Dialog boxes seem like simple things, but since you probably spend a good chunk of your time in Photoshop looking at them, wouldn't it be great to be more efficient while you're there? Here are a bunch of tips that will let you fly through those pesky beasts.
Scroll 'n' Zoom. The most important lesson to learn about dialog boxes in Photoshop is that just because one is open doesn't mean that you can't do anything else. For instance, in many dialog boxessuch as the Levels and Curves dialog boxesyou can still scroll around any open documents (not just the active one) by holding down the spacebar and dragging. You can even zoom in and out of the active window using the Command-spacebar and Command-Option-spacebar techniques. Note that some dialog boxes, most notoriously the Distort filters, don't let you scroll or zoom at all. Pity.
Save your Settings. Many dialog boxes in Photoshop have Save and Load buttons that let you save to disk all the settings that you've made in a dialog box. They're particularly useful when you're going through the iterative process of editing an image.
For instance, let's say you're adjusting the tone of an image with Curves. You increase this and decrease that, and add some points here and there.... Finally, when you're finished, you press OK and findmuch to your dismaythat you need to make one more change. If you jump right back into Curves, you degrade your image a second timenot good (see Chapter 6, Tonal Correction). If you undo, you lose the changes you made the first time. But if you've saved the curve to disk before leaving the dialog box, you can undo, go back to the dialog box, and load in the settings you had saved. Then you can add that one last move to the curve, without introducing a second round of image-degrading corrections.
Instant Replay. There's one other way to undo and still save any tonal-adjustment settings you've made. If you hold down the Option key while selecting any feature from the Adjust submenu (under the Image menu), Photoshop opens the dialog box with the last-used settings. Similarly, you can add the Option key to the adjustment's keyboard shortcut. For instance, Command-Option-L opens the Levels dialog box with the same settings you last used. This is a great way to specify the same Levels or Curves (or Hue/Saturation, or any other adjustment) to several different images. But as soon as you quit Photoshop, it loses its memory.
Opening Palettes from Dialog Boxes. We almost always work with the Info palette open. However, every now and again it gets closed or covered up with some other palette. Unfortunately, while you're in a dialog box (like the Curves or Levels dialog boxes), you cannot click on any palette without leaving the dialog box by pressing OK or Cancel. Fortunately for efficiency, you can select a palette from theWindows menu. To display the Info palette, select Show Info from this menu. (Unfortunately, this doesn't work for palettes that are docked in the palette well.)
We love keystrokes. They make everything go much faster, or at least they make it feel like we're working faster. Here are a few keystrokes that we use all the time while in dialog boxes.
Option. Holding down the Option key while in a dialog box almost always changes the Cancel button into a Reset button, letting you reset the dialog box to its original state (the way it was when you first opened it). If you want to go keystrokes the whole way, type Command-Option-period to do the same thing.
Command-Z. You already know Command-Z (what Seattle's Mac user group calls "Just Undo It"), because it's gotten you out of more jams than you care to think about. Well, Command-Z performs an undo within dialog boxes, too. It undoes the last change you made. We use this all the time when we mistype.
Arrow keys. Many dialog boxes in Photoshop have text fields where you enter or change numbers (see Figure 2-8). You can change those numbers by pressing the Up or Down arrow keys. Press once, and the number increases or decreases by one. If you hold down the Shift key while pressing the arrow key, it changes by 10. (Note that some dialog boxes change by a tenth or even a hundredth; when you hold down Shift, they change by 10 times as much.) A few dialog boxes use the arrow keys in a different way, or don't use them at all. In the Lens Flare filter, for instance, the arrow keys move the position of the effect, and arrow keys just don't do anything in most of the Distort filters.
Figure 2-8 Numerical fields in dialog boxes
Tab key. As in most Macintosh and Windows applications, the Tab key selects the next text field in dialog boxes with multiple text fields. You can use this in conjunction with the previous tip in dialog boxes such as the Unsharp Mask filter, or you can simply tab to the next field and type in a number if you already know the value you want.
