levels made the colors go all goofy, try adjusting the contrast instead. You apply Contrast the same way you apply Levels: Just click the Auto Contrast button.

Tip

After you apply 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. In that case, the contrast is too high; undo Auto Contrast (Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z) and try another fix instead.

Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights

The other Levels fixes do an amazing job of bringing out details that are lost in the shadows or bright areas of your photo. Figure 4-9 shows what a difference they can make.

Left: This image has overly bright highlights and shadows that are much too dark.Right: After adjusting the shadows and highlights, you can see there’s plenty of detail here. (Use the color sliders—described in the next section—to get rid of the orange tone.)

Figure 4-9. Left: This image has overly bright highlights and shadows that are much too dark. Right: After adjusting the shadows and highlights, you can see there’s plenty of detail here. (Use the color sliders—described in the next section—to get rid of the orange tone.)

Although there are presets for each of these, you’ll probably find you have more control by using the sliders. Here’s what each fix controls:

  • Shadows. Nudge this slider to the right, and you’ll see details emerge from murky black shadows as Elements lightens the dark areas of your photo.

  • Midtones. Use this fix after you’ve adjusted the photo’s shadows and highlights, which can make an image look flat—like it doesn’t have enough contrast between dark and light areas. This slider can help bring back a more realistic look.

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

Tip

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

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

Adjusting Color

The Color panel lets you—surprise, surprise—play around with the colors in your images. In many cases, if you’ve been successful with Auto Levels or Auto Contrast, you won’t need to use this panel.

Auto Color

Here’s another one-click fix. Actually, in some ways Auto Color should be up in the Levels section. Like Levels, it simultaneously adjusts color and brightness, but it looks at different information in photos to decide what to do.

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

Auto Color may be just the ticket for your photos, but you may also find that it shifts colors in strange ways. Click it and see what you think. If it makes your photo look worse, just click Reset or press Ctrl+Z/⌘-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 and presets instead.

The Color Sliders

If you want to adjust the colors in your photo without changing its brightness, try the Color sliders. For instance, your digital camera may produce colors that don’t quite match what you saw when you took the picture; 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. Whatever the case, the sliders in the Color panel are for you (you can click preset thumbnails, too). Just click the appropriate tab near the top of the panel to see each one:

  • Saturation controls the intensity of the image’s color. For example, you can turn a color photo to black and white by moving this slider all the way to the left. Move it too far 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 aiming for realism, you can have fun using this slider to create funky color changes.

  • Vibrance used to be available only in the Raw Converter (see Chapter 8), but it’s such a useful tool that Adobe decided to add it to Quick Fix, too. While Saturation adjusts all colors equally, the Vibrance slider is much smarter: It increases the intensity of the duller colors while holding back on colors that are already so vivid they may oversaturate. If you want to make colors pop, try this slider first.

You probably won’t use all these sliders on a single photo, but you can if you like. To fine-tune the color, you may want to move on to the next panel: Balance. In fact, in many cases you’ll need only the Balance fixes.

Balancing Color

Photos often have the right amount of saturation, but suppose there’s something about the color balance that just isn’t right, and moving the Hue slider makes everything look funky. The Balance section contains two very useful controls for adjusting the overall colors in an image:

  • Temperature lets you adjust colors 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 just for fine-tuning color balance.

  • Tint adjusts the green/magenta balance of your photo, as shown in Figure 4-10.

There are presets for these adjustments, too, but you may find that they’re all much too exaggerated if you’re after realistic color, so you’re probably better off using the sliders.

Left: This kind of greenish tint is a common problem with many digital cameras, especially cellphone 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 can be a dead giveaway: Is it robin’s egg blue like the left photo here? If so, tint is what you need.

Figure 4-10. Left: This kind of greenish tint is a common problem with many digital cameras, especially cellphone 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 can be a dead giveaway: Is it robin’s egg blue like the left photo here? If so, tint is what you need.

Tip

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

Sharpening

Now that you’ve finished your other corrections, it’s time to sharpen your photo, so move down to the Sharpen panel. Sharpening gives the effect of better focus by improving the edge contrast of objects in photos. Once again, an Auto button is at your service: Click the Sharpen panel’s Auto button to get things started. Figure 4-11 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 Sharpen panel’s Auto button.Right: The results of using the Sharpen slider to get stronger sharpening than Auto Sharpen applies.

Figure 4-11. Left: The original image. Like many digital photos, it could stand a little sharpening. Middle: What you get by clicking the Sharpen panel’s Auto button. Right: The results of using the Sharpen slider to get stronger sharpening than Auto Sharpen applies.

