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Perfecting Images in Photoshop CS5

Dan Moughamian offers some tips designed to help you work more efficiently with existing tools and functions, and to apply creative effects with new features like Puppet Warp and improved features like Merge to HDR Pro.
This chapter is from the book

For photographs that have been edited in Lightroom or ACR but need further fine-tuning before creating print or web output, Photoshop CS5 offers an impressive array of tools, adjustments, and transformations. It would be easy to fill this entire book with only Photoshop tips, but of course the idea is to provide a full picture of the digital workflow.

In that spirit, I've identified over 50 tips designed to help you work more efficiently with existing tools and functions, and to apply creative effects with new features like Puppet Warp and improved features like Merge to HDR Pro.

The beauty of digital editing is that experimenting with Photoshop usually feels more like fun than work. Books and videos are important guideposts, but ultimately the best way to master Photoshop is to really dig into the tools and see which tools best suit your photographic or creative goals. If you recently upgraded from Photoshop CS3 or CS4, you may wonder what you can do with CS5 that you can't also accomplish in ACR or Lightroom. The following list covers just a few examples:

  • Seamlessly blending photos to create HDR and panoramic images
  • Nondestructively warping and transforming subjects in an image
  • Creating photo illustrations that mimic real paint media
  • Selectively blurring a composition to refocus the viewer's attention

Chapter 4 starts with important tips for customizing your workspace and setting up Photoshop for better performance. You will also learn useful shortcuts for working with various tools and for quickly finding images using the new Mini Bridge panel. The rest of the chapter covers a wide range of tips designed to help you maximize the quality of your photography. A general familiarity with basic imaging concepts, such as layers, channels, and selections is assumed. Where necessary, tips that are specific to Photoshop CS4 or CS5 will be noted.

#50 Setting Preferences

Once you have installed Photoshop CS5 and you're ready to explore the application or start working with your photos, you may want to take a few minutes to customize your preferences.

General Preferences

You can open Photoshop's Preferences dialog box by pressing Command-K (Mac OS) or Control-K (Windows). Alternatively, you can open the Preferences dialog box by choosing Photoshop > Preferences > General (Mac OS) or Edit > Preferences > General (Windows). Any of these techniques will display Photoshop's General preferences (Figure 50a).

Figure 50a

Figure 50a Photoshop's General Preferences is a good place to start.

The settings shown in Figure 50a are what I typically use. The key settings follow:

  • Color Picker (Adobe)—This is the default value and ensures all the features and tools, which provide a means of choosing a color, use the Adobe Color Picker (Figure 50b), rather than the Mac OS or Windows color pickers, which are somewhat less capable in my opinion.
    Figure 50b

    Figure 50b The Adobe Color Picker provides additional options and more precision when compared to the Mac OS and Windows color pickers.

  • HUD Color Picker (Hue Wheel [Medium])—This is a new capability in Photoshop CS5 that allows you to choose colors by calling up a temporary color picker that hovers over your document at the location of your cursor (Figure 50c). The HUD picker concept is covered in detail in Tip #57.
    Figure 50c

    Figure 50c The HUD Color Picker is new in Photoshop CS5 and provides a more efficient means of selecting colors while working on your photos.

  • Image Interpolation (Bicubic Sharper)—This setting determines the default method of image scaling or resizing for features like the Crop tool and Image Size command. If you choose a suboptimal method here, it can result in degraded details or artifacts when you resize your images later. Because I reduce the size of my original photos far more often than I enlarge them, I choose Bicubic Sharper. If you frequently enlarge photos, choose Bicubic Smoother.
  • Use Shift Key for Tool Switch (On)—When selected, this option ensures that the Shift key must be held down in order to switch among tools that are grouped together in the Tools panel. For example, the Brush Tool, the Pencil Tool, the Color Replacement Tool, and the new Mixer Brush Tool are grouped together in the Tools panel (Figure 50d).
    Figure 50d

    Figure 50d You can switch among tools that are grouped together in the Tools panel by pressing Shift and the tool's shortcut key (for example, Shift-B cycles through the tools that are grouped with the new Mixer Brush).

    To invoke the most recently used tool in this group, you can press the B key at any time during your edits, but to switch to one of the other tools in this group, you must press Shift-B and repeat until the tool icon you need is displayed. If this preference is turned off, you can inadvertently switch tools by double-tapping the shortcut key.
  • Resize Image During Place (On)—This setting is used in conjunction with the Place command (File > Place), which takes one image and adds it to another image as a new Smart Object layer. When this setting is on, and the image being placed is larger than the target image or uses the opposite orientation, Photoshop will resize the long edge of the placed photo so that it fits inside the canvas of the target photo.
  • Zoom Resizes Windows (Off)—I typically deselect this preference because it can reduce the number of times I need to resize a window. For example, it's not uncommon to expand a window to leave empty space around the image canvas. This allows you to see and access the periphery of the photo when you need to precisely place a selection, crop marquee, or perform a similar task. Leaving this preference deselected ensures that the window size remains the same even if you zoom out. If zoom resizing is selected, every time you change the magnification of the image, the window will automatically shrink to fit the image, leaving no space around the edges.
  • Zoom Clicked Point to Center (On)—This option determines if repeatedly clicking a specific region of your photo with the Zoom tool will automatically place that region at the center of your window or viewing area, as Photoshop zooms into the image detail. Selecting this preference can be quite helpful when you need to quickly evaluate a specific detail in the scene, because it reduces the amount of panning (or scrolling) necessary to move the targeted details to the center of your view. More zoom and pan methods are discussed in Tip #56.
  • Place or Drag Raster Images as Smart Objects (On)—New to Photoshop CS5, if this option is selected and you place an image or drag one into your open Photoshop document, the new image layer that is created will be a Smart Object. This can be useful if you have to scale the layer more than once during your edits, as it will better maintain the quality of the image being placed or dragged into your open file. Smart Objects and transforms are discussed in Tip #70.

