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Learning Lab

What's New in Photoshop CS?

by Ken Milburn, author of Digital Photography: Expert Techniques

It seems like each new version of Photoshop offers fewer new features than the last. As you already learned from Photoshop 7, however, quality counts much more than quantity. It's really all about getting more done while doing it better and in less time. Most, if not all, the new features in the CS version (a.k.a. version 8) are features that enhance and/or enforce a better workflow system. So, in a way, you can consider this article the fourth in my series on improving your Photoshop workflow. (See Related Articles sidebar for links to series articles.)

I'll cover each of the following most significant new features (at least as far as the photographer in me is concerned):

  • Enhanced File Browser
  • Expanded ability to edit 16-bit files
  • Automatic color matching of separate images
  • Expanded and interactive Histogram palette that automatically reflects any image adjustments you make
  • Improvement over the Fill Flash command in Photoshop Elements, called the Shadow/Highlight Correction command
  • Ability to align text along any path you can draw with Pen or Shape tools
  • Photo-realistic, post-production, depth-of-field effect called the Lens Blur filter
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts for any Photoshop command, palette, or tool (you can use these in addition to Actions)
  • History log for tracking work time on various phases of projects
  • Customizable Help
  • Color Replacement tool
  • More accurate and flexible version of Photomerge
  • Auto-cropping and straightening of multiple images
  • Photo Filters set that includes all the standard over-the-lens filters used in conventional photography
  • Compatible export of both vector and bitmapped animations to Flash

Enhanced File Browser

The Camera RAW converter is now built into the program, saving owners of higher-end digital cameras the $100 cost of buying the plugin required by Photoshop 7. The new features in the Camera RAW palette are covered in a previous article on O'Reilly Network. Other new File Browser features include a new menu bar within the File Browser automation, and easier and faster image rotation. You can now add keywords and metadata to files, making it much easier to search files for a particular characteristic.

Figure 1 shows how you can make oversized custom thumbnails for making critical comparisons between similar thumbnails and how you can drag the tabs for Folders, Keywords, Metadata, and the Preview into one another's windows in order to arrange them in any way that works best for you. You can then save the arrangement to a list of different workspace arrangements. So you could have one File Browser arrangement of small thumbnails with a large folder window for quickly finding files, another with nothing but large thumbnails for making critical comparisons between similar files, and so forth.

Figure 1: The newly redesigned File Browser showing one of many possibilities for sizing thumbnails and arranging windows.

Batch processing now also works from the new File Browser Menu Bar. You can run Batch commands that apply Actions to all the selected files in the browser. These Batch commands can create a PDF Presentation (slide show), contact sheet, merge photos into a panorama, create a picture package (several different subjects and/or sizes on a single sheet of paper), or create a Web Photo Gallery, all from the files selected in the Browser, rather than having to first collect them into their own folders.

You can now Apply Rotation to any files previously rotated only in the Browser. This will cause the files to be seen as rotated when they're viewed by Photoshop Album or in any photo-editing software other than the current version of Photoshop. That is because the image itself has actually been rotated, rather than simply having its thumbnail rotated.

Increased configurability of the File Browser means that it's much easier to work with the Browser when working with a limited number of files that will be dedicated to a specific project, such as a presentation, portfolio, or collection. There's now a Light Table feature that allows you to drag thumbnails into any order you like. That makes it easy to put all the shots of a particular subject, shooting angle, lighting condition (or what have you) into a unique order. That makes it easier to see and compare all the shots that might compete for a certain purpose, that might need to have their colors or settings matched, and so forth. Furthermore, you can customize the size of thumbnails and what components are shown in the Workspace. You can also save customized configurations so that you can pick them from a list. Thus, you can have different configurations for different purposes so that, once configured and saved, you can just pick them from the list.

A New Search feature with the File Browser is extraordinarily powerful. It lets you search files by virtually any combination of the following criteria: File name, file size, date created, date modified, file type, flag, rank, keywords, description, other metadata, EXIF metadata. You can even have several versions of the same criteria in the search list. For instance, the first three criteria in the list could be filename, each instance searching for a different name. You access this search feature from within the browser and the results are all shown in the light table in the browser. Note that this search feature becomes even more powerful when you consider that you can now edit and add to metadata. That means that you can create your own alphanumeric codes and keywords for finding files by endless variations of categorical criteria. You can best get an idea of how powerful this browser search can be in Figure 2. The search results are all shown in the File Browser's window, where you can use all the powerful new features--including automation--directly applied to any combination of the found files.

Figure 2. The File Browser's Search dialog (as you can see, you can easily set up numerous conditions).

Note: Be sure you make a list of all the keywords you use in your metadata. Then you'll know exactly what keywords to include in your search, and which ones to leave out.