The sad truth is that there really isn’t any way to improve the focus of a photo once you click the shutter. Photo-editing programs like Elements sharpen by increasing the contrast where they perceive edges of objects, which is why it’s best to make sharpening your last editing step (sharpening first can have strange effects on other editing tools you apply later).

Tip

If you see funny halos around objects in your photos or strange flaky spots (making your photo look like it has eczema), those are a sure sign of oversharpening; reduce the Sharpen settings till they go away. In fact, many modern cameras apply a pretty hefty dose of sharpening right in the camera, so you may decide you like your photo best with no extra sharpening at all.

Always look at the actual pixels (View→Actual Pixels) when you sharpen, because that gives you the clearest sense of what you’re doing to your picture. If you don’t like what Auto Sharpen does (a distinct possibility), you can undo it (use the Undo button or press Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z) and try the Sharpen slider instead. Zero sharpening is all the way to the left; moving to the right increases the amount of sharpening Elements applies. You can also click the preset thumbnails, but it’s probably easier to use the slider here. As a general rule, you want to sharpen photos you plan to print more than images destined for use online. Sharpening Images has lots more info about sharpening.

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 photos. The difference is that, unlike applying Adjust Sharpness from the Enhance menu, you don’t have any control over the settings. But the good news is that if you want to use Adjust Sharpness, or even if you prefer to use Unsharp Mask (Sharpening Images), you can get that control from within Quick Fix. Just go to the Enhance menu and choose the sharpener of your choice.

At this point, all that’s left to do is crop your photo; Cropping Pictures tells you everything you need to know. However, you can also give your photo a bit more punch by using the Touch Up tools explained in the next section.

Tip

If you have a 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 Quick Fix can do.

Whitening Teeth

The Quick Fix toolbox contains a special tool to help whiten dull or discolored teeth. It’s very easy to use—just drag over the area you want to change, and Elements makes a detailed selection of the area and applies the change for you. Here are the details:

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

    Note

    If you’re an old hand at using Elements, use Whiten Teeth before sharpening. But if you’re a beginner and not comfortable with layers (see Chapter 6), sharpen first. (See Whitening Teeth for more about why.)

  2. Click the Whiten Teeth icon.

    It’s the one that looks like a toothbrush. You can also activate this tool by pressing the F key. Either way, your cursor turns into a circle with crosshairs in it.

  3. Drag across the area you want to whiten.

    Just drag over the teeth in your photo. Elements automatically creates a selection that includes the entire object it thinks you want. (It works just like the Quick Selection tool [Selecting with a Brush], only it also whitens the selected area.) You’ll see the marching ants appear (Selecting Everything) around the area Elements is changing (see Figure 4-12).

    Just a quick swipe across these teeth selected and whitened them while keeping them looking realistic.

    Figure 4-12. Just a quick swipe across these teeth selected and whitened them while keeping them looking realistic.

  4. If Elements included too much or too little, tweak the selection’s size.

    In the Tool Options area, you’ll see three little brush icons. Click the top icon to start another new selection, click the middle one and drag to add to the existing selection, or click the bottom one and then drag over an area you want to remove from the existing selection. (You don’t have to use the Tool Options: You can also just drag to extend your selection, or Alt-drag/Option-drag if Elements whitened too much area and you need to remove some of it.)

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

    You can back up by clicking the Undo button or pressing Ctrl+Z/⌘-Z to undo your changes step by step. Just keep going to eliminate the whitening completely if you don’t like it.

Note

The Whiten Teeth and Text tools create a layered file. If you understand layers (Chapter 6), you can go back to Expert Mode and make changes after you use these tools to do things like adjust the opacity or blend mode of the new layer. You can always discard your changes by discarding the layer they’re on. And for the Whiten Teeth tool, you can even edit the area affected by the changes by editing the layer mask it creates, as explained on Editing a Layer Mask, or using the Smart Brush tool (Correcting Part of an Image) in Expert Mode.

As mentioned above, after you work with this tool, Elements leaves you with a layered file. Normally that isn’t 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 further changes to your photo. In that case, click the Expert button at the top of the screen to go back to Expert Mode. In the Layers panel (if you can’t find it, go to Window→Layers to bring it back), look for the word “Background” and click it. Once you do, that part of the panel should turn blue (if it doesn’t, click it again). Now you can go back to the Quick Fix window (by clicking the Quick button at the top of the window) and do whatever you want to your photo. However, the whitened teeth may behave differently from the rest of the photo. If that happens and you haven’t closed the photo since using Whiten Teeth, use the History panel (The History Panel) to back up to before you used it.

