With Elements, 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 even need to understand much about what you’re doing. 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 of Elements’ Quick Fix tools. You’ll also learn about what order to apply the fixes so you get the most out of these tools. Adobe is very focused on making Elements as easy to use as possible, so in Elements 4, they’ve given you two new tools for making quick fixes: the Magic Selection brush and the Adjust Color for Skin Tone command. The Magic Selection brush makes it easy to use the Quick Fix commands on only part of your photograph instead of altering the whole image. Adjust Color for Skin Tone fixes the colors in your photo based on the skin tones of someone in the picture. This chapter explains how to use these new tools, too.
If an entire chapter on Quick Fix is frustratingly slow, you can start off by trying out the ultra-fast Auto Smart Fix: a quick-fix tool for the truly impatient. Section 4.2.2 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 five-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. From top to bottom, the Quick Fix Toolbox holds:
The Zoom tool lets 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 Section 3.5.2 for more on how the Zoom tool works.) You can also zoom by using the Zoom pull-down menu below the image preview area.
The Hand tool helps move your photo around in the image window—just like grabbing it and moving it with your own hand (Section 3.5.3).
The Magic Selection Brush tool is new in Elements 4. It lets you apply Quick Fix commands to a part of your image only. The regular Elements Selection brush is also available in Quick Fix now. To get to the Selection brush, in the Toolbox, just click and hold on the Magic Selection brush icon, or click its icon in the Options bar when the Magic Selection brush is active. The difference between the two tools is that the Selection brush lets you paint a selection exactly where you want it (or mask out part of your photo to keep it from getting changed), while the Magic Selection brush makes Elements figure out the boundaries of your selection based on your much less precise marks on the image. The Magic Selection brush is much more automatic than the regular Selection brush.
To get the most out of both these tools, you need to understand the concept of selections. Chapter 5 tells you everything you need to know about working with selections, including the details of using these brushes, on Section 18.104.22.168.
The Crop tool lets you change the size and shape of your photo, by cutting off the areas you don’t want (Section 3.4).
The Red Eye tool makes it a snap to fix those horrible red eyes you see in flash photos (Section 4.2.1).
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 Section 4.2.6 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.
When you open an image in Quick Fix, your picture first appears by itself in the main window with the word “After” above 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 the one you want 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 or the Organizer.
If you want to rotate your photo, you can do so here by clicking the appropriate Rotate button, below the image preview area. (See Section 3.2 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 want to undo a single action only. For that, just use the regular undo command: Edit → Undo or Ctrl+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 because the small size of many digital camera puts the flash so close to the lens. 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.
Elements 4 gives you a new, totally automatic Red Eye fix right in the Organizer, as explained on section 2.1.1. If you turned off the Organizer’s Auto Red Eye feature, you can still fix red eye without launching the Editor. Just click once on your photo to select it, and then do one of the following:
You don’t need to do anything else. Elements automatically analyzes your photo to find red eyes, and fixes them without any additional input from you. This method is wonderful when it works, but it’s really asking a lot of the program to make such a big guess without any hints from you, so the results can sometimes be pretty random.
You may be delighted with the end result, but you’re about equally likely to find that Elements also blackened the white teeth in an open mouth or put out any bright streetlights. In that case, just press Ctrl+Z to undo the fix and go on to the Editor’s Quick Fix tool, which is almost as easy and much more accurate.
In case you don’t care for the job the Auto Red Eye Fix did, no need to worry. The Organizer saves your corrected photo in a version set (Section 3.6.3) along with the original. If you don’t like the correction, just right-click the Organizer thumbnail, go to Version Set → Reveal Photos in Version Set, and delete the new version.
You’ll probably find that the Editor’s Red Eye tool is much more reliable. To use the Quick Fix Red Eye tool:
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 the Standard Editor.
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.
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.
You can also apply the Organizer’s Auto Red Eye Fix in the Quick Fix window or the Standard Editor. In the Quick Fix window, look for the Auto button in the Red Eye area of the Control Panel. In the Editor, activate the Red Eye tool and click the Auto button in the Options bar. The only tradeoff to using the Auto Red Eye Fix in the Editor is you don’t automatically get a version set (as you do when using the tool from within the Organizer). But you can create a version set when you save your changes, as explained on (Section 22.214.171.124).
If you need to adjust how the Red Eye tool works, the Options bar gives you two controls, although 99 percent 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 can download this photo—finch.jpg— from the “Missing CD” page at www.missingmanuals.com.)
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.
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 Section 4.2.5) 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 to undo it, and try playing with 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.
