Before & After: Getting Started Tutorial
Ilene sent me a note the other day through my Contact Me page asking me a few questions about getting started. I sometimes take for granted that I have some experience with editing and that I’ve downloaded so many actions, tools, etc to make my life a little easier. All that said, this is for those of you just getting started with editing. 

I personally use Photoshop Elements 7 (and Adobe Camera Raw) to do my editing – this is the old version. Photoshop Elements 8 is now out and can be yours for about $82. For most hobbyists, I believe that PSE is the answer…especially if you don’t want to spend more than $100 on your editing software. There are a few freebies available such as GIMP, but I honestly don’t know how to use it. 

You’ll notice in my edits that I refer to a few tools that you’ll need to add to PSE such as layer masks and curve adjustment. Go to Grants’ Tools and download his Main Tools. Once you’ve downloaded, follow the installation instructions. The instructions are written for PSE5 and older, but I used them for version 7 without a hitch. Texas Chicks also offers good tutorials for installing instructions.

Now, let me talk about actions. An action is a series of tasks that you play back on a file – menu commands, palette options, tool actions, and so on. There are a ton of actions on the web for free and for sale. In Photoshop (not PSE), you can even create actions to either simply your everyday post-processing steps or add a special effect. Because I operate out of Photoshop Elements, I don’t have the option to create my own actions…instead, I’ve found a few great websites that offer what I believe are awesome (and free) PSE compatible actions. If you’ll go to my Inspiration page, I’ve listed them all…but I want to draw your attention to a few that you’ll probably want to download (and if you have trouble, just let me know and we can “talk”): 
  • Amy McMaster’s Squeaky Clean: this action is really great for basic post-processing. It includes a noise reducer (it’s not great, but it works), levels adjustment, adding deeper shadows, adding more color (saturation), removing red, popping eyes (which I don’t use), and warming/cooling filters.
  • Coffeeshop’s Baby Powder Room: I really like this action because it helps me even out skin tone and create that portrait finish for babies and children. Everyone has their own preferences as to how much they alter a child’s skin. Personally, I believe in using really low opacity soft brushes to paint on the effect and then lowering the opacity on each individual layer even lower so it’s gentle and natural.
  • Pioneer Woman’s Bring Out the Eyes: This is the only eye popping action that I like – again, use really low opacity brushes so that you don’t have crazy eyes. 
  • Coffeeshop’s Layer Masks action: I often refer to layer masks…especially as it relates to textures. Paint with a soft black brush with adjusted opacity to remove things from that layer, or fill the layer mask with black to completely mask out all of that layer’s effect, then use a soft white brush with adjusted opacity to “paint” back in things. Here’s a tutorial on how to use layer masks.
I also tend to use a lot of textures. There was a period of time where I downloaded a lot of textures from various websites. Unfortunately, I don’t know where they all came from, but I do have a few really good resources: Shadowhouse Creations, Johnna LaFaith Photography, and more. Find some you like and start experimenting. Textures are essentially jpg files that you drag on top of your photograph to create a new layer. Each of these layers can be given a blending mode and opacity. In the photo below, I’ll tell you how I layered the textures, but I do encourage you to just experiment – that’s how I learned. 

What else am I missing? I guess the only other thing you may want to know is  with regards to blogging. I obviously use Blogspot for my blog – I find it incredibly easy to customize. I also use Flickr to upload my pictures. If you have more questions on blogging or in general, just leave me a comment with your questions and I’ll be sure to respond.

Now, onto my Before and After. 
DSC_0154 Before and After
This is a cute photo, but if I’m honest…it’s not exactly in focus (among other things). That’s okay, hopefully I’ve made it a little better. My steps: 
  1. Adjusted the curves (remember, you’ll have to download this tool from Grants’ Tools because PSE doesn’t automatically have this option): Output 127, Input 97. 
  2. Adjusted the color curves for skin tone. You’ll find this option in the top tool bar under enhance. Use the forehead (it’s always neutral territory) to correct the white balance. 
  3. Ran Amy McMaster’s Squeaky Clean. My levels adjustment was 16, 1.26, 250. I lowered the opacity on the deeper shadows to 0%. I lowered the more color layer to 20%. I softly painted over her face in the red fix layer using a  412px brush at 40% opacity to remove the red from her face and body – I then lowered that opacity to 62%. I did not use the eye pop layers. I adjusted the warming layer to 18% opacity and deleted the cooling layer. 
  4. Merged the layers – Ctrl, Shift, E. 
  5. Ran Pioneer Woman’s Bring Out the Eyes action and softly painted over her eyes to “bring them out.”
  6. Cropped in a little closer applying the rule of thirds.
  7. Applied Coffeeshop’s Baby Powder Room – adjusted each layer accordingly. I really focused on evening out her skin tone and lightening her up. There was no need to smooth her skin or give her a glow – she already had that working for her. 
  8. I then applied Coffeeshop’s Orton Effect. I rarely use this action but it comes in handy when I have an image that is already slightly blurry. So, if you like it, you can download that as well. I applied Orton at 50% and did a 10% color mute.
  9. Merged the layers again. You’ll actually find for some of the actions to run, that you have to merge the layers every so often. But if you’re working with a photo and don’t want to lose the steps, you can always save a .psd file and go back later. 
  10. This is the point in which I applied layers. For this one, I used a painterly effect2 overlay at 82% opacity, ghost 4 screen at 20% opacity and vintage grain overlay 5 – softlight at 100% opacity. 
  11. Be sure that when you apply textures to portraits to use layer masks to erase the texture from the face and body. Oh, and if you want more on textures…here’s another tutorial
  12. Applied Paint the Moon’s Sugar Cookies action. If you like this, I believe you download a set – Sugar Cookies is one of the actions you’ll get. Some people like that washed out effect which can be pretty cool. I always go back into the layers and slightly darken it…and then I increase the contrast. I also paint away some of the effect from her eyes so they still pop.
  13. Finally, before I post to the web, I resize and sharpen
So, those were my steps…what questions do you have?

1 COMMENT

    Ashley, I’m peeking through some of your older stuff and felt compelled to comment on this one.

    I use GIMP and love it (although sometimes I feel like an outcast). Unlike other free editing programs, this one is as powerful as photoshop. It’s the real deal, unbelievably daunting at first, but definitely do-able.

    If any of your readers have questions about GIMP, they are more than welcome to contact me.


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