Note

If you’ve used a previous version of Elements and you’re looking for the Make Dull Skies Blue and Black and White—High Contrast tools, you’ll now find those in Expert Mode as options for the Smart Brush. You can also use Whiten Teeth from the Smart Brush—no need to switch to Quick Fix just for that.

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 in the order that usually makes sense. But you can pick and choose whichever 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) using the buttons below the image preview.

  2. Fix red eye (if needed) as explained on Fixing Red Eye.

  3. Fix any blemishes with the Spot Healing Brush (The Spot Healing Brush: Fixing Small Areas).

  4. Crop the image.

    If you know you want to crop your photo, now’s the time. Doing so gets 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 that the Levels and Color fixes have 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 yet sure what you want to trim.)

  5. Try Auto Smart Fix and/or the Smart Fix slider; use the Undo command if you don’t like the results.

    Pretty soon you’ll get a good idea 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.

  6. If Smart Fix didn’t do the trick, work your way down through the other levels and color fixes until you like the way your photo looks.

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

  7. Sharpen your image.

    Try to make sharpening your last adjustment, because other commands can give you funky results on photos you’ve already sharpened. But if you’re a beginner and not comfortable with layers, you can sharpen before using the Whiten Teeth tool. (See Whitening Teeth for more about why you’d wait to use it.)

Tip

When you’re in Quick Fix mode, you can switch back to Expert Mode at any point if you want tools that aren’t available in Quick Fix. If you want to close your photo from the Quick Fix window, click the X at the top right of the preview area or press Ctrl+W/⌘-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 with people in them: the “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” command, available from the menu in both the Quick Fix and Expert Mode windows.

This command’s name is a bit confusing. What it actually does is adjust your whole image based on the skin tone of someone in the photo. The idea is that you’re likely much more interested in the way the people in your photos look than in how the background looks, so “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” makes good skin color its top priority. This is another automatic fix, but there’s a dialog box where you can tweak the results once you’ve previewed Elements’ suggested adjustments. Here’s how to use this command:

  1. Call up the “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” dialog box (Figure 4-13).

    In either Quick Fix or Expert Mode, go to Enhance→Adjust Color→“Adjust Color for Skin Tone.” (You may need to move the dialog box that appears out of the way so you can see what’s happening in your photo.) Generally, you want to use this command after making any overall changes to your photo, but before you sharpen it.

    When this dialog box appears, your cursor turns into a little eyedropper when you move it over your photo. Just click the best-looking area of skin you can find. Clicking different spots gives different results, so you may want to experiment by clicking various places.You can’t drag the dialog box’s sliders until you click. After Elements adjusts the photo based on your click, use the sliders to fine-tune the results.

    Figure 4-13. When this dialog box appears, your cursor turns into a little eyedropper when you move it over your photo. Just click the best-looking area of skin you can find. Clicking different spots gives different results, so you may want to experiment by clicking various places. You can’t drag the dialog box’s sliders until you click. After Elements adjusts the photo based on your click, use the sliders to fine-tune the results.

  2. Tell Elements which patch of skin to use for calculating color adjustments.

    Find a portion of 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. You can get an idea of which way to move them by looking at the colors in their tracks. The Tan slider increases or decreases the browns and oranges in the skin tones. Blush increases the rosiness of the skin as you move the slider right and decreases it as you move it left. The Ambient Light slider works just like the Temperature slider in the Quick Fix Panel Bin. You may get swell results with your first click or have to use all the sliders to get a truly realistic result. It simply 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 the dialog box’s Reset button. If you decide you’d rather use another tool instead, click Cancel.

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

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

“Adjust Color for Skin Tone” seems to work better on fair skin than on darker skin tones. It’s also better at making fairly subtle adjustments.

Tip

If you understand layers (Chapter 6), you may want to make a duplicate layer and apply this command to the duplicate. That way you can adjust the intensity of the result by adjusting the layer’s opacity (see Managing Layers). You can also apply a layer mask (Layer Masks) to protect areas you don’t want changed.

Also, notice that not just the skin tones change—Elements adjusts all the colors in the photo (Figure 4-14). You may find your image has acquired quite a color cast by the time you’ve got the skin just right (see Removing Unwanted Color). If this bothers you, try a different tool. On the other hand, you can create some very 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 most useful for making small, final adjustments to photos you’ve already edited using other tools.

Top: This photo has a slight greenish cast, giving the little boy a somewhat unappealing skin tone.Bottom: “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” warms up his skin tones and even removes the greenish tinge from the bench he’s sitting on.

Figure 4-14. Top: This photo has a slight greenish cast, giving the little boy a somewhat unappealing skin tone. Bottom: “Adjust Color for Skin Tone” warms up his skin tones and even removes the greenish tinge from the bench he’s sitting on.

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