5 Step Photoshop Elements Basic Editing Workflow

Photoshop Elements is one of my favourites for photo editing software.  I particularly like to use Ps Elements for my JPEG images where I need to do some basic editing.  In this post I want to show you my basic editing workflow for JPEGs.  Some people use RAW all the time and that’s a good option depending on your needs.  This isn’t a discussion about RAW vs JPEG because there are already a lot of great articles covering this topic. This article from SLR Lounge has great photos illustrating the differences between the formats while this article from DPS gives a nice detailed explanation.  This post, then, is for everyone who wants to edit JPEGs quickly and easily.  I’ve chosen a photo that I think best illustrates how to make use of my 5 workflow steps which I’ll go through with you from beginning to end.

Ps Elements Basic Workflow Lilolia

Step 1 – Crop & Rotate

Step 1 Crop and Rotate Lilolia

The first thing I do is decide whether my photo needs to be cropped for better composition and if it needs to be rotated to straighten either the horizon or my subject.
To do this in Photoshop Elements you select Quick, and then select the crop tool in the left hand toolbar.  Then you make your crop selection, resize it if need be, and then rotate the selection from the corner squares if you need to straighten.  When you are satisfied, click the green tick to accept your selection.  If you’re not happy with it you can always undo and try again.  You will notice when you select the crop tool that there are a number of options to help you in the tool options at the bottom.  I like to use the rule of thirds grid to help me with my selection and I generally choose use photo ratio for sizing guidance but you can choose any kind of grid you like and any size you prefer.

Step 2 – Levels

2 - Step 2 Shadows Lilolia

In the right hand panel you will see a tab labelled Levels.  Expanding it, you will notice three more tabs for you to use in adjusting the levels of your photo.  If your image has darker areas that you would like to lighten, you select shadows and you can either hover your mouse over the boxes to choose the best option for your image or use the slider if the first box lightens up your shadows too much.  You’ll notice your image looking brighter overall.  Now move onto the midtones tab.  This brings back some of the darker shades of your image and stops it looking washed out after you lightened your shadows.  Finally, move to the highlights tab.  If your image has blown out white areas bringing down the highlights can help reduce that brightness but be cautious because lowering your highlights too much can leave a strange effect on your image.  Sometimes you just can’t fix those blown out highlights in JPEG and this is one area where RAW is better for adjustments.  You don’t have to use any or all of these tabs when you edit.  Decide what areas your photos need help with and then experiment to see what you like.  I don’t always use the shadows or highlights tabs unless I need to.  I do, however, tend to like boosting my midtones.

Step 3 – Colour

5 - Step 3 Saturation Lilolia

Adjusting colour is a very personal thing.  You must do whatever pleases you.  Expand the Colour tab and again there are another three adjustment tabs.  Saturation can either be brought up or down depending on your tastes but be careful not to bring your saturation up too much.  I recommend bringing your vibrance up first to see if that boosts the colour enough for your liking before touching saturation.  I hardly ever change my saturation but I always up my vibrance.  If you do up your saturation I highly recommend checking your temperature balance because I often see photos with high saturation in desperate need of some temperature balance.
So move to the Balance tab where you’ll see two adjustment tabs; temperature and tint.  Click temperature and move the slider in very small increments to either a cooler (blue) or warmer (red) balance and see if this betters or worsens your image.  Note that in my screenshot of this step I have adjusted the saturation to show you what it looks like but the choice I made for the editing of my image was no saturation adjustment.  I chose only to up the vibrance.  So my final image shows no saturation adjustment.

Step 4 – Lighting

9 - Step 4 Selective Lighting Lilolia

There are two ways to adjust the lighting (brightness/contrast) of your photo.  The first method is to adjust the brightness or contrast of the overall photo.  To do this you select EnhanceAdjust LightingBrightness/Contrast on the top toolbar.  A box will appear which will provide you with brightness and contrast sliders.
The other method is to adjust the brightness/contrast of just a selected area of your photo as in the screenshot for this step and which is the method I will use for my photo here.  I’m choosing to use this method because the sky in my image is already as bright as I want it but I want the building to be brighter than it is.  To do this you must click Expert (top centre) and a new set of tools will appear.  Under Enhance in the left hand toolbar click the paint brush or Smart Brush Tool.  You can use this tool for a number of different things but to brighten a selection you’ve got to go to the tool options at the bottom, expand the tab second from the left and select brighter.  Adjust the size of the brush circle and click on the areas of your photo that you want to include in your selection.  Use the brush+ and brush- to select or deselect areas in your selection but be as precise as possible.  Once you’ve made a selection you’ll notice firstly, a coloured box in your selection which if you right click gives you options to adjust the brightness/contrast settings of your selection, and secondly, that a new layer called brighter has appeared in the right hand panel.  When you are satisfied with your selection and its brightness/contrast settings click on the background layer in the right hand panel and then click on Quick top centre to return to basic adjustments where we complete the final step of the basic workflow.  Note that when you save an image that has multiple layers you must change the format from .psd (photoshop file) to a .jpg or .png.

Step 5 – Sharpen

10 - Step 5 Sharpen Lilolia

The final step in the basic editing workflow is to sharpen your image.  I like to sharpen to 125 (2 squares) but you do what pleases you.  You can now save your image.  I prefer to keep my original JPEGs so I always save as a copy.

I hope you find this helpful and a base from which to explore and experiment with Photoshop Elements which I find to be a great program for its combination of photo editing and Photoshop features.  If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out.




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Verity M

Freelance Writer. Love Reading, Photography, & Life Design. I'm all about Curiosity & Creativity.

2 thoughts on “5 Step Photoshop Elements Basic Editing Workflow”

  1. Very useful. I currently use Lightroom Mobile for editing my photos, and found it pretty good. Fast too! I must check though if it has the option to brighten only specific portions of my photos like Photoshop Elements does.

    1. I really like all of Adobe’s programs; Lightroom, Elements, & Photoshop. They all have something slightly different to offer. Elements’ Smart Brush Tool is what keeps me coming back to Elements because it is both a selection tool and an adjustment tool so it selects an area and then evenly applies an adjustment within the selection. I’m not sure that Lightroom has this exact tool (correct me if I’m wrong please) but you can make adjustments to an area of a photo by ‘painting’ onto the desired area with the Adjustment Brush tool and you can use Auto Mask to keep the adjustment within an area if there is high contrast. This technique doesn’t work exactly the way Elements’ Smart Brush tool works because of the selection. The painting part of Lightroom’s option feels to me that the adjustment isn’t as evenly applied as with Elements’ option but there are also more options for different kinds of adjustments with Lightroom. Truth be told I use them both and it depends on what exactly I want to do with a photo as to which I’ll use. Glad you found this post useful Nish, I’m constantly learning with these programs so it’ll be good to share ideas and techniques.

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