Monday, September 29th, 2014

Merging two layers into one in Photoshop

Learn a handy keyboard shortcut to merge two layers in Photoshop

One simple trick but one that comes in handy constantly for me is merging two layers into one in Photoshop. This trick can save your life with so many Photoshop projects that require two images to be merged to a single layer.

Make sure the layers you wish to merge are on top of each other in the Layers palette. Click on the thumbnail of the top most layer of the two you want to merge.

Press Control/Command + E.

Now your layers are merged.

Something to keep in mind is the new layer when it does merge will take the name of the layer on the top.


Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

A Great Microsoft Office Tutorial Resource

Great find! A list of good quality Microsoft Office tutorial resources

I’ve recently discovered an enormous list of Microsoft Office tutorials that may be worth checking out. Each piece of Office software has several listed tutorials ranging from beginner to advanced difficulty and general to specific usage.

Best of all, each tutorial has a brief summary of its contents so you can quickly decide if its new and interesting information. Hopefully every Office user will find something of use. You can visit the page here.

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

57 Secrets for Working Smarter in Photoshop


57 Secrets guaranteed to help you work smarter and faster and more effectively in Photoshop – what’s not to like about that?

Yeah! At last my new book is out. 57 Secrets for Working Smarter in Photoshop. It is updated to Photoshop CS6 and covers all the recent Photoshop versions.

The book is available as an e-book or a printed book from Amazon here or for the Kindle here. It is chock full of secrets you can put to work every day from making fixes without making selections to saving details of all the work you do in Photoshop so you can recreate an effect on an image. If you’re new to Photoshop or a seasoned user there is something in this book for you.

Everything is provided in a step by step format so you know not only what to do but you can follow the steps to do it.


Helen Bradley

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Five Photoshop setup tips

When you install a new version of Photoshop the first thing you’ll need to do is to set things up so that they work properly for you. Here are settings I make in the Preferences panel every time I upgrade.

1. Set your History States

Choose Edit > Preferences > Performance or Photoshop Preferences > Performance on a Mac and set the number of History States. Having a high setting for History States ensures that you can undo changes that you make to your image. By default it’s set to a paltry 20 so this is the first change to make.

I set my History States to the maximum value 1,000 – but even a quarter of this would be a good setting.

Here too I ensure that Photoshop can use plenty of the available RAM so I’ll crank that up to a large value – what you use will be dependent on the amount of memory you have installed.

2. Set Cursor Shape and Size

Still in the Preferences panel I like to use a Normal Brush Tip for my Painting Cursor and Precise for my Other Cursors. This can be set in the Cursors area.

You may want to use something different but it pays to look at these options and decide how you want your cursors to look as you work with them.

3. Opening Files My Way!

I dislike that Photoshop opens documents as tabs and that they are docked to the toolbar. This behavior really grates on me. If you’re like me and you prefer your documents to float you can set this in the Preferences Panel.

Choose Interface and disable Enable Floating Document Window Docking and disable Open Documents as Tabs.

In this panel you will also find the new Photoshop Color Themes in Photoshop CS6 so if

the dark gray look is not to your liking you can return to a more “CS5” look by selecting the lighter gray color.

4. Control Where Files are Saved to

Photoshop can be set either to save images back into the original folder when you choose File, Save As or to the folder that was last used for saving files. You can choose which of these behaviors you prefer Photoshop to default to in the File Handling area of the Preferences panel.

To save back to the original folder, enable the Save As to Original Folder option. To default to the last folder you saved to disable this checkbox.

5. Write your own History

So I can go back and retrace my steps in a large project I like to store a History of all that I do in Photoshop. To do this, click the General tab and enable the History Log checkbox. I save to a Text file (rather than inside the file itself) and I save a Detailed history as that stores the richest data. Choose a filename and place to save it and Photoshop will keep a log file of everything you do to every file.

So, now it is over to you. What preferences do you set up when you first install a new version of Photoshop?

Helen Bradley

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

5 Light taming Tips for Capturing better photos

These handy tips will help you tame any light condition to capture great photos:

Tip 1 – Time of day

In the early morning and late evening the light can be quite spectacular and you can capture not only sunrises and sunsets but also interesting coloured lighting effects on trees, buildings and your subject’s face.

Tip 2 – Silhouettes

When the sun is down low look for opportunities to photograph into the sun and capture objects between you and the sun in silhouette. Look for subjects that have interesting shapes and where the skies behind them are well lit and colourful.

