Photo Quick Fix in Quick Mode
Quick edit mode is kinda like a stripped down version of Expert mode. If you’re new to Elements, it’s not a bad place to start. I’m usually against “quick” modes and “auto-fix” stuff, but the way they’ve implemented this in Elements 12 is actually really nice, and I think it works great for beginners.
Open a photo and click on Quick at the top of the Editor window. First things first: forget about the left side of the window. The tools in the Toolbox make using Quick mode too much like using Expert mode (but without all of the options that Expert mode has). So, if you find that you need the tools here, you’re better off going into Expert mode to do what you need to do.
In the preview area of Quick mode, you can see side-by-side, before-and-after versions of the photo you’re correcting (before on the top or left; after on the bottom or right). To see this view, from the View pop-up menu above the top left of the preview area, select Before & After (Horizontal or Vertical). In the Palette Bin on the right side of the window is a group of nested palettes offering tonal and lighting fixes you can apply to your photo. Start with the Smart Fix palette at the top. Click on the Auto button and Smart Fix will automatically analyze the photo and try to balance the overall tone (adjusting the shadows and highlights), while fixing any obvious color casts while it’s at it. In a lot of cases, this feature does a surprisingly good job. There’s also a slider within the Smart Fix palette that you can use to increase (or decrease) the effect, or you can click on the thumbnails beneath the slider.
If you’re not happy with the Smart Fix results, don’t try to stack more “fixes” on top of it. Instead, click the Reset Panel icon (the curved arrow above a straight line that appears above the top right of the Palette Bin) to reset the photo to how it looked when you first entered Quick mode. Now, let’s take a look at each setting individually: First, click on Exposure to open its palette. The Exposure setting is like the heavy hitter—if the whole photo is too dark or too bright, then this is where to go. You’ll see its palette also has a slider and thumbnails right below it. They’re different ways of doing the same thing. If you like using the thumbnails, just click on the one that looks closest to how bright or dark you’d like your photo to be. As you do that, you’ll see the slider move each time. Usually, though, I just drag the slider (as shown here) until I’m happy with the overall exposure.
More often than not, just adjusting the exposure won’t fix the whole photo. You’ll usually end up in the next palette, which is Levels. Here you can choose to work on the shadows, midtones, or highlights separately. The Shadows slider is particularly helpful because we tend to lose a lot of detail in the shadows. Drag it to the right a little bit, and watch how it opens up the dark shadow areas in your photo (mainly in the rocks in this photo). The Highlights slider will add some detail back to the water here, as well. For this one, I increased the Shadows slider to 2, the Midtones slider to 20, and the Highlights slider to 15. I tend to stay away from the Auto Levels and Auto Contrast buttons, because chances are, if Smart Fix didn’t work well, then neither will they.
The next palette down, Color, has only really one setting that I think is worthwhile. You’ll see at the top of the palette you can control the Saturation, Hue, and Vibrance. The Saturation adjustment adds or removes color saturation in the whole photo. It’s worth trying out and maybe even clicking the Auto button. Sometimes the photo looks good, but most of the time, the Vibrance setting is the most useful here. While Saturation adds color to everything in the photo, Vibrance tends to only add color saturation to the colors that need it, while leaving the other colors alone, so you don’t get that fakey look. It’s also great on portraits because it tends to leave skin tones alone and only adds color saturation to everything else.
While the Color palette helps us fix the overall color saturation in a photo, the Balance palette right below helps remove color casts (like when an indoor photo looks really yellow). It’s pretty simple to use to control the temperature and the tint in the photo. I’ll warn you ahead of time, though, small adjustments here make big changes, so be careful. The Temperature adjustment lets you add more blue or more yellow/red to a photo. Basically, adding blue removes yellow and adding more yellow removes blue. Photos taken indoors at night are perfect candidates for this since they tend to look really yellow, so dragging the slider toward blue helps balance (hence the name of this palette) the photo. You can also control the Tint (greens and magentas), but honestly, you won’t notice much of a problem there in most cases. But if you do, it works the same—adding more green removes magenta, and adding more magenta removes a greenish color cast.
The final step here is to sharpen your photo. I always click on the Zoom tool in the Toolbox, and zoom in a little further, so I can see the details. Then, just click the Auto button in the Sharpen palette and watch the results. If the photo isn’t sharp enough for you, drag the slider to the right to increase the amount of sharpening. But, be careful, because oversharpening can ruin the photo by becoming too obvious, and it can introduce color shifts and halos around objects.
There are a couple other things you can do while you’re here in Quick mode (basically, think of this as a “one-stop shop” for quickly fixing images). Below the preview area is an icon you can click on to rotate your photo (this photo doesn’t need to be rotated, but hey, ya never know). And, I know I told you to forget about the Toolbox on the left, but there is a Crop tool there, so if you need to do a quick crop you can do it here.
Okay, so you’ve color corrected, fixed the contrast, sharpened your image, and even cropped it down to size (if it needed it). So, how do you leave Quick mode and return to Expert mode? Just click on Expert at the top of the window (the same place you went to, to get into Quick mode). It basically applies all the changes to your photo and returns you to the normal Expert editing mode.