Saturday, November 20, 2010

i asked and the SUPER talented ashely sisk and she delivered. are you excited yet?

i am shakin' in my closet photographer boots right now-i asked ashley sisk to help us out with some editing tip--i asked her what some top things she could share to make photo editing easy for ANYONE and you know what? she gets asked this all the time so she was totally on board!
have you seen her photos? they are amazing!

i am sure she would love to hear your feedback on these tutorials and what else you have been wondering about when it comes to editing.
The other day, I received a request from Melissa to share my five to ten favorite Photoshop Elements tips. I sometimes take for granted that I have some experience with editing and that I've downloaded so many actions, tools, etc to make my life a little easier. All that said, I do have tools that I consistently use in Elements to edit photographs.

I personally use Photoshop Elements 7 (and Adobe Camera Raw) to do my editing - this is an older version. Photoshop Elements 8 and 9 are now out and can be yours for between $82 and $140. For most hobbyists, I believe that PSE is an incredible resource…especially if you don't want to spend more than $100 on your editing software. There are a few freebies available such as GIMP, but I honestly don't know how to use it.

Before I go to far, let’s first review the Photoshop Elements Tool Bar. If you’re not familiar with the basic tools, click on that link for a description of each tool.

Now, with that said…if you’ve viewed any of my tutorials in the past, you'll notice that I refer to a few tools that you'll need to add to PSE such as layer masks and curve adjustment (I think they’ve been added in version 9). Go to Grants' Tools (  and download his Main Tools. Once you've downloaded, follow the installation instructions ( The instructions are written for PSE5 and older, but I used them for version 7 without a hitch. Texas Chicks ( also offers good tutorials for installing instructions.

Now, let me talk about actions. An action is a series of tasks that you play back on a file - menu commands, palette options, tool actions, and so on. There are a ton of actions on the web for free and for sale. In Photoshop (not PSE), you can even create actions to either simply your everyday post-processing steps or add a special effect. Because I operate out of Photoshop Elements, I don't have the option to create my own actions (although I will be upgrading soon and plan to make and share my own actions)...instead, I've found a few great websites that offer what I believe are awesome (and free) PSE compatible actions. If you'll go to my Inspiration page (, I've listed them all...but I want to draw your attention to a few that you'll probably want to download (and if you have trouble, just let me know and we can "talk"):

·         Texas Chicks ( offers an action called Perfect Workflow that is pretty awesome. This action is really great for basic post-processing. I continue to use an action called Squeaky Clean, but it’s no longer a freebie, so I won’t point you in that direction. However, if you sign up for the Texas Chicks newsletter, you’ll received Perfect Workflow along with several other freebie actions.
·         Coffeeshop's Baby Powder Room ( : I really like this action because it helps me even out skin tone and create that portrait finish for babies and children. Everyone has their own preferences as to how much they alter a child's skin. Personally, I believe in using really low opacity soft brushes to paint on the effect and then lowering the opacity on each individual layer even lower so it's gentle and natural.
·         Morgan Kervin’s Eye Love action (  is my new favorite for brightening and then sharpening eyes. Pioneer Woman also offers an action called Bring out the Eyes (  that is pretty great too.

Like I said, these are just a few of my favorite actions that I use for basic processing. Now, let’s talk about other tools/techniques that I consistently use:

1.      Layer Masks: I often refer to layer masks...especially as it relates to textures. Paint with a soft black brush with adjusted opacity to remove things from that layer, or fill the layer mask with black to completely mask out all of that layer's effect, then use a soft white brush with adjusted opacity to "paint" back in things. If you didn’t download Grant’s Tools earlier, Coffeeshop Photography also offers a layer mask action that does the same thing ( Here's a tutorial on how to use layer masks (

2.      Blending Modes. Blending  modes allow you to adjust how one layer or color mixes with the colors in the layers below. My go to blending mode is Soft Light which creates a really nice light. I also really like screen and multiply. Here’s a tip: create two copies of your background layer. Set one to screen and the other to multiply. You’ll want to use black layer masks on each layer (see tip #1). Use a soft white brush on your screen layer to lighten anything that needs lightening and use a soft white brush on your multiply layer to darken anything that needs to be darkened.

3.      High Pass Filter. Another way to use your soft light blending mode is to pair it with the high pass filter. You can find High Pass Filter at the top of screen – go to Filter>Other>High Pass Filter. Select how strong you want the filter to be and then set that layer’s blending mode to soft light. You can use your opacity slider to change how strong you want the effect or use a layer mask to paint on the effect where needed. I use this technique anytime I want a little extra pop.
4.      Stretching a canvas using the Marquee Tool: When I’m editing pictures, I often like to change the composition of the image. In some cases, this means that I need to fill in canvas space that you’ve either added by changing the canvas size or that you’ve created by over-cropping (selecting space outside of the original photo for a new crop). Use your marquee tool to select some of the blank space, click ctrl T (free transform) and then drag the side of it to fill in the space.

5.      Replacing backgrounds or swapping heads: If you have a background you don’t like or need to swap heads, it’s much easier to do than it sounds. Use your quick select tool to trace the space that needs to be changed. Click ctrl+J to lift that selection into it’s own layer. Then you can either create a duplicate of a background and move it to the top layer, and click ctrl+G to group the layers…then click ctrl+t to move the photo into place. OR, you can drag and drop a new background on top of the selection, click ctrl+G to group them and then merge the layers.

Dustyn Before and After

6.      I also tend to use a lot of textures. There was a period of time where I downloaded a lot of textures from various websites. Unfortunately, I don't know where they all came from, but I do have a few really good resources: Shadowhouse Creations (, Johnna LaFaith Photography (, Kim Klassen ( and more. Find some you like and start experimenting. Textures are essentially jpg files that you drag on top of your photograph to create a new layer. Each of these layers can be given a blending mode and opacity. In the photo below, I'll tell you how I layered the textures, but I do encourage you to just experiment - that's how I learned.
      Fairy Garden Step

Well, I think I’ve made your heads spin enough for one day. Let me know if you have questions.


Ashley Sisk said...

I hope all of that makes sense. I really need to start doing video tutorials. Thanks for having me Melissa.

Amy Nielson said...

woah, so much helpful info. bookmarking this one for future reference :)

ashley is amazing.

Karli @ The Bonnie 5 said...

Ashley, this is AWESOME! WOW, a ton of info. I agree with AmyLee; totally bookmarking this link for future reference. Something I've never tried is duplicating the background twice, doing screen and multiply and then painting - that's a great tip! Awesome as always! :-)