6 Handy Tips for Getting Around Photoshop Elements

Fifty years ago, any serious photographer would have told you that photography was equal parts taking the picture and developing it in the darkroom. Back then, however, few casual photographers bothered with the darkroom, so they missed out on the ability to really fine-tune their images. These days photography is still equal parts taking the picture and editing it--but the difference is that almost everyone does at least a little editing on the PC. Digital photography and image editing software have leveled the playing field: Now neophytes as well as pros can perfect their photos after they're taken. Last week I explained how to easily improve your photo's exposure using the Levels tool. This week, let's go back to basics. I want to show you some essential keyboard shortcuts that make Adobe Photoshop Elements a joy to use.

Let me be clear: I'm generally not a keyboard shortcut sort of guy. I know a lot of people who seem to know every keyboard shortcut under the sun, whereas I hate to take my hand off the mouse. But even I recognize the value in these tricks, because they simplify tasks you need to perform over and over and over again when editing photos.

1. Use the Spacebar to Grab Your Photo

Here's the most useful keyboard shortcut ever invented for photo editing: No matter what tool you currently have selected, just press and hold the spacebar to temporarily switch to the Hand tool. Drag your photo around until you can see the part you need, and then release. You'll be returned to your selected tool, so you can keep working without interruption. This works even if you are in the middle of making a selection with something like the Lasso tool.

2. Use the Scroll Wheel to Move Around Your Photo

Suppose you're zoomed in and want to get around the photo quickly. You could use the aforementioned spacebar trick to switch to the hand tool, but there's another way: Use your mouse's scroll wheel. When you roll the wheel, your photo will scroll up and down. But hold down the Ctrl key while you scroll, and it'll move from right to left. In this way, you can easily go anywhere in the photo without clicking.

3. Zoom In and Out With Scroll-Alt

Before I learned this shortcut, zooming in Photoshop Elements was cumbersome and frustrating because it required clicking the Zoom tool and losing control of whatever tool I had been using. (In contrast, Corel's Paintshop Pro zooms with the scroll wheel, which I find is much handier.) To zoom with Photoshop Elements, just hold the Alt key and then scroll the mouse wheel. This works for both Zoom In and Zoom Out, and you can do it at any time, no matter what tool you are currently using.

4. A Fast and Easy Way to Make the Canvas Bigger

Have you ever wanted to make a photo bigger by adding some blank canvas around the image? I've explained how to do this in the past by using the Image, Resize, Canvas Size menu option, but that's clumsy and slow. Instead, you can add blank canvas space around your photo with the Crop tool. To do that, first make sure the photo doesn't fill the entire program window--zoom out until you can see a grey border around the image. Next, click the Crop tool and use it to select the entire photo. You might think you can't crop more than the entire photo, but you'd be wrong. Hold the Alt key and then drag a corner of the crop frame away from the photo. When the crop box is big enough, click the check box and voila--you'll have a larger photo with blank canvas to work on.

5. Draw a Straight Line With Almost Any Tool

I've heard many people lament the lack of an easy way to draw a perfectly straight line in Photoshop Elements. Actually, it's easy to draw straight lines--but even cooler, you can make almost any tool in Photoshop work in a perfectly straight line. The secret is to just hold the Shift key. Here's how it works: Choose a tool (like the Brush or Pencil), click on the photo, hold Shift, and click somewhere else. You'll get a line that connects the two points. If you want a perfectly vertical or horizontal line, click and then, without moving the mouse, hold Shift and then click and drag the mouse. If you drag it to the side, you'll get a horizontal line. Drag up or down, and the line will be vertical.

6. Undo (and Redo) Your Changes

Finally, you should definitely remember the keyboard shortcut for Undo, which is Ctrl-Z. To redo a task, press Ctrl-Y. Photoshop Elements will remember up your last 50 tasks, so you can undo quite a bit before you run out of history. If you want even more undo flexibility, you can increase this value. Choose Edit, Preferences, Performance, and change the number in the History States field--you can set it as high as 1000.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Still Life with Ginger Ale and Lemon" by Eric Hoar, Springvale, Maryland

Eric writes: "I took this picture of my beverage with an incandescent table lamp behind it. I positioned a blue LCD flashlight so it would also backlight the glass. I adjusted the brightness and contrast to bring out the colors and used Photoshop Elements to eliminate the lampshade behind the glass."

Eric shot the photo with a Panasonic Lumix DMC- ZS5.

This week's runner-up: "Flying" by Bob McMillian, San Diego, California

Bob says: "I was on a whale watching cruise back in February. On the way out, I caught this seagull, cruising in the airflow off the starboard side of the boat. In this shot, he seemed to be looking at me with a rather quizzical, "Why are you looking at me?" expression. I shot it with my Canon 50D."

To see last month's winners, visit our April Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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