Tip 3 – Use available light

Look for light sources that are more interesting and varied than your flash. Place the subject close to a window to capture natural light or use reflected light, a skylight or even a lamp. Lighting a subject from the side is often more interesting than using the flash straight on.

Tip 4 – Capture Shadows

In the intense sun of midday look for interesting shadows and plays of light and dark on buildings and other surfaces. Although the harsh sun of midday is the worst time to photograph it doesn’t mean you can’t get great shots.

Tip 5 – Perfect skies with a Polarizer

Invest in a quality Polarizing filter for your camera. This filter cuts the glare and reflections when shooting in bright sun and at the beach or in the snow. It gives you bright blue skies and crisper more saturated colours.

Helen Bradley

Friday, July 20th, 2012

5 Cool Excel 2010 tips and tricks

Here are five cool tips, tricks and keystrokes to help your day go faster in Excel:

Display cell formulas and not results

If you want to see the cell in your worksheet display formulas rather than the results of those formulas then  you can do it one of two ways.

Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + ~ to toggle formula display on and off

You can also use Formulas > Show Formulas

Start a new line

When you need to add a line break to a cell to start a new line of text press Alt + Enter in the cell. If you just want to wrap a long piece of text in a cell right click the cell and choose Format > Alignment tab > Wrap Text.

Copy the contents of the cell above

To copy the contents of the cell above into the current cell press Control + ‘.

Moving around super fast and super smart

To move from one sheet in a workbook to the next (or in reverse), press Control + PgDn and Control + PgUp.  To move to the next open workbook press Control + Tab or Control + Shift + Tab.

Super quick mouse free SUM formula

Skip taking the mouse to your Ribbon to add a SUM function and do it with a simple keystroke instead. Type Alt + = and Excel adds the SUM function automatically to the current cell. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

Helen Bradley

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Edit and Create on the go with Adobe Photoshop Touch

By Helen Bradley

On Monday, Adobe launched its Photoshop Touch application for the iPad. This long sought after app runs on the iPad 2, and not on the iPad 1, and it requires that you have iOS 5 installed. The app costs $9.99 which is at the high end of the price range for photo-editing apps in general but Photoshop Touch seems to have got the feature set about right so most people will probably consider it worth the money.

I use the iPad a lot for working with photos I’ve shot using a digital SLR camera in raw and which I’ve resized, converted to jpeg and downloaded to the iPad. Those images I have on the iPad are there because they are funky or because they lend themselves to some artistic play. So, I looked at Photoshop Touch in this light – I wanted to see if it would be part of my iPad image creative workflow. For heavy duty work, Photoshop and Lightroom will remain my tools of trade.

When you launch Photoshop Touch you get two options, viewing the tutorials or doing some work.

There are 10 tutorials that you can work through each of them is project based so you learn the program by learning a technique not by learning how individual tools work. These are text and image tutorials and not video ones, but they are interactive so you can learn as you go.

The second option is Begin a Project which is where I’ll start. You get the choice of adding an image from your iPad, the Adobe Creative Cloud, the Camera, Google or Facebook. I chose Local Photos then the Photo Library and an image from my iPad.

In the main editing area you’ll find the tools on the left, layers on the right and menus across the top. The program pays lip service only to Photoshop.  Some icons are familiar but others are more iPad than Photoshop so Photoshop users may find it a bit confusing where iPad artists will find it more familiar.

You can add multiple images and multiple layers. I wanted to texture this image so I clicked the Add Layer button and selected Photo Layer.

Once you select a second photo you get to size it as you import it – you can also rotate, flip or skew it too. Click Done to proceed to the editing area.

Now, with the layer selected, you can apply adjustments to it.

I chose Curves as this was a texture and I wanted more contrast. There are no adjustment layers so the Curves adjustment is being applied just to the targeted (top) layer. As you can see, you can adjust the RGB composite channel or the individual red, green and blue channels.

With the texture layer still targeted you can apply a filter to it by clicking the FX button. There is a range of filters including Basic, Stylize, Artistic and Photo. Some add things like drop shadows, blurs and glows and others are more artistic.

I chose Stylize > Old Photo, configured the settings and tapped Apply. Unlike Photoshop where the foreground and background colors need to be selected before you run a filter, here you can select the colors to use in the filter settings – this really is a feature that Photoshop should have.

