Many photo-editing tricks are simple to do – if you know how. We talk you through three common techniques for enhancing your work.

Photoshop trickery doesn’t have to be tricky. Some of the techniques used in magazines, films, and on the Web are actually quite simple. These three techniques take minutes, and can be done in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements..

Burned-in portraits

The burned-in edge effect adds an amazing amount of warmth to your portraits, which is why it’s so popular with professional photographers. Once you’ve learned this simple technique, you’ll apply it all over your work.

First of all, open the portrait that you want to burn in. Create a new blank layer by clicking on the Create A New Layer icon in the Layers palette. Press the D key to set your foreground colour to black, and then fill this new layer with black by pressing option-delete. Press the M key to switch to the Rectangular Marquee tool, and click and drag to create a rectangular selection just inside the edges of your image.

To soften the edges of your selection, go to the Select menu and choose Feather. When the Feather Selection dialog box appears, enter 40 pixels (for high-resolution, 300ppi images, try 150 pixels), and click on OK.

Press the delete key to knock out a soft-edged hole in this black layer, revealing the photo on the layer beneath. The edges will be too dark, but you’ll fix that in the next step.

Press Command-D to deselect. Then go to the Layers palette and lower the opacity of the black layer to around 40 per cent to complete the burned-in effect. To see how effective this technique is, click on the Eye icon to the left of your black frame layer to hide it, revealing just your original image. Now click again in the box where the Eye icon was. Notice the difference?

Instant stock-photo effect

The “wild colour” effect is incredibly popular right now. In fact, there are entire collections of royalty-free stock photos that use this technique, and you often see it used in print ads, in magazines, and on the Web. It’s ideal for taking an otherwise boring image and using wild colours to make it trendy and interesting.

Open a photo to edit. Go to the Layers palette, and from the Create Adjustment Layer pop-up menu, choose Gradient Map. This will bring up the Gradient Map dialog box.

Click on the little down-facing triangle to the right of the current gradient swatch to bring up the Gradient Picker. From the Picker’s fly-out menu (the right-facing arrow), choose Color Harmonies 2 to load this example’s set of gradients. When they appear, choose the Purple, Green, Gold gradient.

Click on OK. This applies a Gradient Map adjustment layer over your photo. This gradient map is usually too intense and pretty much trashes your photo. To fix that, go to the Layers palette and change the layer blend mode of this layer from Normal to Color. Now the colour of the Gradient Map layer blends in more smoothly, and it replicates the wild colour effect that’s so popular in stock-photo collections.

To fine-tune the effect, press the X key until you’ve set your foreground colour to black, and then press B to switch to the Brush tool. Up in the Options bar, lower the opacity for your brush to 50 per cent, then click on the brush thumbnail and choose a large, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker. Now paint over areas where you want to have more detail. You’re actually painting on the layer mask of the Gradient Map adjustment layer, and as you paint in black, some of the original colour will start to reappear.

Painted-edges technique

This technique, where you essentially hide the photo and then paint it back in, is particularly popular with landscape and portrait photographers. It works well for so many different styles of photos though, so it has many uses.

Once you’ve opened an image, create a new blank layer by clicking on the Create A New Layer icon in the Layers palette. Press D-X to set your foreground colour to white, and then fill this new layer with white by pressing option-delete. Your image will disappear, but you’ll get it back in a minute.

Press the E key to switch to the Eraser tool. Go up to the Options bar, and bring up the Brush Picker by clicking on the brush thumbnail. You’re going to load a set of brushes, so click on the Brush Picker’s fly-out menu (it’s the right-facing black arrow in the top right corner of the Picker) and choose Load Brushes. In the Load dialog box, click on the Thick Heavy Brushes set and click on Load. Scroll down near the end of the Picker and click on the first Thick Heavy Brush, the 111-pixel Flat Bristle brush.

To help you see what you want to paint back in, lower the opacity of the top white layer to around 50 per cent in the Layers palette. Now you can paint over the areas you want to be visible. Start painting a few strokes with this brush from left to right across your image area. As you do so, the original photo will paint back in. One of the cool things about this brush is that it has some gaps in it (like a really dry brush), which helps give your image a realistic, painted look.

Go back to the Brush Picker in the Options bar and choose the next 111-pixel brush, the Rough Flat Bristle brush. Paint a stroke along the top of the painted effect with only a very small portion of this brush tip extending over the top of the already painted areas. This adds a more random, spattered look along the top edge. Do the same along the bottom. Raise the opacity of this white layer in the Layers palette back to 100 per cent so you can see your painting effect.

For the finished piece, you can add a line of text to the bottom. Press D to set your foreground colour to black, press T to switch to the Type tool, and then enter your text.

This article is an excerpt from Photoshop Elements 3 Down & Dirty Tricks, by Scott Kelby (2005; reprinted by permission of Pearson Education and New Riders).