Most of Photoshop's tonal- and color-correction features and many of its filters offer a Preview checkbox in their dialog boxes. Plus, all the filters that have a dialog box have a proxy window that shows the effect applied to a small section of the image (some dialog boxes have both). If you're working on a very large file on a relatively slow machine, and the filter you're using has a proxy window, you might want to turn off the Preview checkbox so that Photoshop doesn't slow down redrawing the screen. However, most of the time we just leave the Preview feature on.
Before version 6 of Photoshop, the Preview checkbox in all the Image Adjust dialog boxes (Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation, and so on) acted as a switch to turn on and off the Video LUT Animation feature. When the Preview option was off, the video LUT ("look up table") kicked in, altering the entire screen instead of just the image or portion of an image. This was much faster on slow machines, but wasn't always accurate (and didn't work in Windows anyway). In Photoshop 6, Adobe removed Video LUT Animation entirely. Fortunately, they left in our favorite video LUT trick: finding white and black clipping points in the Levels dialog box (see "Levels Command Goodies" in Chapter 6, Tonal Correction).
Today, we primarily use the Preview checkbox to view "before" and "after" versions of our images, toggling it on and off to see the effect of the changes without leaving the dialog box.
Proxies. The proxy in dialog boxes shows only a small part of the image, but it updates almost instantly. Previewing time-consuming filters such as Unsharp Mask or Motion Blur on a large file can take a long time, and some very time-consuming filters such as the Distort filters don't offer a preview at all, so we rely on the proxy a lot.
Before and After in Proxies. You can always see a before-and-after comparison by clicking in the proxy. Hold down the mouse button to see the image before the filter is applied, release it to see the image after the filter is applied.
Changing the Proxy View. To see a different part of the image, click and drag in the proxy (no modifier keys are necessary). Alternatively, you can click in the document itself. The cursor changes to a small rectanglewherever you click shows up in the Preview window.
Similarly, you can zoom the proxy in and out. The slow way is to click on the little (+) and (-) buttons. Much faster is to click the proxy with either the Command or Option keys held downthe former zooms in, the latter zooms out. However, we rarely zoom in and out because you can't see the true effect of a filter unless you're at 100% view.
Note that proxies only show the layer you're working on at any one time. This makes sense, really; only that layer is going to be affected.
New Dialog Box
Before we move on to essential tips about tools, we need to take a quick look at the New dialog box, which has a few very helpful (and in some cases hidden) features.
Editing Preset Sizes. New in version 7 is the Preset Sizes popup menu, which lets you pick from among 24 common document sizes, such as A4, 640 x 480, and 4 x 6 inches. Don't like the default presets that Adobe offers? You can add your own by using a text editor (like Windows Notepad or BBedit) to edit the text file called New Doc Sizes.txt, which is inside the Presets folder (in the Photoshop folder).
You can also remove one or more of the presets that are there by default. For instance, if you never create images in the "1280 x 720 HDTV" format, you can get rid of it by editing the Default New Doc Sizes.txt file. This file is hiding inside the Required folder, which is inside the Photoshop directory in Windows, and inside the Photoshop.app folder on the Macintosh. (If you're running Mac OS X, you'll need to Control-click on the Photoshop application, select Show Package Contents, then open the Contents folder in order to see the Required folder.) It's important to save these files as text-only files, or else they may cause trouble. In fact, it's a good idea to keep a copy of the original files someplace, just in case. When you're done editing, relaunch Photoshop and open the New dialog box to see the change.
Clairvoyant Image Size. The New dialog box tries to read your mind. If you have something copied to the Clipboard when you create a new document, Photoshop automatically plugs the pixel dimensions, resolution, and color model of that copied piece into the proper places of the dialog box for you.
If you'd rather use the values from the last new image you created, hold down the Option key while selecting New from the File menu (or press Command-Option-N).
Copying Sizes from Other Documents. Russell Brown, that king of Photoshop tips and tricks, reminded us to keep our eyes open. Why, for instance, is the Window menu not grayed out when you have the New dialog box open? Because you can select items from it!
If you want your new document to have the same pixel dimensions, resolution, and color mode as a document you already have open, you can select that document from the Documents submenu (in the Window menu). Voilà! The statistics are copied.
This trick also works in the Image Size and Canvas Size dialog boxes.