To blend the layers you click the Layer icon and you get a choice of blend modes and the chance to adjust the layer opacity.

There are no masks but you can use a gradient to fade the effect – when you do the gradient is applied to the layer and you can only undo it by tapping Undo – you can’t go back and edit it.

You can also add a new Empty Layer and fill it with a gradient.

And then blend it using a layer blend mode as I have done here.

I finished by cropping the image and then saving it.

You can then email it or send it to the Camera Roll or upload the project to the Adobe Creative Cloud so you can access them from there.

There are limits to Photoshop Touch and one is the 1600 x 1600 pixel image size limit. The text tools are rudimentary and, as a long time Photoshop user, I’d like to see editable masks and editable text. That said, for fixing photos and tinkering with creative projects this program is a welcome addition to the Adobe family.

This app will appeal to a range of users. There are plenty of basic tools that are easy to use but also some more advanced features for working with images. The Scribble Extract tool does a reasonable job of extracting a subject from a background and you can tinker with gradients and fades to get some interesting effects. You don’t need to know how to use Photoshop to use the app but your knowledge won’t go astray.

Helen Bradley

Friday, May 11th, 2012

5 top tips for working with Gimp

I know that a lot of you use Gimp and, in the interests of taking a step away from Photoshop for a minute, here are 5 of my top tips for working with Gimp.

Rounded corners

Gimp makes it dead simple to round the corners of an image. To do this, choose Filters > Décor > Rounded Corners. A dialog will open. Select the Edge Radius, which is the amount of curve, and if desired, click to add a Drop Shadow and then set the Shadow Offset and Blur Radius. You can select to work on a copy of the image (rather than the original), and select whether or not to add some background behind the curved corners – the current background color is used for this. Click Ok to round the corners of the image.

Reassign keys

When I use Gimp, I sometimes forget and use Photoshop keys for things like deselect. Unfortunately in Gimp, the Photoshop deselect keystroke duplicates an image! You can, however, remap your keyboard shortcuts by choosing Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. So, for example, to map the Ctrl + D keystroke to the Select > None option, click to open the Select menu, locate the None option and click it so that the words New Accelerator appear in the Shortcut column. Then press the keystroke to use – I chose Ctrl + D, which is the Photoshop equivalent. Because this key combination is already used a warning appears – if you are ok with replacing the shortcut, then proceed to assign the new shortcut key.

When you change or reassign a shortcut, Gimp is smart enough to add the new shortcut to the appropriate menu so the Select menu here shows the newly assigned shortcut.

Move the selection mask

It is so much easier in Gimp than in Photoshop to move the actual selection marquee once you have made it. To see this at work, make a selection, then click the Move tool. Make sure that the Move option is set to Selection in the panel and you can now drag the selection into a new position. This works for circles, rectangles as well as selections made with the free select tool. Once you’re done, return to the tool to perform another task such as Ctrl + Alt + drag to move the selected area or Shift + Alt + drag to copy it.

Merge to a new layer (and keep the original layers)

One command that is useful when you need to flatten an image but where you don’t want to lose the layers you have already created is the one which flattens the visible portions of an image to a new layer. This layer is at the top of the stack but is created in a way that leaves the original layers still in place. In Photoshop you do it by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E. In Gimp, choose Layer –> New From Visible. Now you can, for example, sharpen the image but, if you need to make changes to the image, you can delete the top merged layer, adjust the image on the layers below and then remake the new merged layer and sharpen it.

Crop Tool Smarts

The Crop tool in Gimp includes a range of cool options. When you select it, check out the panel options. You can, for example, crop just the current layer (or all the image) or you can select the crop area from the middle out (rather than drawing from one corner). You can crop to a fixed aspect ratio or a fixed width (height is variable), fixed height (width is variable), or set both height and width. From the list which shows No Guides, you can choose to display a Rule of Thirds overlay, Center lines or Golden Sections to help you create a well composed image. Enable Highlight to see a dark border around the area you plan to crop to.

So, there are my 5 top Gimp tips. It is over to you. What is your favorite Gimp tip to share with others?

