How To: Do Basic Edits in Photoshop CS5
Photoshop can be an advanced program to use, but this how-to guide will show you how to banish your fears and conquer it.

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Although we often hate to admit it, almost every photo we take can’t go straight from the camera to the printer. Even though some post-processing is needed to make your photos pop, all it takes is a little patience and tweaking.

Here are some of the most common edits you will need to make to enhance your photos in Adobe Photoshop.

Auto Tone (Image>Auto Tone) in Photoshop usually does a nice job to remove color cast from photographs. However, this feature doesn’t allow fine-tuning and you will probably have to apply some manual adjustment.

To do so, open the Levels panel (Image>Adjustments>Levels) and use the middle gray eyedropper to set the neutral gray point in your photo by clicking where the neutral mid-tone should be.

In the Channel menu, go through the red, green and blue channels and move the sliders until you get the results you want.

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Work with the Transform tools (Edit>Transform) to rotate and fix any distortion in your photos. Click on the “Maintain aspect ratio” button so proportions won’t be altered.

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Cropping will eliminate distracting elements from your photographs. Use the Crop tool to change aspect ratio and apply cropping.

The Crop tool also features a rule of thirds grid to improve the overall composition of your photo.

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The only way to get sharp images is to focus accurately. Photos showing intense blur can’t really be fixed, not even in Photoshop. Nevertheless, when blur isn’t that severe, some sharpening will make a huge difference.

These are three ways to make your photos sharper:

  • High Pass (Filter>Other>High Pass)

Duplicate the original image layer. Apply the High Pass filter on the new layer and change its blend mode to Overlay if you want a bit of contrast or Soft Light for a softer effect.

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  • Unsharp Mask (Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask)

You will find three different sliders in the USM panel:

  1. Amount regulates the edges’ contrast.
  2. Radius controls the size of the area to be sharpened around the edges.
  3. Threshold determines the minimum difference in pixel contrast there must be for sharpening to be applied.

Adjust these three settings so the edges in your image have more overall contrast, but avoid weird looking halos and detail loss. Zoom into 100 percent for an accurate preview.

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  • Smart Sharpen (Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen)

Smart Sharpen works similarly to Unsharp Mask, but it gives you more control.

By selecting the right option from the Remove menu (usually Lens Blur works best) and checking the “More Accurate” option, it’s possible to get rid of USM’s common problems, such as halos or excessive noise.

Smart Sharpen also has advanced features to set different degrees of sharpening for mid-tones, shadows and highlights.

For all of the above, settings applied should vary depending on the type, size and destination of the image. Start with very slight changes and then increase gradually.

For small images, especially if intended for web publication, strong sharpening may be necessary. But be careful because extreme sharpening may damage the final quality of larger pictures.

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With Adjustment Layers, all adjustments are made on separate editable layers while the original remains untouched, so if you want to go back to review something later and make significant changes, you can do it.

These layers are ideal to apply non-destructive editing to images, but not many beginners use them.

To edit through Adjustment Layers, go to Photoshop’s layers palette and click on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon at the bottom.

Choose the type of layer you need (Curves, Levels, Gradients, Hue/Saturation, etc.). After that, you can start editing.

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In order to preserve all the layers containing your edits, save a copy of the file in the PSD format. This will save all the different layers and make note of the adjustments you’ve made instead of saving a complete image.

To make it even easier to make changes later, turn the image layer into a Smart Object (right click on the layer>Convert to Smart Object).

Smart Objects are linked directly to the original file data. Even if you apply filters and transformations, the original data is not corrupted.

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Layer masks are another feature not many beginners know how to use, but they are incredibly helpful, especially when you need to be accurate. They allow you to apply edits on specific parts of the image you are working with.

For instance, using a layer mask, I could lower the sharpening applied earlier from areas of the sample photo. To enable a layer mask, just click the “Add layer mask” icon in the layers palette.

A small blank icon will appear next to your original photo’s icon. Make sure the mask is selected (it should appear highlighted in the layers palette), and then paint on it with a black or white brush. The black brush deletes. The white brush reveals.

The process may seem hard to grasp at first, but it will make everything easier once you get used to it.

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With its many tools, a program like Photoshop can be tough at first for people with no experience in photo editing. It always takes some practice to master a new skill, but working on images with Photoshop’s advanced features will be very rewarding. I promise!

About the Author
Kristi Maddox is a master of graphic design, on-site design and ordering, and is the go-to for template and design tool usage.
Kristi and the team order print jobs from every major printer to test quality, value, customer service, and more. See their reviews here:


  1. this was awesome, thanks!

  2. nice results