Alibony Lessons for Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Digital Photography

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Photoshop Elements: Basic Workflow

Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 9

August 23, 2011

Do you have a process you use to edit your photos in Photoshop Elements? This lesson shows the workflow process that I generally use to take a photo from unedited start to polished finish.

View the video at the end of this article to see the workflow in action.

Before Editing After Editing
Monkey unedited Monkey after edits

Workflow Process

The following process takes my photos from start to finish:

  1. Duplicate the photo and work with the copy.
  2. Crop and resize photo.
  3. General adjustments: Fix exposure and color using a Levels adjustment layer.
  4. General adjustments: Add contrast using the Soft Light blend mode.
  5. Special adjustment: Make adjustments as needed to special parts of the photo.
  6. Sharpen the photo.
  7. Save to PSD and/or JPG.

Step 1: Duplicate

Before starting any editing, duplicate the unedited photo and then work with the duplicate copy. That assures that you will always have the original photo if you want to make different edits later. I've lost too many good photos by cropping, making bad edits, and inadvertently saving the cropped version.

Step 2: Crop and resize

Different cameras capture photos that have differing pixel counts and width-to-height ratios. The width-to height ratios of many cameras are not compatible with standard print sizes.

For most of my photos, I crop them to 6" by 4" at 300 pixels/inch. Just the right size for a 4x6 print. At the same time, I crop to place important subjects where I want them in the frame.

You can use the Crop tool to crop and resize at the same time. For this photo, I chose a square crop of 4" by 4" at 300 pixels/inch:


If you want a photo to be printed at two or more sizes, for example, 5x7 and 8x10, you can wait and crop the photo after you've made other adjustments, but before sharpening (Step 6). The sharpening may need to be tailored for the differing sizes.

Step 3: Fix exposure and color

You can use a Levels adjustment layer to fix the exposure of your photo (make it darker or lighter) and adjust the colors.

  1. Move the black slider to the right to darken the dark pixels.
  2. Move the white slider to the left to brighten the light pixels.
  3. Move the middle slider to the left or the right to darken or lighten the midtones and change the contrast.

Levels adjustment

Step 4: Add contrast

This step is optional. I prefer to add an extra pop of contrast to my photos, but you may not. To add an extra pop of contrast:

  1. Add a new blank Levels adjustment layer above the previous Levels adjustment layer.
  2. In the Layers panel, change the blend mode of the new layer to Soft Light.
  3. Reduce the opacity of the new layer to 25-50%.

Soft Light mode

Step 5: Make special adjustments

You may want to make more adjustments to the entire photo or to only selected parts of your photo.

IMPORTANT: You will need a merged copy of all your previous edits to which you will apply the special adjustments.

To create a merged copy and place the merged copy at the top of the layer stack:

  1. Click to select the top layer in the Layers panel.
  2. Press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on the PC or Cmd+Option+Shift+E on the MAC

In this photo, I wanted to make the following adjustments:

  1. Open up the shadows on the monkey's face using the Shadows/Highlights tool.

  2. Bring out the color and highlights in the monkey's eyes by applying the Dodge tool to his eyes.


Generally, it's a good idea to create new layers for each special adjustment you want to make. In this example, I created one merged layer for the Shadows/Highlights edit, then duplicated the edited layer to apply the Dodge tool to the eyes.

Step 6: Sharpen the photo

After you have finished all the edits, create a merged copy of all your edits again and sharpen the merged copy as desired.


You can reduce the opacity of this layer to reduce the overall sharpeneing, or use a layer lask to reduce sharpening in selected areas of the photo.

Step 7: Save to PSD and/or JPG

Do you want to preserve the photo and all layers so that you can tweak it later or review what you have done? Save it as a Photoshop Elements PSD file. The PSD format preserves all your work and layers, but it will remain a large size.

Do you want to share the file in e-mail or on the Web, and print it from a photo booth? Save it as a high-quality JPG file. The JPG format merges all the layers and compresses the size for screen or print, but you will lose all your layers.


To be safe, for important photos, save both versions, PSD and JPG.


And, now, watch the video of this process from start to finish:



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Updated on July 31, 2013