Helen Bradley

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Crop to fixed ratio in Photoshop

By Helen Bradley

If you’ve ever tried to crop an image to a fixed ratio in Photoshop you may have run up against an issue. There is, it appears, no option for cropping to a fixed ratio such as 4 x 6, 5 x 7 or even 1 x 1. You can crop to fixed sizes like 4in x 6in and you can set a resolution for the image but you can’t on the face of it just crop to a simple 1 x 1 without specifying a unit of measure. Here I’ll show you how to do this, but first things first…

The risk you run if you don’t watch how your settings are configured and if you don’t watch what you enter in the dialogs, is that Photoshop will not only crop, but also determine the units of measure and resample the image for you.

Default Settings

The default units of measure and the default resampling method are set in the program preferences which you can locate by choosing Edit > Preferences > General (Photoshop > Preferences > General) and then read the image interpolation method being used. In this set up it is set to Bicubic:

The default units of measure are set in the Units & Rulers options or the Panel options for the Info Palette as the ruler measurements:

If you type a number in the Width and Height boxes when you select the Crop tool in Photoshop then the default units of measure are used unless you also type the desired units of measure. This might not sound like it is a problem but if the default units of measure are pixels and you type 6 x 4 and have the Resolution set to 300 dpi you might end up with a very small size image indeed!

It is not possible to type a number in the Width or Height box for the Crop tool without a unit of measure being applied to it. So, what do you do if you want a 1 x 1 ratio crop not a 1 in x 1 in image?

The solution is to type 1in or 1cm in each the Width and Height boxes and ignore the units of measure. Then, remove anything from the Resolution box. When Photoshop is told to crop to a fixed size/ratio and is not told the Resolution to use it crops to the size requested, it doesn’t resample the image, and it simply adjusts the Resolution of the final image to suit the image. It might sound weird but it works to let you crop to a fixed ratio. The problem is of course, that the resulting resolution can be very large indeed.

Here I cropped this image to 1 in x 1 in with no resolution set:

Here are the final image dimensions – the size is 1 x 1 but the resolution is very large:

Change Resolution but not Size

If the resolution of the image is important to you then you can change it by choosing Image > Image Size, disable the Resample checkbox and set the desired Resolution and click Ok to adjust this. This resizes the image to the chosen resolution but does not resample it in the process.

Crop and Resample

On the other hand, if you set a width and height for the image in the Crop tool options and if you set a resolution, Photoshop will crop the image to that size and resolution.

If the image is very large and the desired size is comparatively small then Photoshop will downsize the image and in the process resample the image. If there are insufficient pixels in the image to crop to the desired size and resolution, Photoshop will upsize the image resampling it as it does so.

An Alternate Method

There is an alternative method that lets you crop to a fixed ratio without altering image resolution. It is a little longer but it works well and is bypasses the crop tool entirely. Instead, target the Rectangular Marquee tool and select Fixed Ratio from the Style list and then set the Width and Height as values without measurements. Select the area to keep – if necessary, hold the Space Bar as you are drawing the shape to move it to a new position.

When you ‘re done choose Image > Crop to crop it.

Next time you need to crop to a fixed aspect ratio, one of these methods will ensure you get the result you expect.

Helen Bradley

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Office 2010 – how to save files as templates

Each of the Office applications allows you to configure a look for a document, spreadsheet, publication or presentation and then save it as a template so that you can reuse it anytime.

Templates in PowerPoint 2010

In PowerPoint you’ll create your presentation and then save it using File > Save As and select from the Save As Type list choose PowerPoint Template (*.potx). Give your presentation template a name and click Save.

In future you can locate this presentation by choosing File > New > My Templates and click on the template to use it as the basis of a new document.

Templates in Word 2010

In Microsoft Word choose File > Save As and from the Save As Type dropdown list choose Word Template (*.dotx). In the top left of the dialog click the Templates option to make sure that the template will be stored in the correct location and give the template a name.

In future choose File > New > My Templates and select the template to use.

Templates in Excel 2010

In Microsoft Excel, you can save the look of your document so that it can be used as the basis of a new document by choosing File > Save as and choose Excel Template (*.xltx ) as the file type. Type a name and save the template file.

In future you can base a new worksheet on this template by choosing File > New > My Templates and select it from the Personal Templates list.

Templates in Publisher 2010

In Publisher you’ll choose File > Save As and then select Publisher Template (*.pub). Type a name for the template and click Save.

In future you can access this template by choosing File > New > My Templates, select the template and click Create. You may need to close and reopen your software before the new templates are available.

Helen Bradley

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