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Part 5: Slightly Beyond Basic Editing

The four functions described  already – cropping, brightness, color correction and resizing – are probably the ones most used by woodturners, but Elements offers several other capabilities that come in handy from time to time.  


In a photograph of a turning having a tall finial, it’s important for the finial to be pointed straight up.  Even a slight tilt to the side is very noticeable.  And all it takes to get a tilting finial is to have your tripod ever so slightly misadjusted when you take the picture.  

The rotate function (Image > Rotate > Custom) allows you to rotate the image either left or right an amount you specify.  You check a button to indicate the direction, type in the number of degrees of rotation desired (1, 1.5, 2, etc.), and click OK.  If your estimate of the amount of rotation needed is off, just repeat the process.  

When you rotate an image, triangular slivers of empty space will appear at the edges.  After doing the rotation, these slivers are removed by cropping.

Unsharp mask

This function is used to sharpen an image even though the name, which is derived from a black/white darkroom technique, may suggest the opposite effect.  It is located near the bottom of the Enhance dropdown menu.

Most images benefit from a little sharpening.  However, if you try to apply too much, the edges will develop noticeable fringes which appear unreal, to say the least.

What the unsharp mask cannot do is correct a focus problem caused by the camera not being focused properly when the image was made.  For this reason you should focus carefully if you are using manual focus, and check the image if you are using the automatic focus.  Autofocus does not always work, at least not as well as we would wish.

Here’s a “split image” of a natural edge bowl that has been sharpened just about as much as possible before artifacts begin to appear.  

Working Within an Image

The following items are used to make corrections within an image rather than making an adjustment to the image as a whole.  


This tool is used to remove or modify relatively small spots or imperfections.  For example, suppose you have a photograph of a bowl taken against a fairly light backdrop, and  a tiny wooden chip shows up prominently just in front of the bowl.  The bowl looks good, but all you can see is the chip.

On the image, the clone/stamp tool appears as a small circle (called a brush) instead of your mouse pointer.  What it does, with you in control, is to copy (clone) a circle of pixels from a nearby point and then paste (stamp) them over the part you wish to remove.  Small spots can be removed with one click.

Here’s an image that I used in another article, the one on replacing the On/Off switch on a Powermatic lathe. Note the sawdust at the lower right –  that really doesn’t need to be there.  However, in less time than it would take to re-shoot the picture, I can remove the sawdust by using the clone/stamp tool to paste pixels from a clean area over the sawdust.   The result is shown below, and it took about 30 seconds to do.

I would never do this, but I happen to know that you can remove a crack from a turning with the clone/stamp tool.  All you have to do is copy pixels from the side and then paste them over the crack. After you get good at it, you can remove the entire crack with one click-and-drag of the mouse.  

While eliminating a crack completely might be taking the concept of artistic license a bit too far, sometimes, depending on the lighting, a crack or void in a turning will register in the image very much more prominently than it appears in real life.  The clone/stamp tool can be used to tone it down.

The tool has an opacity adjustment that adds transparency to the pixels being copied and pasted.   By reducing the opacity down to, say, 50% and then cloning over the crack, it will be made less prominent without being removed completely.  The following two images illustrate this.  

Dodge and Burn

In the days of black and white darkroom work, a skilled operator could darken highlights in an image by “burning,” and lighten the shadows by “dodging.”  The technique of burning consists of holding a piece of cardboard under the enlarging lens and letting additional light fall on the photographic paper through a hole in the cardboard. Where it falls, the additional light makes the image appear darker (after you run the paper through the chemicals, of course).  

Dodging is just the opposite.  A small circle of cardboard mounted on the end of a wire is used to block some of the light from parts of the image that otherwise would be too dark.  This is used to lighten the shadows.  

Needless to say, this whole affair was a hit or miss proposition, and it usually took several tries to get it right.  It was time consuming because, for each trial, you had to develop the print.  This took roughly three minutes before you could examine the image under full room light.  

All that seems very quaint and laborious now.  As you might expect, Elements includes tools for dodging and burning – small circles that you drag over the image with your mouse to either darken or lighten the region in the circle.  And, you can do it in the daylight!

