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Essential Transformations in Adobe Photoshop

In this sample chapter from Adobe Photoshop Visual QuickStart Guide, authors Nigel French and Mike Rankin go through how to transform images with techniques like Free Transform, Warp, and Content-Aware Scale. By the end of the chapter, readers will have the skills to transform their images in a variety of ways using Adobe Photoshop.

This chapter is from the book

Beyond adjusting colors and retouching details, Photoshop enables you to transform layers, selections, and paths in ways ranging from the mundane (moving, scaling, rotating) to the miraculous (Puppet Warp, Content-Aware Scale). For example, in this chapter you’ll learn how to change perspective, so it’s as if the camera captured the image from a different angle. In addition to the basics of transformations, we’ve also included an obscure but powerful technique for increasing depth of field that uses Photoshop’s ability to stretch and twist multiple layers into a perfectly aligned stack and blend them for maximum sharpness. So, whether you’re wondering how to shift, skew, straighten, or spin, this chapter will transform your questions into answers.

Using Free Transform

With the Free Transform command you can apply multiple transformations in a single operation, including rotate, scale, skew, distort, warp, and perspective. In fact, if you need to apply multiple transformations, it’s a good idea to do them all in one operation because repeated transformations can decrease the image quality of pixel-based content.

You can apply most kinds of transformation to selections, individual layers, multiple selected layers, layer group, and paths. You cannot apply a warp to multiple layers at once, however. To achieve the same effect, convert the layers to a Smart Object first.

Transformations other than warps take place around a movable reference point that appears with the transform controls (FIGURE 15.1). You can choose the point from the Options bar (icon-reference-point.jpg) or set it manually by dragging or Alt/Option-clicking anywhere. You can even drag the reference point outside the boundaries of the canvas.


FIGURE 15.1 The movable reference point for transformations

To apply Free Transform:

  1. Select whatever you want to transform.

  2. Choose Edit > Free Transform, or press Ctrl/Command+T. Transform controls appear around the item.

  3. Follow the steps for any or all of the specific transforms.

  4. To apply the transformation(s) to the item, press Enter/Return, click the Commit button (icon-commit.jpg) in the Options bar, or move your pointer far enough away from the transform controls so it changes to a black arrow (icon-black-arrow.jpg) and click.

To move an item:

  1. With the Free Transform tool, position your pointer inside the transform controls so it changes to a single black arrowhead (icon-move.jpg) and drag (FIGURE 15.2).

    FIGURE 15.2

    FIGURE 15.2 Moving an item by dragging

  2. (Optional) To move an item a precise amount, change the X and/or Y values in the Options bar. Click the Relative Positioning button (icon-relative-position.jpg) to use relative values to reposition the item. For example, enter 100 px in the X value to move the item 100 pixels to the right.

To scale an item:

  1. Position your pointer over the transform controls at any side or corner. When it changes to a double arrow (icon-scale.jpg), drag (FIGURE 15.3). By default, the item will be scaled proportionally. Hold the Shift key as you drag to distort the item.

    FIGURE 15.3

    FIGURE 15.3 Scaling an item by dragging

  2. (Optional) To scale an item a precise amount, change the Width and/or Height values in the Options bar.

  3. (Optional) Click the Maintain Aspect Ratio button (icon-aspect-ratio-pressed.jpg) to link the Width and Height values, so changing one will automatically change the other to maintain the item’s proportions.

To rotate an item:

  1. Position your pointer just outside the corner transform controls so it changes to a curved double arrow (icon-rotate.jpg), and drag (FIGURE 15.4). Hold the Shift key to constrain the rotation in 15° increments.

    FIGURE 15.4

    FIGURE 15.4 Rotating an item by dragging

  2. (Optional) To rotate an item a precise amount, change the Rotation value in the Options bar.

To freely distort an item:

  • Position your pointer over a transform handle and hold Ctrl/Command, so it changes to a white arrowhead (icon-distort.jpg), and drag. Hold Alt/Option while dragging to distort relative to the center of the item (FIGURE 15.5).

    FIGURE 15.5

    FIGURE 15.5 Freely distorting an item by dragging

To skew an item:

  • Position your pointer over a side handle and hold Ctrl/Command+Shift, so it changes to a white arrowhead with a small double arrow (icon-skew.jpg), and drag (FIGURE 15.6).

    FIGURE 15.6

    FIGURE 15.6 Skewing an item by dragging

To apply perspective to an item:

  • Position your pointer over a corner handle, hold Ctrl+Shift+Alt/Command+Shift+Option, so it changes to a white arrowhead (icon-distort.jpg), and drag (FIGURE 15.7).

    FIGURE 15.7

    FIGURE 15.7 Applying perspective to an item by dragging

To warp an item:

  1. Click the Switch Between Free Transform And Warp Modes button (icon-warp.jpg) in the Options bar. A warp mesh connected by control points appears on the item.

  2. Drag the points and/or handles to warp the item (FIGURE 15.8).

    FIGURE 15.8

    FIGURE 15.8 Warping an item by dragging mesh points or handles

  3. (Optional) Choose a predefined warp style from the Warp menu in the Options bar (FIGURE 15.9).

    FIGURE 15.9

    FIGURE 15.9 To warp an image, apply one of the 15 predefined warp options, or choose Custom to warp freely.

  4. (Optional) Adjust the effect of the predefined warp style by dragging the square white handle and/or using the controls in the Options bar to switch the warp orientation (icon-warp-orientation.jpg), bend, and distortion.

To cancel all transformations:

  • Press Esc, or click the Cancel button (icon-cancel.jpg) in the Options bar.

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