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Start by calibrating your monitor

Before you even open an image in Photoshop, the first thing you should do is take a moment to optimize your workspace. Since your medium in the digital realm is essentially pixels, and pixels are displayed on your monitor, this means you need to make sure your monitor is properly adjusted to give you accurate color and needed detail.

While there are nearly universal standard color settings for graphics and imaging, there are none for monitors. The relationship between the voltage applied to a monitor and the brightness emitted is non-linear. In other words, if an RGB pixel is at the maximum value of 255, changing the value to 127 (half of the original) won't produce a visual result of half brightness. Instead, the relationship follows a power law of the voltage to the power of gamma, with the variable gamma representing the voltage of the monitor.

The function of gamma

Mathematics aside, it can be said that gamma is the relationship between the brightness of a pixel and the numerical value of that pixel. Simply put, gamma affects the brightness and color saturation of the images with which you work. The images displayed on monitors with uncorrected gamma will be too dark, whereas overcorrected gamma will cause images to appear too light. Either way, hues will change from the monitor to the printed page.

Calibrate your monitor and more

Monitor calibration should be your first order of business. An uncalibrated or incorrectly calibrated display will show different colors than those that actually print. Fortunately, there are several specific applications available for monitor calibration, which we'll discuss in a moment.

Calibration, however, begins at a level even more basic than that. Before you boot up an application or dive into the web, check the lighting in your workspace. For proper color appearance, the screen should be as glare-free as possible. In fact, the monitors used by imaging professionals are frequently hooded with a plastic overhang to filter out intrusive overhead lighting. Once you boot up your computer, give the monitor 30 minutes to warm up and stabilize before calibration. It's also a good idea to set the background color to gray, as a vibrantly colored desktop can alter the way you perceive the colors within your images.

The calibration process

Most imagers shoot for a gamma value of 1.8. Photoshop comes with Adobe Gamma for Windows, which guides you through the calibration process and gets you close to gamma 1.8. Mac® OS X users can use the Display Calibrator Assistant. There is, however, a strong sentiment (especially among the photographic set) that Adobe's calibration methods are too imprecise. While they work nicely for most graphic design applications, a finer adjustment may be necessary when working with extremely detailed photo-realistic images.

If you're new to calibration, try out Adobe Gamma. Then, if you're unsatisfied with the results of calibration with Adobe Gamma or if you aren't using it, search the web for monitor calibration to get more detailed calibration instructions.


Macintosh and Windows computers deal with gamma in different ways and can produce drastically different display results. An overly dark image on a Mac may be too light or too dark on an uncorrected PC display. The gamma for Windows machines must frequently be tinkered with at the video-card level. Bottom line—if your image is crossing platforms, it's vital to check the gamma for both platforms.

Opening files in Photoshop

Once you have your workspace set up and your monitor calibrated, you can take the next step of opening a file in Photoshop. Photoshop has the ability to open dozens of different file formats. You can easily open and edit files, such as JPEGs and GIFs, with Photoshop's ample resources, but there are times when you need to do more than merely open them to make them useful. Sometimes, you're bringing in a file from an external source, such as a digital camera, scanner, or even a digital video camera. This process, known as importing, allows Photoshop to bring in images from other sources.

Importing files from your scanner

While most files simply use the Open command, importing files from external sources requires using other menu items. In the case of scanners, a special technology known as TWAIN is used. Almost every scanner comes with a TWAIN-compliant driver for Photoshop. A TWAIN driver allows the scanner and Photoshop to speak the same language and also puts the control over how the scanner performs in your hands.

TWAIN driver user interfaces vary between manufacturers, but you'll always find them on the same menu in Photoshop. Choose Import from the File menu. If you have scanner software installed, Photoshop lists it here by manufacturer and model name, as shown in Figure A. You might have more than one scanner listed if you have multiple scanners installed on your system.

Figure A.

Once launched, each scanner has different options and methods for scanning your image. Our scanner software loads from within Photoshop. It gives us the ability to set the resolution and size of the scan, as well as make image adjustments before our image imports. Most scanner software allows you to designate the area of the scanner glass that you'd like scanned. It's a good idea to only scan what you need or you'll be waiting longer than you have to for your scan to complete.

