Photoshop CS6 offers many impressive new features for photographers, including features like the new Blur Gallery and a brand new Lighting Effects filter (to name two obvious examples). However, some of the most important features that can help us to be more effective and efficient photo editors, are true “hidden” gems. You might not read as much about them or see them when you launch the app, but they are easy to find are worth exploring. This article demonstrates a few of my favorite options for working more efficiently in Photoshop CS6.
Few digital editing topics seem as pedestrian as Photoshop Preferences, but there are some very helpful new options that you’ll want to set up first thing, once you install and launch Photoshop CS6. Let’s take a look at General Preferences and Interface Preferences first.
One of the most common tasks for photographers is resizing images. When resizing a photograph in Photoshop there are two options that are used far more often than the others -- Bicubic Sharper for reducing the pixel dimensions of a photo, and Bicubic Smoother for increasing the pixel dimensions of a photo. Traditionally, you would set one or the other as the default, based on which type you used more. However, any time you needed to change your resize workflow, you had to manually set this parameter in the Image Size dialog box.
For CS6, there is a new option called Bicubic Automatic (Figure 1). This does just what you’d expect: it detects at the time of resizing whether you are increasing or decreasing the dimensions of the photo and then automatically applies the proper algorithm on the fly. Over a period of time this will save photographers a lot of extra clicks.
Figure 1: The updated General Preferences window in Photoshop CS6, with new Image Interpolation option visible.
Within Interface preferences, we have three brand new ways of viewing the Photoshop user interface. Under the Appearance area, you’ll see four Color Themes (Figure 2) that transform the user interface and all of its panels, tools, buttons and widgets, to a specific shade of grey. The right-most (lightest) shade is the traditional Photoshop default. For those who enjoying working with the dark UI of Lightroom or Adobe video applications, there are two options that use a darker grey scheme.
Figure 2: The Interface Preferences in CS6 offer new ways to view the application, as well as new ways of viewing important data while working.
My personal preference is the “middle grey” option, which is second from the right. This is slightly darker than the default (legacy) Photoshop color scheme, making it better for photo editing in my opinion, but it’s still light enough that it’s easy to read text labels and tool icons and button icons (Figure 3). To select a color scheme, click the corresponding color swatch. Everything changes in real-time; no Photoshop re-launch is necessary.
Figure 3: One of the new color schemes available in Photoshop CS6.
Also within the Interface Preferences, in the “Options” section, there is a new pop-up menu called Show Transformation Values. This feature places a live display of the values that are being transformed for the active layer (for example: x and y coordinates, or height and width), as you perform the task. You can choose where the transform data will display, relative to your transform marquee. I usually default to Top Right, as that’s where my eye tends to scan as I’m working.
Figure 4 shows an example of this new information display that can help speed things along when you’re nudging or transforming layers to precise specifications on the document.
Figure 4: The new Show Transformation Values is a help to anyone who frequently needs to move or transform layers (here a layer has been moved 51px).
Perhaps the single biggest improvement to the efficiency of Photoshop’s workflow is that we can now use Background Saves and Auto-Recovery, so that when a crash occurs, we can pick up where we left off once Photoshop is re-launched! If you open the File Handling Preferences (figure 5), you’ll find two new options near the bottom of the File Saving Options section.
Figure 5: The new Save in Background and Auto-Recovery Preferences
First, Check the Save in Background option. The benefit of this feature (which has been on many Photoshop “wish lists” for a long time) is simple: now, when you have a large file you need to save, the act of saving the current document state no longer ties Photoshop up. You can continue working on other open documents while the save is taking place. Background saves --along with multi-core CPU and GPU acceleration-- are probably the biggest time-saving features introduced since the History panel. You can also gauge the progress of a save by selecting Save Progress from the Document Info pop-up menu (Figure 6).
Figure 6: The new Save in Background option is a huge efficiency boon for Photoshop users. Note the blue progress meter in the Document Info area.
While Photoshop CS6 has been quite stable for me, occasional crashes are unavoidable with any application that creates and works with large, complex media documents. Just below the Save in Background option noted earlier, if you click the “Automatically Save Recovery Information” pop-up menu, you can select auto-save increments of 5, 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes. When you re-launch from a subsequent crash, your document will be recovered in its most recently saved state, layers and all. While it’s always been a good idea to save documents regularly, we all forget to do this from time to time. This feature can greatly reduce the possibility of losing important work (and losing money from having to do the work a second time) because of a crash, power outage or other disruption to Photoshop.