The two images below illustrate the effect of burning.  The one on the left is the switch after we removed the sawdust.  The foreground is rather bright.  The one on the right is the same image after burning the foreground (and using the clone/stamp tool to remove a couple of conflicting shadows).  

Selection Tools

Several of the adjustment functions I’ve mentioned already (brightness, contrast, saturation, color balance, etc.) are typically applied to the entire image.  However, it often happens that only certain parts of the image need correction.  This is where the selection tools come into play – to select the parts of the image you want to adjust.  

Elements has at least eight different tools for making selections. The simplest are the rectangular and elliptical marquee tools that allow you to click and drag a box or ellipse around the area of interest.  

Another is the lasso tool which selects the area you encircle by dragging your mouse.  However, the “magnetic” lasso tool will attach the selection line to an edge close to the mouse pointer so you don’t have to be ultra precise as you trace around the region you want to select.  

The quick selection tool is remarkable in that it does not require you to trace around the area.  Just click and drag in the region you want to select, and the tool will expand the selection to include regions similar to where you clicked.  If it goes too far and selects an area you don’t want, you can “subtract” that area.  When you do a subtraction, the tool learns that you don’t want an area of that type, and it will then avoid those areas as you finish the selection. It’s amazing!

Another tool, the magic wand, acts in a manner similar to the quick selection tool.  It looks for and selects areas having the same color (hue, or tint) as where you clicked the mouse.  And then there is the plain old selection brush, which is a purely manual tool with no smart features.  What you brush is what you get.

Even though the selection tools are rather sophisticated, they are not perfect.  Therefore, Elements makes it possible to refine the selection, either adding to it or removing some areas.  Also, the edge of the selected area does not have to be a sharp, distinct line. It can be feathered so the transition from selected to non-selected regions is gradual.  This avoids having sharp and noticable transitions in the final image after the adjustments are made.  


In the picture at right, the bowl is too bright and the other objects too dark.  To correct this unbalance, we can use the Quick Selection tool to select the bowl and achieve a separation of the bright and dark areas, and then adjust each one separately.  

Elements has an “Invert Selection” feature that lets you swap the selected and non-selected areas. Therefore, to adjust the dark objects, we can select the bowl then invert the selection.  Another “invert selection” will return to the original selection, the bowl, so we can go back and forth if we wish.  

The following images show the selection (left) and the final result after tweaking the brightness of the two regions separately.  

Remember the little pine box from Part 2, the one taken in front of the textured background?  Adjusting the brightness of the box resulted in a background that is too bright for my liking.  We can use the quick selection tool to select the background, and once it is selected, we can tone it down a bit.  Here are the original, the selection, and the final result after making a brightness adjustment to the background.

As you become more sophisticated in image editing, making selections will be the aspect of the process that requires more care and more time to do, assuming you work to high standards.  The typical approach is to use the smart features to make a rough selection, and then tweak it with the selection brush to refine it.

The time and effort required depends on the nature of the object you’re trying to select.  If it has distinct edges, the quick selection tool will work nicely, almost instantly.  But things like wind-blown hair or ruffled feathers can be more demanding.  Fortunately, most turnings have neither feathers nor hair.  

Book Recommendation

Photoshop Elements 11: The Missing Manual by Barbara Brundage

Final Comments

With these articles, my objective is to illustrate exactly how the basic image corrections are made in Elements so you can make an informed decision on whether to spend your bowl gouge money on a photo-editing program ... and a book.  Of course, if you have an editing program and it works for you, there’s no reason to change. Go ahead and get that gouge.  

However, if you’ve never tried editing an image or have been frustrated by the results obtained with a different program, Elements may be a good investment for you.  Using only the basic functions, you can improve your problem images dramatically and make your good ones even better.  

Oh yes, one other comment: nothing beats knowing how to use your camera, even if it means reading the manual that came with it. A white balance setting that is spot on equates to a color correction you don’t have to make!

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing your pictures.  

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