Expanded Ability to Edit 16-Bit Files

You can now use Photoshop's most essential editing commands to edit 16-bit files. This means that you can do a lot more editing non-destructively, especially when the editing means making major changes in brightness and contrast which, in 8-bit files, could cause posterization by creating a gap between the 8-bit limit of 256 brightness levels when the adjustment causes some of the 256 levels to be compressed together. 16-bit images, by contrast, have thousands of brightness levels, so even when some of these are compressed together, there's rarely a gap between any of the 256 levels that we can actually see.

Automatic Color Matching

You can now make the color balance in one image match the color balance in another. You do it by opening a pair of images and choosing Image > Adjust > Match Color, which brings up the Match Color dialog shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The Match Color dialog.

In the dialog, you choose the file you want to match in color from the Source menu and the file you want to match it to in the Destination menu. You can use selections to match the color in only one part of the source image with the colors in either a selected part of the destination image or in the overall color scheme of the destination image.

As you might suspect, the results work best when the two images come reasonably close in subject matter, background color, and lighting contrast. Otherwise, the program will probably do a poor job of second-guessing which colors should be made to match those in specific areas of the target image.

Color Matching works nearly perfectly when you're trying to match slightly different exposures in the same shoot, or when something like a passing cloud or a flashing light affects the color in some of the frames in that series but not in others. If you try to make it a magical solution for matching colors between any two dissimilar images, you're in for some big (and probably unpleasant) surprises.

New Interactive Histogram Palette

The Histogram palette now instantly reflects any image adjustment as you make it. For instance, you can open the Histogram palette, then the Curves palette, make changes in the levels, and see the changes in the histogram as you work. The result is that you always have a clear idea of what the dynamic range of the image is and where the pixels are concentrated over any range of values. You can even show the Histogram in colors, so that you can see the distribution of colors at the same time as you see the overall histogram. This works equally well for any of the commands on the Image > Adjustments menu. Figure 4 paints the picture better than these words can.

Related Articles:

The Ideal Digital Photographer's Workflow, Part 3 -- You can achieve greater control over the quality of the images produced by your new digital camera if you shoot them in RAW format. Trouble is, it can take an inordinate amount of time to convert RAW images into something your image-editing program can use. In Part 3 of Ken Milburn's series on creating ideal digital photography workflows, he details several steps you can take to save hours of RAW-process work after every shoot. Ken is the author of the upcoming Digital Photography: Expert Techniques.

The Ideal Digital Photographer's Workflow, Part 2 -- Ken Milburn follows up on suggestions he made in Part 1 of this two-part series about creating a minimally destructive workflow for the work you do inside image-editing software. Here he offers five nondestructive editing steps to take once you've downloaded your images. Then he provides some second-stage editing techniques to enhance the impact your images will have on your clients, or your friends and family. Ken is the author of the upcoming Digital Photography: Expert Techniques.

The Ideal Digital Photographer's Workflow, Part 1 -- Ken Milburn offers a workflow that digital photographers can follow for preparing for a shoot and determining a shooting procedure, and for downloading, cataloguing, tracking, and archiving the image files that result. Ken is the author of the upcoming Digital Photography: Expert Techniques.

Figure 4. The new Histogram palette in expanded view with the All Channels and Colors option chosen. When opened, the Histogram instantly changes to reflect any adjustment to the image.

Shadow/Highlight Correction Command

Although they can still be useful techniques, you no longer have to rely on using a white layer in Soft Light Mode to lighten over-dark shadows or using a duplicate layer in Multiply mode to darken over-bright highlights. You don't even have to switch to Photoshop Elements so that you can use the Fill Flash command. The new Shadow/Highlight dialog (Image > Adjustments > More Options box at the bottom of the palette (see Figure 5) gives you considerably more control over the detail in both the darkest and lightest areas of the image. There are two operational modes in the Shadow/Highlight dialog. In basic mode, there are just two sliders; one for shadows and the other for highlights. For those rare occasions where that's just not enough control, you click on the More Options box to reveal sliders for Color Correction and Midtone Contrast. You also get entry fields for Black Clip and White Clip.

Figure 5. A view of both versions of the Shadow/Highlight dialog.

Text on a Path

At last! A powerful new feature with virtually no learning curve! If you want to place text on a path, you don't have to switch to Illustrator, create the text on the path, and then import it into Photoshop (where it gets rasterized in the process, whether you like it or not). Nor is there any complex dialog with lots of options. Now you can simply draw any path with the Pen tool, choose any of the text tools (horizontal, vertical, solid or selection), click at any point on the path, and the text will follow the direction of that path in the order in which the points along the path were placed. If you reshape the path, the text will move along with it. If you want to change the size or style of the text, all you have to do is edit it by highlighting and changing it just as you would any text that's not on a path.

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