Interface Preferences

There are also user interface preferences that can be used to further customize your Photoshop experience when editing photos. To access these preferences, click the Interface heading in the Preferences dialog box (left side). The setup I typically use is shown in Figure 50e.

Figure 50e

Figure 50e Photoshop's Interface preferences can be an important part of streamlining your workflow.

Screen Mode Colors and Borders (Set all Colors to Gray and all Borders to None or Line.)—This ensures consistency when viewing photos in expanded windows and full-screen modes, because the background will be a neutral gray, and there will be no distracting drop shadows around the edges of your image.

Show Tool Tips (On)—Selecting this option ensures that whenever you mouse over a tool icon or other clickable feature in Photoshop, a small tool tip will appear after a few seconds.

Auto-Collapse Iconic Panels (Off)—When this setting is selected, if you open a panel from its docked icon and then click somewhere else in the photo or UI, the iconic panels will close. For this reason, it may be helpful to leave this preference deselected so that as you make adjustments, you can see the changes in the panel. For laptop users with limited screen space, leaving this setting selected can save space.

Open Documents as Tabs (Off)—Unless you prefer that all the documents you open share a common window by default (much the way tabs share a single window in many web browsers), you may want to leave this setting off. This setting is specific to Photoshop CS4 and CS5.

Enable Floating Document Window Docking (On)—The combination of selecting this option and deselecting the Open Documents as Tabs option will give you the best of both worlds—the ability to dock windows together when you need to, but by default open all images in a separate window (Figure 50f). To learn more about working with tabbed documents, check Tip #58. This setting is specific to Photoshop CS4 and CS5.

Figure 50f

Figure 50f Deselecting Open Documents as Tabs, in combination with allowing floating windows to be docked manually, provides more flexibility than always opening images as tabs inside an open window, or never using tabbed documents.

File Handling Preferences

To open the File Handling preferences, click the File Handling heading in the Preferences dialog box (Figure 50g).

Figure 50g

Figure 50g File Handling preferences help to ensure Photoshop behaves as intended when saving or opening certain file formats.

Image Previews (Always Save)—Choosing this setting from the pop-up menu ensures that a JPEG preview will always be saved with your files so that you can look at them in other applications like the Mac OS Finder.

Append File Extension (Always Save)—Choosing this setting from the pop-up menu ensures you will always be able to see your files' extensions at a glance and determine the file format.

Save As to Original Folder (Off)—This option is new in Photoshop CS5 and allows the last folder to which you saved to be set as the default location, rather than the same folder the images were opened from. For example, you may store all your raw files from a shoot in one folder. Turning this preference off before opening the next raw file from that folder means that when you're finished with the file and ready to save it in Photoshop, the application will default to the last folder you saved to, rather than the folder with all your raw files.

Prefer Adobe Camera Raw for Supported Raw Files (On)—When selected, this setting ensures that ACR will always open your supported raw file types and DNG files when you double-click them, rather than them opening in a third-party application.

Ask Before Saving Layered TIFF Files (Off)—Since TIFF and PSD are the two most popular formats for image editing, and since using layers is often required, deselecting this option can save you the annoyance of dismissing a dialog box every time you save a layered TIFF file. You might want to leave this option selected for publishing workflows where some applications don't support layered TIFF data.

Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility (On)—When selected, this option ensures that Lightroom is able to recognize and display files that have been edited and saved in Photoshop CS5.

Performance Preferences

To open Photoshop CS5's Performance preferences, click the Performance heading in the Preferences dialog box. These preferences are especially important for maximizing Photoshop performance based on your computer hardware. Aside from being a fully 64-bit application, the way Photoshop handles Cache Settings has evolved somewhat, so it's worth taking a look at some typical settings, in this case for a computer that has 8GB of RAM installed and a dedicated Scratch Disk (Figure 50h).

Figure 50h

Figure 50h Photoshop CS5's Performance preferences.

Memory Usage—This setting is system dependent. The RAM value to choose will depend on how much memory you have installed. The more you can allocate (while leaving at least 1-2GB for other applications that may use RAM simultaneously) the better. Here, slightly more than 6GB of RAM have been assigned. This is important because it means most files and operations can be carried out completely in RAM, speeding things up.

Scratch Disks—This value is system dependent. If possible, choose an internal disk that is formatted and completely empty. Alternatively, you can choose a (hopefully fast) external drive that is empty, if one is available. You can think of this as Photoshop's "scratchpad" where it can temporarily write and store information as it is calculating solutions to the edits you are performing. Having a dedicated scratch disk can greatly improve Photoshop performance.

History & Cache—These values are workflow dependent. If you often create documents that have smaller dimensions but many layers, click the Tall and Thin button. If you create files with large dimensions but only a few layers, click the Big and Flat button. For all other uses, clicking the Default button should provide good results.

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