Steve's Photography Tips: Processing Photos with Photoshop

Tips to help you improve your photos!

Last time, we looked at processing photos with Adobe Lightroom. So this time we will switch gears slightly and look at processing with Adobe Photoshop. Which, at least for starting out, might seem somewhat similar to Lightroom, but once you get on into it, Photoshop is way different.

When I first got serious about processing my photos more to give then a special look and some extra boost, I started with Lightroom. It served my needs well for a while, but later on I realized that Photoshop allows you to do so much more. A lot of that (such as layers) will come in later posts here, but this one mainly just focuses on some of the basics to get you up and running.

So, let’s get started and open a photo in Photoshop. Once again, it is best to start here with a Raw image instead of a JPG image, so that you can do more with the photo and still have it looking good. I chose a somewhat random photo to start with, which was a view of our stuff on the beach at Cocoa Beach, Florida:

Take your photos to the next level by processing them in Adobe Photoshop. Read about how to get started in Steve’s Photography Tips from!

As you can see, the photo was somewhat overexposed, making it just a bit brighter than what I would want. While it is best to try to take care of those things with your camera when you are taking the photo, you sometimes still end up with things you need to fix later on. Incidentally, I did take another photo immediately after this one with the right settings, but I thought this one would be good to use for this demonstration.

If you have all of your file types associated correctly, the easiest thing is to just double click on the Raw file in your file manager, and Photoshop opens automatically. Otherwise, you would need to open Photoshop first, and then select “File” followed by “Open.” Opening a Raw file in Photoshop brings up Adobe Camera Raw, which turns out to be very similar to Lightroom in some of its controls. Here is a screenshot:


This view shows the Camera Raw window on top of the actual Photoshop window. You can use the sliders at the right of the Camera Raw window to made adjustments to your photo. I did that, and I got the following results:


I made the photo somewhat darker, and also brought out some of the colors in the sky, chairs, and umbrella. Here is a close-up look at the slider settings that I use:


As you can see, I turned down the Exposure a bit, to -1, to reduce the brightness. I also turned the Highlights all the way down (making the bright parts darker) and turned the Shadows almost all the way up (making the dark parts brighter) to even out the photo somewhat. This is my standard way of processing photos, although I don’t use that method quite every time. Sometimes I want some shadows to show up darker, so I don’t move the Shadows slider up all the way. And sometimes I like the highlights a little brighter, so I don’t move the Highlights slider all the way to the left. Also, I moved the Whites up slightly and the Blacks down slightly, to add back in a little contrast. I like the look that increasing the Clarity level gives, so I usually slide that to the right a bit, along with the Vibrance and Saturation. I usually don’t move the Saturation slider as much as the Vibrance slider, because the colors can start to get out of hand and look really unnatural, which isn’t what I am going for. Usually.

For this photo, I was happy with the color temperature, so I didn’t adjust that any. But sometimes I move the Temperature slider to the right a bit to give the photo more of a golden glow. And I sometimes adjust the Tint as well, but I didn’t do any of that this time.

With some of the other tabs above these sliders, you can do other things like adjust the tone curve, adjust sharpening and noise reduction, adjust the colors, add grain and vignetting, and even some cool color things like split tones. You can also save and load presets. Sometimes I change some of those settings, and sometimes I load some presets with all of the above settings to make things go more quickly. You might want to take some time to play around with all of that to see what you can get. And if you really like something, save it as a preset for later, much like you can do with Lightroom.

Also in Camera Raw, you can compare what you have done with the original photo:


In the view above you can see the Before and After versions side by side. But that’s not all.


You can also have the photo half and half, as seen here. Or you can have the two versions top and bottom instead of side to side, or top half and bottom half. You can change all of this by clicking the button that I circled in red above, just in case you were wondering how to do it.

Once you have all of the changes made that you wan to your photo, just click the “Open Image” button at the lower right of the Camera Raw window, and the photo opens in the actual Photoshop program.


And that is where the real fun begins. Because there are so many things you can do with your photos here. Limitless possibilities, actually. And so much more than one blog post could cover. So some of those tips will have to wait for another time. I did do one simple step here, and that was to apply a curve adjustment layer. On this screen, the adjustments are at the right under the color selector, and the curve adjustment is the one that looks like a curve. I then brought the highlights up a little more and the shadows down slightly by clicking on the points of the curve:


Even here, there is much more that you can do. You can change from “RGB” to the individual red, green and blue colors and modify the curves just for those colors, which gives different looks to your photos. Or you can pick the white eyedropper and pick an area on your photo that you want to be white, and the curve will automatically adjust for that. The same goes with the black eyedropper for an area that you want to be absolute black.

The best thing about these adjustments is that they don’t actually change the photo itself. They are overlays, if you will, and they change the look of the photo without changing the actual photo. If you were to click on the eye symbol next to the Curves 1 layer above, the photo would go back to how it originally looked. Pretty cool, and easy to undo if you decide to do something else. Just turn that adjustment layer off or delete it entirely.

So with all of that work, which really wasn’t much at all, here is the final version of the photo:


Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Especially when you compare it back to the original photo:


So there you have it, a very basic look at getting started with Adobe Photoshop. Don’t be afraid to play around with it all to see what each function does.

For a continuation of work on this photo, see Steve’s Photography Tips: Selective Color in Photoshop. And check back here soon for more from Steve’s Photography Tips!

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.