Once you've made your choices, click Scan to import the image. Once the image is loaded into Photoshop, as with EPS files before, you can save the image to any file format you choose.

Importing files from a digital camera

Importing pictures from a digital camera isn't much different than importing from a scanner. Digital cameras store images in their internal memory or on removable storage devices such as compact flash cards. You can import these images in two ways: with the use of an external reader or by using plug-ins to bring the information directly into Photoshop.

Using card readers for importing digital images

Since many digital cameras use removable storage media, having a reader that can quickly transfer your images to a computer is a must-have for many digital camera enthusiasts. While fast USB and FireWire® connections have made the transfer of images directly from the camera much faster, storage capacity on many memory cards has also increased. Card readers work just like a disk drive—you simply choose Open from the File menu in Photoshop, locate your card reader, and select the image or images you'd like to open. Importing your images into Photoshop using a card reader is fast and relatively foolproof, and works exactly the same as importing images onto your hard drive.

Using plug-ins for importing digital images

Many camera manufacturers also include a plug-in that allows direct access to the digital camera using some sort of connection. This connection ranges from USB, serial, FireWire, and even infrared. A plug-in is a third-party application that's compliant with Photoshop (or whatever program the manufacturer created it to work with). The two applications run together to achieve a goal, usually to create special effects or increase productivity. For example, a plug-in allows us to communicate with a digital camera and import files directly into Photoshop.

You can access plug-ins for digital cameras, similar to scanner TWAIN drivers, by using the Import menu. For example, we're using a web cam to snap some quick images. The camera is connected to the computer with a USB cable, so we could use the stand-alone version of the software to snap the image, save it to our hard drive, and then open it in Photoshop. However, using the plug-in offers a much more streamlined approach.

When using our web cam plug-in, we first choose Import from the File menu and locate our camera from the dropdown list. Once launched, the camera software opens. This plug-in was made to work in Photoshop and gives us a live preview from our camera, an image size picker, and a snapshot button that initiates the import of the image. It couldn't be simpler!

While we don't get all the image control options we normally get in the full-blown application, it's no big deal; we can adjust our image in Photoshop. Plug-ins aren't meant to replace functionality in Photoshop, but rather to enhance and add to the possibilities.

You may have a still digital camera that works in a similar way. Many cameras have features that allow you to control your camera from your computer and transfer the images immediately to Photoshop. This is another good example of how using plug-ins to import images can extend the functionality of this image-editing application.

Importing EPS files

While image file formats open easily in Photoshop, some require special attention. For example, EPS, or Encapsulated PostScript, is a specially designed file format that allows vector and raster information to be saved together. This means that a single EPS file may contain both images made up of pixels and objects comprised of vector paths. The primary users of this format are graphic designers, who often need to bring their artwork into Photoshop for finishing touches after designing it in an illustration program such as Adobe Illustrator® or Macromedia® FreeHand®. However, since most graphics applications can save in the EPS format, it has become the bridge into Photoshop for many applications that can't save files as a standard file format such as TIFF or JPEG.


The process for opening an EPS file in Photoshop is fundamentally the same as for opening a PDF file. The only big difference is Photoshop asks you what page of your PDF documents you want to open, assuming you have a multi-page document.

Rasterizing your EPS file

While you can open an EPS file using the Open command on the File menu, Photoshop treats it differently before processing it as an image. When you open an EPS file in Photoshop, Photoshop converts the vector paths to pixels. Because EPS files don't save any specific resolution or size data, you must tell Photoshop how to open this file by inputting your desired settings. We call this process rasterization, a term that the Photoshop world often uses.


Only EPS files not created in Photoshop need to be rasterized. If they were created using Photoshop, the file would simply open, as Photoshop embeds all necessary image data when the file is saved.

To rasterize an EPS file, first launch Photoshop and select Open from the File menu. Locate your EPS file (with the .eps file extension), click on the filename, and then click Open. The Rasterize Generic EPS Format dialog box displays, as shown in Figure B. This dialog box allows you to enter the data Photoshop needs to rasterize the file. You can set the width, height, and resolution of your file using the text boxes and dropdown lists.

