One of the most significant improvements in Elements 3 is the way you can dramatically improve the appearance of a photo with just a click or two—even if you have no idea of what you’re doing. The Quick Fix window gathers together easy-to-use tools that can help you adjust the brightness and color of your photos and make them look sharper. You don’t need to understand much about what you’re doing, either. You just need to know how to click a button or slide a pointer with your mouse, and then decide whether you like the look of what you just did.
If, on the other hand, you do know what you’re doing, you may still find yourself adjusting things like shadows and highlights in the Quick Fix window because it’s the only place in Elements that gives you a before-and-after view as you work.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to use all the tools available to you in the Quick Fix window. You’ll also learn about what order to apply the fixes so you get the most out of all the tools.
If an entire chapter on Quick Fix is unsatisfyingly slow, you may want to start off by trying out the ultra-fast Auto Smart Fix: a quick-fix tool for the truly impatient. Page 20 tells you everything you need to know.
Getting to the Quick Fix window is easy. If you’re in the Editor, go to the Shortcuts bar and click the Quick Fix button. If you’re in the Organizer, on the Shortcuts bar, click the Edit button’s drop-down triangle, and choose “Go to Quick Fix.” The Quick Fix window looks like a stripped-down version of the Standard Editor (see Figure 4-1).
Your tools are neatly arranged on both sides of your image: on the left side, there’s a four-item Toolbox, and on the right side, there’s a collection of quick-edit palettes stored inside the Control Panel. First, you’ll take a quick look at what tools Quick Fix provides you with. Then, later in the chapter, you’ll learn how to actually use them.
The Toolbox holds an easy-to-navigate subset of the larger tool collection you’ll find in the Standard Edit window. All the tools work the same way in both modes, and you can also use the same keystrokes to switch tools here, too. From top to bottom, the Quick Fix Toolbox holds:
The Zoom toollets you telescope in and out on your image so that you can get a good close look at details or pull back to see the whole photo. (See page 61 for more on how the Zoom tool works.)
The Hand tool helps move your photo around in the image window—just like grabbing it and moving it with your own hand (page 63).
The Crop tool lets you change the size and shape of your photo. You crop off the areas you don’t want (page 54).
The Red Eye toolmakes it a snap to fix those horrible red eyes you see in flash photos (page 87).
The Control Panel, on the right side of the Quick Fix window, is where you’ll make most of your adjustments. Elements helpfully arranges everything into four palettes—General Fixes, Lighting, Color, and Sharpen—listed in the order you’ll typically use them. In most cases, it makes sense to start at the top and work your way down until you get the results you want. (See page 97 for more suggestions on what order to work in.)
The Control Panel always fills the right side of the Quick Fix screen. There’s no way to hide it, and you can’t drag the palettes out of the Control Panel as you can in Standard Edit mode. But you can expand and collapse them, as explained in Figure 4-2.
If you go into Quick Fix mode before you open a photo, you won’t see the pointers in the sliders, just empty tracks. Don’t worry—they’ll automatically appear as soon as you open a photo and give them something to work on.
When you open an image in Quick Fix your picture first appears by itself in the main window with the word Afterabove it. Elements keeps the Before version— your original photo—tucked away, out of sight. But you can pick from three other different layouts, which you can choose at any time: Before Only, Before and After (Portrait), and Before and After (Landscape). The Before and After views are especially helpful when you’re trying to figure out if you’re improving your picture— or not, as shown in Figure 4-3. Switch between views by picking from the pop-up menu just below your image.
The tools in the Quick Fix window are pretty simple to use. You can try one or all of them—it’s up to you. And whenever you’re happy with how your photo looks, you can leave Quick Fix and go back to the Standard Editor.
If you want to rotate your photo, you can do it here by clicking the appropriate Rotate button at the top of the Control Panel. (See page 49 for more about rotating photos.)
If you click the Quick Fix Reset button, just above your image, you’ll return your photo to the way it looked before you started working in Quick Fix. This button undoes all Quick Fix edits, so don’t use it if you only want to undo a single action. For that, just use the regular undo command: Edit → Undo or Ctrl+Z (⌘-Z).
Everyone who’s ever taken a flash photo has run into the dreaded problem of red eye—those glowing, demonic pupils that make your little cherub look like something out of an Anne Rice novel. Red eye is even more of a problem with digital cameras than with film, but luckily, Elements has a simple and terrific Red Eye tool for fixing it. All you need to do is click the red spots with the Red Eye tool, and your problems are solved.
To use the Red Eye tool (Figure 4-4):
Open a photo.
The Red Eye tool works the same whether you get to it from the Quick Fix Toolbox or the main Toolbox in Edit mode.
Zoom in so you can see where you’re clicking.
Use the Zoom tool to magnify the eyes. You can also switch to the Hand tool if you need to drag the photo so that the eyes are front and center.
Activate the Red Eye tool.
Click the Red Eye icon in the Toolbox or press Y.
Click in the red part of the pupil with the Red Eye tool (see Figure 4-4).