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 apply the Smart Fix command from within the Organizer, so there’s no need to launch the Editor at all if you just want this tool. Just click your photo and press Ctrl+Alt+M, or right-click your photo and choose Auto Smart Fix from the pop-up menu. You can also get to the Auto Smart Fix command via the Organizer’s Edit menu.
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. Download this photo (squirrel.jpg) from the “Missing CD” page at www.missingmanuals.com, if you’d like to try this out yourself.
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 options. 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. You activate Contrast the same way you do the Levels tool: just click the Auto button next to its name.
The Shadows and Highlights tools do an amazing job of bringing out the details that are lost in the shadows or bright areas of your photo. Figure 4-8 shows what a difference these tools can make.
The Shadows and Highlights tools are a collection of three sliders, each of which controls a different aspect of your image:
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.
Go easy. Getting overenthusiastic with these sliders can give your photos a very washed-out, flat look.
The Color palette lets you—surprise, surprise—play around with the colors in your image. In many cases, if you’ve been successful with Auto Levels or Auto Contrast, you won’t need to do anything here.
Once again, there’s another one-click fix available: Auto Color. Actually, in some ways Auto Color 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 may 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 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; or you may have scanned an old print that’s faded or discolored; or you may 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.
You get four ways to adjust your colors here:
Saturation controls 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.
Temperature lets you adjust color from cool (bluish) on the left to warm (orange-ish) on the right. Use Temperature for things like toning down the warm glow you see in photos taken in tungsten lighting, or just for fine-tuning your color balance.
Tint adjusts 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 (see 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. Changes vary from photo to photo, but usually Auto’s results fall at around the 30 to 40 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 then 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 Section 7.6.
If you’ve used photo-editing programs before, you may 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. Section 3.4 tells you everything you need to know about cropping.
There are 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 below the image preview.
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 look too grainy.
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 may 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.
If you’re like most amateur photographers, your most important photos are pictures of people: your family, your friends, or even just fascinating strangers. Elements 4 includes another new tool for making fast fixes—one that’s designed especially for correcting photos that have people in them. The new tool is the Adjust Skin Tone command, available in both the Quick Fix and the Standard Editor.
The name "Adjust Color for Skin Tone” may be a bit confusing. What this command actually does is to adjust your entire image based on the skin tone of someone in the photo. The idea behind Adjust Skin Tone is that you may well be much more interested in the way the people in your photos look than in how the background looks. This command gives the highest priority to creating good skin color. It’s an automatic fix, but there’s a dialog box where you can tweak the results once you’ve previewed Elements’ suggested adjustments. To use the Adjust Skin Tones command:
Call up the Adjust Color for Skin Tone dialog box.
In either the Quick Fix or the Standard Editor, go to Enhance → Adjust Color → Adjust Color for Skin Tone. The dialog box shown in Figure 4-11 appears. You may need to move it out of the way of your photo so that you can see what’s happening.
Show Elements an area of skin to sample for calculating the color adjustments.
Tweak the results
Most of the time, Elements is a bit overenthusiastic in its adjustments. Use the sliders in the dialog box to get a more pleasing, realistic color. The Temperature slider works just like the one in the Quick Fix control panel (Section 126.96.36.199). Blush increases the rosiness of the skin as you move the slider to the right and decreases it to the left. Tan increases or decreases the browns and oranges in the skin tones. You’ll probably find that you need to use all the sliders to get a truly realistic result.
The Adjust Color for Skin Tone sliders are like the Quick Fix sliders in that you can get an idea of which way to move them by looking at the colors in the slider tracks in the dialog box.
You can preview the changes right in your photo as you work. If you mess up and want to start again, click Reset. If you decide you’d rather be using another tool instead, click Cancel.
When you like what you see, click Okay.
Elements applies your changes. If you want to undo them, press Ctrl+Z.
Adjust Color for Skin Tone seems to work best on fair skin, and not so well on darker skin tones. And it’s most suited for making fairly subtle adjustments, so you may have to reduce the amount of change from what Elements first did.
Also, notice that not only the skin tones are changing. Elements is adjusting all the colors in the photo in sync with the skin tones. You may find you’ve acquired quite a color cast (Section 7.4.1) by the time you’ve got the skin just right, as you can see in Figure 4-12. If this bothers you, try a different tool. On the other hand, you can create some very nice late afternoon light effects with this command.
While Adjust Color for Skin Tone is really meant as a kind of alternative fast fix, you may find it’s most useful for making small final adjustments to photos you’ve already edited using other tools.