Figure B.

Resolution considerations

Before we continue, let's have a quick word on resolution. You don't save EPS files at any specific resolution. This means that you can rasterize the vector elements in your file at any resolution without any loss in quality. However, if your file contains any raster elements (images), you can only rasterize the file in Photoshop at the maximum resolution of the images. Anything beyond that maximum resolution results in pixelation, which means you've stretched your image data too far.


If you're unsure of what the maximum resolution of your placed images is, the easiest way to find out is to open them in Photoshop. Once opened, select ImageImage Size and note the number in the Resolution text box. That's your maximum resolution for that image. Make sure you check all of the images contained in your document, using the lowest resolution as your rasterizing target point.

When choosing the resolution for your EPS file, first consider the existing resolution of the raster images in your file, and then decide the target resolution of your file. For example, if you're printing with an inkjet printer, 300 or 600 dpi does fine. If you're prepping an image for the web, 72 dpi is the standard. Don't add unnecessary file size that can bog down your computer. Remember that you can always start over if you aren't satisfied with your results.

More EPS options

There are more options in the Rasterize Generic EPS Format dialog box that deserve note. The first is the chance to designate the color space of your file. This is an important choice because Photoshop renders color differently depending on its color space. The main color spaces are RGB (Red, Green, Blue), CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), Grayscale, and Lab (Luminosity, Alpha, Beta). For 99 percent of your EPS files, you'll use RGB and CMYK. The rule of thumb is RGB for online use and CMYK for print.

Photoshop, to some extent, can also control the amount of pixelation in your images when rasterizing. If you select the Anti-aliased check box in the Rasterize Generic EPS Format dialog box, Photoshop smoothes the rough edges between pixels to make them blend together. This almost always results in better looking images, so make sure this check box is selected.

When you've finished making your choices, click OK to rasterize your file. Photoshop uses the information you entered to process the EPS information and display the file onscreen. Once you open it in Photoshop, you can save it in any file format you desire.

Import wrap-up

Photoshop can open almost any image file format. You can usually import those that it can't open using several different methods. Whether you're bringing in a file from your hard drive or importing images from a camera or scanner, understanding how to import images into Photoshop gives you many options for using the application to its fullest.

Keep images organized and easy to find with the File Browser

Keeping track of your images is by no means an easy task. When working on an image-editing project, it's easy to place images in numerous folders without using proper naming conventions, folder structures, or any other organizational tactics. However, with a little help from the new and improved File Browser in Photoshop CS, you can find images with ease, batch process them directly to CDs, rename them in seconds, and drag and drop images within the display pane, and all the while the File Browser can stay open and ready—even as you work—to help you organize and find images quickly and easily. Once you start using the File Browser, you'll probably find yourself wondering how you ever managed without it.

Looking at the window

To access the browser, press [Ctrl][Shift]O ([shift]O on the Mac) or choose File ▸ Browse. When you first open the File Browser, you're presented with a free-floating window. In the Folders tab on the left side of the File Browser, select a folder or drive to contain the images displayed in the File Browser's Thumbnails pane on the right, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A.

The File Browser has a multitude of features and functions. Listed below are brief summaries of the different components within the File Browser:

  • Desktop View. The Desktop View lists all the folders and subfolders on your computer, making it easy to find specific files. Once you click on a folder, Photoshop updates the thumbnails to display the contents within the selected folder.

  • Thumbnails. The Thumbnails pane displays your images within a selected folder, disk, or CD. Here you can select, open, rename, move, and copy files.

  • Preview. The Preview pane displays a larger version of the image selected in the Thumbnails pane. You can make the preview larger or smaller by dragging the right side and bottom edge of the Preview pane itself.

  • Keywords. The Keywords pane is a nice addition to the File Browser. Here you can assign descriptive words to your images to make searches easy. Click on the Keywords palette's pop-up menu to create new keywords and new sets of words.