That’s it. Just one click should fix it. If a single click doesn’t fix the problem, you can also try dragging over the pupil with the Red Eye tool. Sometimes one method works better than the other. You can also adjust two settings on the Red Eye tool: Darken Amount and Pupil Size, as explained later.
Click in the other eye.
Repeat the process on the other eye, and then you’re done.
If you need to adjust how the Red Eye tool works, the Options bar gives you two controls, although 99% of the time you can ignore them:
Darken Amount.If the result is too light, increase the percentage in this box.
Pupil Size.Increase or decrease the number here to tell Elements how much area to consider part of a pupil.
The secret weapon in the Quick Fix window is the Smart Fix command, which automatically adjusts a picture’s lighting, color, and contrast, all with one click. You don’t have to figure anything out. Elements does it all for you.
You’ll find the Smart Fix in the General Fixes palette, and it’s about as easy to use as hitting the speed dial button on your phone: click the Auto Smart Fix button, and if the stars are aligned, your picture will immediately look better. (Figure 4-5 gives you a glimpse of its capabilities.)
You’ll find Auto buttons scattered throughout Elements. Elements uses them to make a best-guess attempt to implement whatever change the Auto button is next to (Smart Fix, Levels, Contrast, etc.). It never hurts to at least try clicking these Auto buttons since if you don’t like what you see, you can always perform the magical undo: Edit → Undo, or Ctrl+Z (⌘-Z).
If you’re happy with the Auto Smart Fix button’s changes, you can move onto a new photo, or try sharpening your photo a little (see page 96) if the focus appears a little fuzzy. You don’t need to do anything to accept the Smart Fix changes.
But if you’re not ecstatic with your results, take a good look at your photo. If you like what Auto Smart Fix has done, but the effect is too strong or too weak, press Ctrl+Z (⌘-Z) to undo it, and try the Smart Fix Amount slider instead. The Amount slider does the same thing the Auto Smart Fix does, only you control the degree of change.
Watch the image as you move the slider to the right. If your computer is slow, there’s a certain amount of lag time, so go slowly to give it a chance to catch up. If you happen to overdo it, sometimes it’s easier to press the Reset button above your image and start again. Figure 4-6 explains how to use the checkmark and the cancel button (which appear next to the General Fixes label) to accept or reject your changes.
Usually you get better results with a lot of little nudges to the Smart Fix slider than by moving it way over to the right and back again.
Incidentally, these are the same Smart Fix commands you see in two places in the Editor’s Enhance Menu: Enhance → Auto Smart Fix (Ctrl+M, or ⌘-Option-M) and Enhance → Adjust Smart Fix (Ctrl+Shift+M, or ⌘-Shift-M).
Sometimes Smart Fix just isn’t smart enough to do everything you want it to do, and sometimes it does things you don’t want it to do to your photos. The Smart Fix is better with photos that are underexposed than photos that are overexposed, for one thing. Fortunately, you still have several other editing choices to try, and they’re covered in the following sections. If you don’t like what Smart Fix has done to your photo, undo it before going on to make other changes.
You can also get to the Smart Fix command from within the Organizer; the box on page 98 shows you how.
The Lighting palette lets you make very sophisticated adjustments to the brightness and contrast of your photo. Sometimes problems that you thought stemmed from exposure or even focus may right themselves with these commands.
If you want to understand how Levels really works, you’re in for a long technical ride. On the other hand, if you just want to know what it can do for your photos, the short answer is that it adjusts the brightness of your photo by redistributing the color information; Levels changes (hopefully fixes!) both brightness and color at the same time.
If you’ve never used any photo-editing software before, this may sound rather mysterious, but photo-editing pros can tell you that Levels is one of the most powerful commands for fixing and polishing up your pictures. To find out if its magic works for you, click the Auto Levels button. Figure 4-7 shows what a big difference it can make to your photo.
What Levels does is very complex. Chapter 7 contains loads more details about what’s going on behind the scenes and how you can apply this command much more precisely.
The main alternative to Auto Levels in Quick Fix is Auto Contrast. Most people find that their images tend to benefit from one or the other of these. Contrast adjusts the relative darkness and lightness of your image without changing the color, so if Levels made your colors go all goofy, try adjusting the contrast instead.
The Shadows and Highlight tools do an amazing job of bringing out the details that are lost in the shadows or bright areas of your photo. Figure 4-9 shows what a difference these tools can make.
The Shadow and Highlight tools are a collection of three sliders, each of which controls a different aspect of your image:
Lighten Shadows.Nudge the slider to the right and you’ll see details emerge from murky black shadows.
Darken Highlights.Use this slider to dim the brightness of overexposed areas.
Midtone Contrast. After you’ve adjusted your photo’s shadows and highlights, your photo may be very flat looking with not enough contrast between the dark and light areas. This slider helps you bring a more realistic look back to your photo.
You may think you only need to lighten shadows in a photo, but sometimes just a smidgen of Darken Highlights may help, too. Don’t be afraid to experiment by using this slider even if you’ve got a relatively dark photo.
Be discreet. Getting overenthusiastic with these sliders can give your photos a very washed out, flat look.
