10 Ways to Add Creative Flair to Your Images in Photoshop Elements - dummies

10 Ways to Add Creative Flair to Your Images in Photoshop Elements

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

Want your photos to stand out? Here’s a short list of easy ways to add a little creative interest to your images in Photoshop Elements:

  • Composite multiple images.

    Capturing a single great moment in camera is always satisfying. But sometimes you may want to take several of those great images and combine them. It may be for practical purposes, such as when you need to get two people in the same image, but they were shot at separate times. Other times, it may be for creative reasons. In the following photo, the boy was combined with the Christmas tree in the background. To combine your images, simply make a selection from one image and drag and drop that image onto another image with the Move tool. The key to great compositing is making an accurate selection, which leads to the next tip.


  • Get good at layer masking.

    You have a multitude of ways to make a selection in Elements, but by far the most accurate and flexible way is to create a layer mask. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the top of the Layers panel. Paint with the Brush tool with black to hide what you don’t want visible on the layer. Paint with white to display what you want visible. Use a varying opacity of black to partially show what you want — in the photo, the boy has a layer mask. You can also use the Gradient tool (with the colors set to black and white) to gradually blend one image into another.

  • Use selective focus, blur(s), and vignettes.

    The Depth of Field, Tilt-Shift, and Vignette Photo Effects found in the Guided mode are all great ways to add a selective focus to your image. Because they are found in Guided mode, applying them to your image is just a matter of following the steps presented in the pane. This photo uses a black Vignette.


  • Experiment with effects, filters, and layer styles in all three modes.

    Don’t stop at the effects presented in the preceding tip. Each mode — Expert, Quick, and Guided — offers a variety of effects, filters, layer styles, graphics, frames, textures. You can find different ones in each of the modes. When you take that into account, you have literally over a hundred of these goodies at your disposal.

  • Combine illustration and photography. Use brushes and vector artwork.

    When people think of Photoshop Elements, they really think of it as a purely photographic application. However, Elements also has ways for you to create from scratch painted and vector artwork that you can use as is or combine with your images. Tools such as the Brush tools and Shape tools enable you to create artwork in Elements. If you aren’t that artistically inclined, you can always import stock illustration into your image by choosing File→Place and bringing your illustration in as a Smart Object. Size and position it as you see fit. This photo shows a stock illustration combined with an image and a drop shadow layer style.


  • Experiment with blend modes and opacity settings.

    Sometimes just trying a different blend mode or opacity setting is enough to take your image from mundane to interesting. The great thing about both is that they are simple to apply and equally simple to remove. Just choose your layer in the Layers panel and select a blend mode from the Blending Mode pop-up menu at the top of the Layers panel. Adjust the opacity setting by selecting your layer and sliding the Opacity slider at the top of the Layers panel to your desired percentage.

  • Try clipping masks.

    This is probably one of the most underused features in Photoshop Elements. In a clipping mask, your bottommost layer (base layer) acts as a mask for the layers above it. Those layers above clip to the opaque layers of the base layer and are not visible over the transparent areas. It’s a great technique to use if you want to fill type, or a shape, with images, as shown in the following image. To create a clipping mask, make sure your base layer is on the bottom. Then hold down the Alt (Option on the Mac) and, in the Layers panel, position the mouse cursor over the line dividing the base layer and the layer above it and then click. Repeat that step for any other layers you want clipped to the base layer. This image also has drop shadow and inner shadow layer style to the type to enhance it a bit more.


  • Combine black and white images with color or colorize black and white images.

    You can combine black and white images with color images in several ways. The easiest way is to first make sure your black and white and color images are on separate layers. On the layer you want to be black and white, choose Enhance→Convert to Black and White. This action removes the color from that layer only and leaves your color mode as RGB, enabling you to also have color image layers in the file. This is a great way to combine vintage and modern images, showing past and present in a single composite.

    If you want to mimic the hand-colored look of Marshall’s Photo Coloring Systems of photo oils and retouching colored pencils, you would also start with an image that has also been converted to black and white via the same command. On a new layer, set the blend mode to Color. Grab a brush, specify your diameter, choose a color, and paint on your image. Specify your opacity percentage. It’s good to use a separate layer for each color. That way you can make your edits more easily.

  • Use photo filters.

    A photo filter makes an overly cool (too blue) photo warmer or an overly warm (too yellow) photo cooler, but there are also cool creative ways to use photo filters. The following photo shows a Cooling Filter (82) applied.


  • Play with Smart Brushes.

    A fun and easy way to add creative flair is by selectively painting on your image by using Smart Brushes. Simply grab either the Smart Brush or Detail Smart Brush, choose your desired brush diameter and effect, and paint on the image. In this last photo, the Smart Brush with the Old Paper effect adds more of a focus on the girl and puppy.