How-To Edit JPEG Files | Popular Photography

How-To Edit JPEG Files

Adjustment layers and masks let you fine-tune your JPEGs to make the most of your photos.

How-To-Edit-JPEG-Files

How-To-Edit-JPEG-Files

Debbie Grossman

So you didn't shoot RAW, and your photo's got some problem areas. If you can't take the picture again, you can still fix it. By doing repairs on Adjustment Layers, users of Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements can use masks to designate which areas to fix and which to leave alone. Sound hard? It's not.

In the original image, the blacks and the shadows are fine, but the sky and the foreground are washed out. Since they're not equally bright, you can't fix all of them with one global correction. The dogs could use a bit more contrast, too.

Click here to launch the step-by-step instructions on editing JPEG files.

Quick tip

Want to reuse a mask? Hold down Alt (Option), then click on the mask you want to copy (your image will show your mask in b&w). Hit Ctrl (Command) + A to select it, then Ctrl (Command) + C to copy. Click the mask on the layer you want to put it on, and hit Ctrl (Command) + V to paste. Click on the layer thumbnail to show your image again.

step1.jpg
  1. Make Your First Adjustment Layer. Find your Layers palette and click on the New Adjustment Layer button to select your first adjustment. We’ll use Curves for all of these fixes. Elements users: you won’t be able to pick Curves, but try Levels to make your changes.

Debbie Grossman

step2.jpg
  1. The Sky Comes First. The sky comes first. Sample a point on the sky by clicking on it while holding down Ctrl (Command on a Mac) on your keyboard. Then hit the down arrow key to darken the sky until you like the result. Don’t worry about the rest of the image going dark. Click OK.

Debbie Grossman

step3.jpg
  1. When you create an Adjustment Layer, Photoshop automatically adds a mask (circled). This is great, because it saves you having to create one yourself. Paint on the mask to make sure only what you like is showing.

Debbie Grossman

step4.jpg
  1. Since you’re masking a smallish area, it’ll be much easier to cover up the whole Curves Adjustment Layer and then bring back what you like. To hide all the changes, type D to make sure the default colors are selected (that’s white as the foreground color, black as the background). Then hit Ctrl + Backspace (Command + Delete on a Mac) to fill the mask with black (circled).

Debbie Grossman

step5.jpg
  1. Get your paintbrush ready. Hit B to choose it. Slide the Hardness all the way down to zero. A really soft brush is key to saving time and letting you get pretty sloppy with your selections. Since it produces a feathered edge, you won’t have to be super precise, as you would with a Lasso or the Pen tool. A big size (600 pixels in this case) will reveal the fixed sky more quickly.

Debbie Grossman

step6.jpg
  1. Since the mask is filled in with black, painting with white (circled) will reveal what’s on the Adjustment Layer. Think of the mask as a window—the black is dirt and white is cleaning fluid, letting you see through it. Make sure your mask is selected (you can tell by the little black bars surrounding it), and paint with white onto the sky.

Debbie Grossman

step7.jpg
  1. Check out your Mask in the Layers Palette: As you paint with white, the icon shows a mini-map of your work. The beauty of masking is that if you uncover too much, you can easily cover it back up again. The trees went dark along with the sky, but that works. What doesn’t work so well is darkening of the woman’s head. So zoom in on it. Then type X to make the foreground color black. Shrink your brush (but keep it soft). Then paint to lighten her head up again.

Debbie Grossman

step8.jpg
  1. The dog in the foreground is the next issue: He’s blending in way too much and needs more contrast. Zoom in on him. Then make a new Curves Adjustment Layer. Sample his nose, then tap your down arrow key to darken. Now Sample a midtone area, like the part of his white fur that’s in shadow, and tap your up arrow key to brighten. Click OK.

Debbie Grossman

step9.jpg
  1. Once again, your whole image looks screwed up. But redo step 4 to cover your changes with black, then revisit steps 5, 6, and 7 to reveal the fixed dog. This time, choose a smaller brush, but keep it soft. The added contrast worked well on this dog, so zoom in and reveal it on the other three.

Debbie Grossman

step10part2.jpg
  1. One more problem: The bright green grass in the foreground draws the eye out of the picture. To tone it down, make a final Curves Adjustment Layer. Grab the top end of the curve and pull it down. Click OK, fill with black, get a big brush, and reveal the grass.

Debbie Grossman

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