Once again, there’s another one-click fix available—Auto Color. Actually, in some ways this one should be up in the Lighting section. Like Levels, it simultaneously adjusts color and brightness, but it looks at different information in your photos to decide what to do with them.
When you’re first learning to use Quick Fix, you might want to try all three—Levels, Contrast, and Auto Color to see which generally works best for your photos. Undo between each change and compare your results. Most people find that they like one of the three most of the time, but you usually don’t need to apply all three to the same photo.
Auto Color may be just the ticket for your photos, but you may also find that it shifts your colors in strange ways. Give it a click and see what you think. Does your photo look better or worse? If it’s worse, just click Reset or Ctrl+Z (⌘-Z) to undo it, and go back to Auto Levels or Auto Contrast. If they all make your colors look a little wrong, or if you want to tweak the colors in your photo, move on to the Color sliders, which are explained in the next section.
If you want to adjust just the colors in your photo without changing the brightness, then you want to check out the Color sliders. For example, your digital camera may produce colors that don’t quite match what you saw when you took the picture, you might have scanned an old print that’s faded or discolored, or you might just want to change the colors in a photo for the heck of it. If so, the sliders below the Auto Color button are for you.
There are four ways to adjust your colors here:
Saturationcontrols the intensity of the color in your photo. For example, you can turn a color photo to black and white by moving the slider all the way to the left. Move it too far to the right and everything glows with so much color that it looks radioactive.
Huechanges the color from, say, red to blue or green. If you aren’t looking for realism, you can have some fun with your photos by really pushing this slider, as you saw back in Figure 4-3.
Temperaturelets you adjust color from cool (bluish) on the left to warm (orange-ish) on the right. You’d use this for things like toning down the warm glow you see in photos taken in tungsten lighting, or just for fine-tuning your color balance.
Tintadjusts the green/magenta balance of your photo, as shown in Figure 4-9.
You probably won’t use all these sliders on a single photo, but you can use as many of them as you like. Remember to click the checkmark that appears in the Color palette if you want to accept your changes. Chapter 7 has much more information about how to use the full-blown Editor to really fine-tune your image’s color.
Now that you’ve finished your other corrections, it’s time to sharpen, or improve the focus, of your photo. Most digital camera photos need some sharpening, since the sharpening your camera applies is usually deliberately conservative. Once again, a Quick Fix Auto button is at your service. Give the Auto Sharpen button a try to get things started (Figure 4-10).
You should understand, though, that the sad truth is that there really isn’t any way to actually improve the focus of a photo once it’s taken. Software sharpening just increases the contrast where the program perceives edges, so using it first can have strange effects on other editing tools and their ability to understand your photo.
If you don’t like what Auto Sharpening does (you very well may not), you can undo it (click the Cancel button on the Sharpen palette) and try the slider. If you thought the Auto button overdid things, go very gently with the slider and stop and look at where the Auto button moved the slider to. Changes vary from photo to photo, but usually Auto’s results fall at around the 40 to 50 percent mark on the slider.
If you see funny halos around the outlines of objects in your photos, or strange flaky spots (making your photo look like it has eczema), those are artifacts from too much sharpening.
Always try to view Actual Pixels (View → Actual Pixels) when sharpening, because that gives you the clearest idea of what you’re actually doing to your picture. If you don’t like what the button does, undo it and try the slider. Zero sharpening is all the way to the left. Moving to the right increases the amount of sharpening applied to your photo.
As a general rule, you want to sharpen more for photos you plan to print than for images for Web use. You can read lots more about sharpening on page 182.
If you’ve used photo-editing programs before, you might be interested to know that the Auto Sharpen button applies the Unsharp Mask filter to your photo. The difference is, you don’t have any control over the settings, as you would if you applied the mask from the Filters menu. But the good news is that if you want it, you can get this control—even from within Quick Fix. Just go to the Filters menu and choose Sharpen → Unsharp Mask.
At this point, all that’s left is cropping your photo, if you’d like to reduce its size. Page 53 tells you everything you need to know about cropping.
There’re no hard and fast rules for what order you need to work in when using the Quick Fix tools. As mentioned earlier, Elements lays out the tools in the Control Panel, from top to bottom, in the order that usually makes sense. But you can pick and choose which tools you want, depending on what you think your photo needs. But if you’re the type of person who likes a set plan for fixing photos, here’s one order in which to apply the commands the Quick Fix has to offer:
Rotate your photo (if needed).
Use the buttons at the top of the Control Panel.
Fix red eye (if needed).
Try Auto Smart Fix and/or the Smart Fix slider. Undo if necessary.
Pretty soon you’ll get a good idea of how likely it is that this fix will do a good job on your photos. Some people love it; some people think it makes their pictures too grainy looking.
If Smart Fix wasn’t smart enough, work your way down through the other Lighting and Color commands until you like the way your photo looks.
Read the sections earlier in this chapter to understand what each command does to your photo.
Try to perform sharpening as your last adjustment, because other commands can give you funky results on photos that have already been sharpened.
You might also want to crop as a first step sometimes, depending on the photo. If you’ve got a lot of overexposed sky that you plan to cut out anyway, you may get better results from the Lighting and Color tools if it’s gone already.