As a fine-art photographer for the past nineteen years I've come up against my fair share of
technological challenges in photography. The shift from film to digital was monumental!
In this blog I'd like to share with you what I've found to be some of the most useful PhotoShop
techniques when working with my digital images. I hope that they will make your life a bit easier
as you work with your images. Have fun!

Welcome to my "Photoshop Tips for Photographers" Blog

Please Note: These tips have been prepared using Photoshop CS3.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Digital Gallery Matt

Even though we post so much of our work these days on the internet and don't actually print and matt every image, it's nice to be able to present a photograph on the internet with the look of a fine art gallery print.

Here's how to create a matt around your image in a few easy steps: (Click on any image to enlarge)
Open your image in Photoshop. Be sure that your Layer's Palette is open. Go to Window>Layers to turn it on if it isn't already open.  Duplicate your background layer. Command-J (Mac) Control-J (PC).

Next we are going to increase the canvas size to create the matt board look around the image. From the Image Menu choose Canvas Size. Make sure that the "relative" box is checked to turn it on. Add one inch to the width and the height.

Choose Image>Canvas size again. This time add .75 to the height but be sure that the top-center square is selected. This will add the space to the bottom of the image only. Many times you will see matt boards cut with a little more "weight" on the bottom. This also allows for room to add text if you'd like.

Now we're going to add an outline around the "matt opening". Command click on a Mac, Control click on a PC, on the top layer thumbnail. Go to the Select menu and choose Transform Selection. Now we're going to enlarge the selection to make a frame around the opening. To constrain the proportions, resize the selection from the center,  be sure that you press and hold down the Option Key on a Mac, Alt Key on a PC. Drag one of the corner handles out to enlarge the selection. Press Return or Enter (PC) when you have the selection the size you want it.

In order to add a stroke line for this selection we need to Create a New Layer (bottom of the Layer's Palette). Go to the Edit Menu and choose Stroke. Make the width about 2 pixels wide and choose a color (or leave it black). Click OK and then deselect by pressing Command-D on a Mac, Control-D on a PC.

You can add a drop shadow to your stroke layer by adding a Layer Style (bottom of the Layer's Palatte). Choose Drop Shadow, click once on the drop shadow name to go to the drop shadow dialog box. Change any settings to your liking and hit OK to close the dialog box.

If you want to add text to the bottom area of your new matt simply choose the Type tool, center align your text and begin typing. Open your Type dialog box to make changes to fonts, sizes, colors, tracking, etc.

And of course, because you used layers in all of these steps, you can always go back and make changes if you wish. Just be sure to save your document as a PSD file to keep the layers in tact.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Rule of Thirds

    According to Wikipedia: The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. The main reason for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage placement of the subject at the center, or prevent a horizon from appearing to divide the picture in half.

    I have found that applying this Rule of Thirds, either consciously or subconsciously to my images, really does improve the composition. Again I quote from Wikipedia (because they really do say it best): The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.

    For this Tips Lesson I would like show you how to create Rule of Thirds guides in Photoshop that you can turn on and off so that you can check every one of your images to see if it complies with this compositional "rule". I think that if you pay more attention to this you will find that your image also will have more energy and interest. I know mine do!

    Here we go: (Click on any image to enlarge)
    1. Open an image in Photoshop.
    2. Under the Photoshop Menu choose Preferences>Guides, Grids and Slices.
    3. In the Preferences Dialog Box, in the GRID section, set your Gridline to 33.3 percent. I changed the color of my gridlines to green. I just felt that green would show up better. But you can change this color to whatever you like or leave it at the default. Make sure that your Subdivisions section is set to 1. Click OK.
    4. Now when you go back to your image in PS go to the View Menu, Choose Show>Grid. This is how you can turn your Rule of Thirds Gridlines on and off. 
    5. Practice this with a few different images to see how it applies to each and then you decide which look compositionally "correct".

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Active Space

    This has been a busy week. Right now I'm in Mexico enjoying the Sea of Cortez with my family ...which includes our two very rambunctious dogs.

    Over the years I've found that one of the most valuable ways to learn useful photography tips is to sign up for one of the many well-run online courses available these days. Here are my favorite places to go for online courses: Learn to Take Photos (, Equine Photographers Network (, Perfect Picture School of Photography ( and Better Photo (

    I finished a wonderful course on Composition in photography a couple of weeks ago led by Shelley Paulson, a fantastic photographer from Minnesota. This course, offered through Equine Photographers Network, was all about composition and how to make sure your photographs have lots of punch by ensuring your compositions are as good as they can be.

    One of my favorite lessons from Shelley was her lesson on Active Space. Leaving active space in front of your moving subject means that you always want to leave enough room for your subject to move into. Alternately, the space behind your subject is often referred to as dead space. The reason that this compositional technique is important is that when someone views your image and sees that your subject is moving in one direction – their eye naturally wants to move in that direction also. If you crowd your subject too much your eye has nowhere to go and your composition becomes static. I took this photo of our dog on the beach yesterday to illustrate a good example of the concept of active space.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    The Orton Effect or Creating a Slide Sandwich

    The Orton Effect gives an image a dreamlike quality. This technique was originally invented by Michael Orton. It involves taking two exact images, blurring one and then layering it over the sharp image. Before digital, Orton created the sandwich by layering two emulsion slides together. This lesson will show us how we can create a digital "sandwich" in Photoshop by using Layers and get pretty much the same results.  Click on any image to enlarge.
    • Select an image and open it up in Photoshop. Make a duplicate of the image (Image>Duplicate) so that you are not working on your original. Close the original image.
    • Lighten your image by changing the Blend Mode. Go to Image>Apply Image and change your Blending Mode to Screen. Make sure the Opacity is set to 100%. Your image will now appear to be Overexposed.
    • Now duplicate this image. Go to Image>Duplicate.
    • Blur the duplicated image. Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set your Radius to somewhere between 10 and 80 pixels. The smaller file size of your image, the less blur you will choose (small file=small radius; larger file=large radius). You can experiment with different radius choices. 
    • Select your Move Tool from the Toolbar. Hold down the Shift Key and drag your blurred image onto the sharp one.
    • Make sure your Layers Palette is visible. Go to Windows>Layer to bring it up if it isn't already. Change your Blend Mode from Normal to Multiply. 
    • Without any further adjustments you have a dreamy fine art picture! 
    • Flatten your image. (Layer>Flatten) And then Save it!