Shooting and Editing Photos Part 6: Useful Photoshop Hints

Shooting and Editing Photos Part 6: Useful Photoshop Hints

Shooting and Editing Photos Part 6: Useful Photoshop Hints

Part 5 was a comprehensive look at using Photoshop to edit your photos. All you ever really need to know is in that section, but if you’re just craving more… well you got it! In this section, I’ll talk about some more useful Photoshop techniques:

  • Shadows / Highlights Adjustment
  • The difference between the Clone Tool and Spot Healing Brush
  • Emphasizing your subject with Burning, Dodging, and Blur
  • Other creative uses for Blur
  • More on the Curves Tool

Let’s get to it.



The best way to use the “Shadows/Highlights…” tool? Barely at all. You’re better off using the HDR techniques described in this guide. But when I need to use it, I reduce the Tonal Width so the adjustments look realistic:

Original Photo

The original, uneditied photo. The shadows could be brightened.


HDR Technique

Use the HDR technique in this guide to obtain more realistic looking photographs. The “Shadows/Highlights…” tool was not used for this edit.


Reduced Tonal Width

When you still want to use Shadows/Highlights, reduce the tonal width to keep it looking realistic



Too much shadows/highlights adjustment gives a fake looking image, especially when the Tonal Width is left at the default 50%


Click on the images to view each closer. It can be hard to tell the difference in the small web sized versions.


The Clone Tool and Spot Healing Brush

The spot healing brush is useful for getting rid of dust spots and small amounts of lens flare. For bigger jobs and those requiring more finesse, you’ll need to use the clone tool.

Dust and hot pixels

The spot healing brush will fix these easily. More advanced edits require the clone tool.


Burning, Dodging, and Blur

Hawa Mahal

This image makes extensive use of burning, dodging and blur

Draw attention to your subject by using Burning, Dodging, and Blur. If you’ve been reading The Polar Route for a while, you’ve probably already seen this image of Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India. For this edit, I burned the areas around the women to de-emphasize the background. I then dodged the women to make them brighter and help them jump out a bit more. I also applied a very slight motion blur to the background to increase the feeling of motion.

For reference, here’s the original, unedited photo:

Original Jaipur

Original, unedited photo

I don’t use Photoshop’s built in Burn and Dodge tools. I find it’s far too easy to overdo your edits that way. Instead, I select the areas I want to burn and dodge using Quick Mask Mode. For more on how to use quick mask mode along with how to apply a motion blur, go back to Part 5.


Other creative uses for blur

Zoom Blur


Icebergs in Iceland

A zoom blur was used on the sky

The above image of Jokusarlon in Iceland uses a zoom blur on the sky. To use this blur effectively, you’ll need to create three separate layers using the quick selection and refine edge tools from Part 5. First, select the area you want to blur and create a new layer:


I want to blur this layer

Now go back to the background layer, and use Select->Reselect and Select->Inverse to select the part of the image you do NOT want to blur. Copy and paste that selection as your top layer:

I don't want to blur this

I don’t want to blur this

Now you can blur the sky to your heart’s content while leaving the rest of your image alone. To use zoom blur, go to Filters->Blur->Radial Blur… then select Zoom. Here’s what it looks like:

Zoom Blur

You can adjust the amount of zoom blur. I eventually settled on 25.

Once you’ve added your blur to the middle layer, select Layer->Merge Visible and you’re done.


Gaussian Blur

Blur is also useful for product photos. Here’s a shot of my camera which I used in my Heart Shaped Bokeh post this winter. A gaussian blur was applied to the background:


Gaussian blur is useful when shooting product photos

The original looks nothing like the edit:

Original Product

Original shot

To create this blur, I used the same selection technique described above with two major differences. First, you have to be really careful when selecting the edges of the product so take your time. Second, you’ll need to duplicate your middle layer several times. This helps you make a more definite boundary between your product and the background.

Here’s how it’s done:

Gaussian blur

Gaussian blur applied

Use a large radius for your gaussian blur to obliterate the lines. Don’t forget to add noise to the blurred layer as discussed in Part 5. This is especially important for product photography because the blur is so strong – this can quickly lead to posterization. Then duplicate your blurred+noise layer a few times until it looks right:

Copied middle layer

Duplicate the middle layer several times

Once again, merge your visible layers and you’re done!


Blur in Dublin

Two different kinds of blur were used here: a motion blur on the water, and a zoom blur on the sky


More on the Curves Tool

Curves Tool

The curves tool was used to emphasize the reds in the sky

The curves tool is useful as a way to adjust the shadows, midtones, and highlights. Often overlooked though, is that it can also be used to emphasize each of the reds, greens, and blues throughout their brightness range.

Here we have your typical curves adjustment:

Basic curves

A basic adjustment with curves: decreasing the midtones

And here is a more advanced curves adjustment. I’ve selected only the Red Channel:

Advanced curves

An advanced curves adjustment: increasing the reds in the highlights

Often times increasing reds in the highlights (as pictured), and/or decreasing the blues in the shadows helps add pop to landscape images.


Nearly done…

In the next update to Shooting and Editing Photos I’ll cover editing HDR photos with moving subjects. If you want a friendly email when it’s released, just subscribe to my mail list at the top right corner of your screen!

Shooting and Editing Photos Part 1: Your Camera is Hungry
Part 2: Capturing High Dynamic Range (HDR) Images
Part 3: Editing Styles and Preparing Your Files
Part 4: Finding Realism with HDR Editing
Part 5: A Comprehensive Photoshop Guide

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