  • Metadata. The new and improved Metadata pane allows you to view and edit non-pixel information or—you guessed it—metadata. The Metadata pane is divided into sections, the most commonly used being File Properties, IPTC, and Camera Data (Exif). Digital cameras typically use EXIF to store information about a specific image, such as when it was taken, the flash setting, and the focal length.

If you really want to know the nitty-gritty about an image, just click on the Metadata pane's pop-up menu in the upper-right corner. Then, choose Metadata Display Options from the resulting dropdown list. This opens a dialog box containing dozens of fields for information, as shown in Figure B. Just click on the items that you want displayed in the File Browser and click OK.

Figure B.

Automating tasks

In Photoshop CS, the File Browser has its own menu bar. This is convenient because you can automate tasks right from the File Browser. For example, open the File Browser (if it isn't already) and choose Automate from the menu bar to display the list of features, as shown in Figure C on the next page. You can make web photo galleries and contact sheets, rename multiple files, and more.

Figure C.

“Caching” up

One of the benefits of the File Browser is that you can rotate image previews, rename files, and rank them. However, if you're sharing these images on a network, all of your changes are invisible to everyone else. This is because there's a cache file for each folder that contains images, and this folder is located in a system folder on your computer.

To preserve all of your hard work and allow others to see what you've done, you have to export the cache. Although this may sound complicated, Photoshop makes the process easy. Choose File ▸ Export Cache from the File Browser's menu. Upon doing so, Photoshop exports three cache files to the folder itself containing the previews, thumbnails, and metadata.


When burning image archives to CD, you should export the cache as well. If you don't, you'll lose any modification you made in the File Browser.

Seeing is believing

The File Browser is a timesaving, helpful feature that will make your workflow more organized and efficient. Don't waste time choosing File ▸ Open; instead, use the File Browser and preview your images with the ease and convenience of a sophisticated image-management system. Now that you know how to organize your images, let's take the next step toward becoming an image-editing master.

Be consistent with color correcting digital images

Have you ever tried to color correct an image and found it to be a frustrating experience? Did you spend hours tweaking the greens in your image only to darken the overall image and lose that verdant color? How many times have you decided to start over halfway through the color-correction process because you can't get the shadows just right? If these are the very reasons you bought this book, then don't worry—we're going to demystify the image-editing process.

When editing your digital images, a consistent workflow can make color correction easier and more predictable. Each adjustment you make to an image has ramifications later down the editing trail, so following a reliable editing process can make a huge difference in the final quality of your image and make color correction less of a chore.

Perfect balance

Think of it as a checklist; as you complete one type of adjustment, simply move on down the list until you make all of your changes. Since image adjustment is a subjective endeavor, we won't give specific values and settings for modifying your image, but instead we'll provide you with a framework for making your images look their best. We'll break it into four stages—evaluation, tonal range, color balance, and final touches. By understanding how these stages play off one another, you can simplify the color-correction process and get better results.

The Zen of image editing

The important thing to remember is that everyone sees things differently. Every digital camera takes a slightly different picture. Every monitor shows the image a little bit differently. These disparities could drive a digital photographer crazy, but remember that image editing is largely a subjective endeavor. What we're going to present is a loose workflow for making the color-correction process easier, not a strict formula that has to be followed to the letter. Once you understand the basics, you can tailor the process to match your own editing style and let your eyes lead you.

Step 1: Evaluate your image

The first step is to take a good look at your image and evaluate its quality. Does it have a good color balance? How is the contrast between the highlights and the shadows? Do the colors look flat or are they oversaturated? Give your image the once-over and get a good idea of what attributes you need to adjust.

Take a look

For example, examine the image in Figure A. One look tells you that this image is a bit too dark, but it has good overall color balance and edge sharpness. There's plenty of detail, but the colors could be slightly more saturated and you could darken the shadows to increase the contrast in the image. How did we decide that? Unfortunately, there's no magic formula. We just take a good look at the image and decide what we want to change. You may think it looks fine or may find other attributes you want to change.

Figure A.

