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An Overview of the Key Tools in Photoshop

Photo editing software has changed photography almost as much as the Internet has changed communication. The most popular and powerful program, Adobe Photoshop, is not inexpensive, but what it can do for your photos is incredible. It is a huge program however, and if you don't know how it works, it can be daunting getting started. Here are a few key tips for using Photoshop to enhance your photos and present your shop's items in the best possible light. Follow these few steps and you won't believe the difference! For those of you who don't have Photoshop, you can also use the photo editing options that Ruby Lane offers, many of which are similar. Or, if you have another program, these same tips apply, although the steps to get there will be slightly different.

Note: The following tips are described in a Mac format. However most tools work exactly the same for a PC, and ALL of the tools are available in both versions. There are also many versions of Photoshop, from 3.0 through 7 and beyond. But these simple tips will work with any version you have. If you're having trouble, consult the manual that it came with or go to the software's web site for answers.

OK, so you've taken your photo or scanned your item. Here's what we recommend you do next:

- Take a good look at the photo overall, and decide what looks right, and what could look better. There may be areas that look dark, or may appear fuzzy, or where the color doesn't look accurate or looks dull.

- Go to the Image tool at the top of your screen and pull down to select Adjust. Then choose Brightness and Contrast. Adding brightness and contrast will do wonders for your photo! Move the Brighten bar to the right, and dark features will show up much better. Next, move the other bar beneath it to the right to increase the Contrast. The item will "pop" considerably better after doing this, and the individual features of the item will be much easier to see. Make these corrections until they look right to you.

- Take a good look at the colors of the item. Are they as clear and beautiful as they should be? If not, you can fix this! One way to adjust the overall color of a photo is to again go to Image at the top of your screen, then pull down to Adjust. Then choose Color Balance. Next you'll see sliders that allow you to adjust the blue, green, magenta, yellow etc. balance throughout. Play with this until the photo looks more accurate.

-You can also adjust the color of only certain areas of a photo. Here's how: Say you have a piece of amethyst that in reality is very bright, but is looking dull on screen. First, choose the Selection tool on the toolbar, which is usually a square box at or near the top of the toolbar. Select a portion of the amethyst by clicking on it. Then go to Select at the top of your screen, and pull down and select Similar. Now all of the similarly-colored pixels of the amethyst should be selected. Next, go to Image at the top of the screen, and pull down to Adjust. Then choose Color Balance. You'll see a scale of color options that you can move up and down to adjust the color of the selected portion of your photo which is the amethyst. Remember to keep the colors accurate when doing this. You don't want to go overboard, then the item in the photo - even though it looks great - is again inaccurate.

- Do you want to remove the background of a photograph? Busy backgrounds can significantly reduce the impact of the item you're selling. One easy way to remove a background that is uniform in color is to select part of the background and then go to the Select menu at the top of your screen, and pull down to choose Similar. In many cases your entire background will be selected and you can simply delete it. If you have multiple colors in the background and similar colors in portions of the photo you do not want to remove, then try choosing Select, then Grow and it will select similar colored pixels around it. Continue doing this while holding down the Shift key (which allows you to continue to add to your selection) until the desired area is selected. Then hit the delete button.

Another great tool for selecting certain areas is the Magic Wand tool on the toolbar, which actually looks like a little magic wand. This tool selects a consistently colored area for you. Double click on the magic wand to display its palette. You can then define how detailed you'll want the selection to be. In the image, click the color you want to select. All adjacent pixels within the tolerance range will be selected.

- In many cases you can enhance the sharpness and clarity of a photo. You should always do this last, after all other adjustments have been made. It is also important to note that a photo that is very badly out of focus cannot usually be corrected. The computer can only correct to a degree. To sharpen your photo, go to Filter at the top of your screen, and pull down to Sharpen, then choose Unsharp Mask. Then you'll see a small area of the photo close up for you to work from. Continue to sharpen until it looks correct. Photoshop highly recommends using Unsharp Mask over Sharpen Edges, which does it for you, but can significantly overdo it as well, making your photo look "pixilated."

Learning the basics of a photo editing program takes practice. Start with these simple steps and you'll be on your way to better shop photos in no time. A better picture really is worth a thousand words.