Observe the tonal range

If you want a slightly more objective opinion, it's a good idea to check out your image's histogram before making any adjustments, which you can view by selecting Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Levels. A histogram is a visual representation of the tonal range of an image. The dynamic range measures the quality of the exposure as a graph of brightness, represented from white to black and everything in between. A good histogram should look like a continuous series of mountain peaks without many flat spaces. This means that there's a good range of values in the image, which translates into a good range of detail and image information. The greater the range, the more flexibility you'll have when adjusting the image.

Figure B shows the histogram for our sample image. From the graph, we can tell that the image has a good tonal range, but could use some adjustments to the highlights (thus our contrast problem).

Figure B.

So, what if your image has an unsightly histogram? Perhaps it looks as flat as the Great Plains or leans heavily to the highlight or the shadow side of the graph. This doesn't mean that you can't work with this image, but it might be harder to do. By checking the histogram, you can be ready for any challenges before you begin the process.

Step 2: Adjust the tonal range

As mentioned earlier, the tonal range represents the highlight, midtones, and shadow details in your image. It's important to adjust tonal range first as you'll be changing the brightness of the pixels as well as the difference between areas of light and dark. By making tonal adjustments first, you eliminate the risk of skewing your color balance later by making the image brighter or increasing/decreasing the contrast.

Are you on the level?

You can make the most accurate tonal range adjustments in the Levels dialog box because it allows you to adjust either the composite RGB channel or any of the channels individually. There are also a variety of tools for editing, such as the sliders and the Eyedropper tools that can make precise corrections. But the big benefit of the Levels dialog box is the ability to use the histogram as a visual guide as you edit.

Brightness and contrast

You can also use the Brightness/Contrast dialog box (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Brightness/Contrast) to make tonal changes to your image. This dialog box only allows you to make the same adjustment to every pixel in the image, not on individual channels like the Levels dialog box. Brightness/Contrast also has less sophisticated controls, which can lead to a loss of detail in your image if you aren't careful. That being said, we use it often with great results, as shown in Figure C. If your goal is high-end printing, stick with Levels, but otherwise you can make decent tonal adjustments using Brightness/Contrast.

Figure C.

Step 3: Adjust the color balance

Now that we've adjusted our tonal range, we can make changes to our color balance. There are many color-correction tools available in Photoshop's Adjustments menu such as Hue/Saturation, Selective Color, Color Balance, and Replace Color that you can use. There's no recommended order of applying such color corrections, except to try to make your most dramatic changes before your finer adjustments. For example, you'll want to boost the saturation in the image before you use the Color Balance command because the first adjustment will make a larger impact in the image. Figure D shows our image after we applied a generous saturation adjustment, which brought out the green in the leaves and the pink in the girl's shirt.

Figure D.

Step 4: Final touches

At this point, you've corrected the tonal range and balanced your color to make a good-looking image. Now is the time to add any special effects to your image such as Invert, Posterize, or any of Photoshop's many filters. Since you have a quality image to work with, you'll get much better results from any special effects. If you start with an image that needs tonal and color corrections, you won't get nearly the impact, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E.

With adjustment

Without adjustment

Always sharpen last

Always sharpen your image last. Sharpening early in the color-correcting process can alter the pixels too much and make it harder to fine-tune the image. By waiting until the end, you can use sharpening to put the final touches on your images just before it goes to print or the web.

A note on adjustment layers

When making image adjustments in Photoshop, it's a good idea to use adjustment layers. Using the menu commands will certainly get the job done, but once you click OK and the adjustment is applied, it isn't easily removed. By using independent adjustments layers, you can turn each adjustment on and off, remove adjustments, or change the intensity of the effect using the Opacity slider in the Layers palette. As a rule of thumb, apply adjustment layers in the same order as the color-correction workflow: tonal adjustments first, followed by color balance and special effects. As shown in Figure F, the adjustments layers are applied from the bottom going up. You can reorder them, but be aware that it could have dramatic effects on your image.

Figure F.

Keep it consistent

From calibrating your images, opening them in Photoshop, managing your growing archive of images, and making them look great, the process of image editing can be intimidating. By following a consistent workflow when editing your images, you'll work more efficiently and produce better, more dependable results. You don't have to follow our procedure completely, but always keep in mind that you'll be more successful if you set yourself up for success.

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