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I've decided to hone in on some of my cool creative-style tips. I know that everyone loves the creative stuff, but there are also some great timesaving tips thrown in for good measure. As much as we love the creative stuff, we need to get through the boring stuff quicker so that we can get back to what we love. I hope you like what I've cooked up for you and I can assure you that you'll find these tips are very useful.
1. Is that layer really empty?
When working in a multilayered document, it's easy for lots of layers to stack up very quickly. Perhaps you got a little carried away and didn't bother naming your layers. Now it's time to clean up your layer stack and start deleting all the unneeded layers. Have you ever wondered if a layer is empty or not? Here's a little time-saving tip: Hold down Ctrl key and click on the layer thumbnail. If you get a message that says, "Warning: No pixels were selected," then you can safely delete the layer because it is indeed empty. If you just wanted to get rid of all empty layers, choose File>Scripts>Delete All Empty Layers.
2. Clean Samples
If you're working on a very high-resolution image that has some grain, it can be hard to sample the exact color that you want. You might find that you're getting the colors from the grain instead. The best way to get a good average color is to change the Sample Size. When you choose the Eyedropper tool (I), you'll see the Sample Size in the Options Bar. Choose a higher sample size for higher resolution and noisier images.
3. Lock your brush settings
Not too many people are aware of this powerful setting. Whenever you choose a different brush preset, all the dynamics will be updated to reflect the settings of the chosen brush. If you click the Lock icon next to a setting, it will stick no matter which brush is chosen. This is really useful if you're mixing brushes while working on a technique. When you turn off the Lock icon (by clicking again), the brush will immediately revert to its original setting. To put everything back to the factory settings as far as locking, choose Reset All Locked Settings from the flyout menu in the Brush panel.
4. Base effect layers
There are lots of times you'll need a layer filled with a base color for an effect. You may use lens flares, add noise to make grain, do nondestructive dodging and burning, or other effects that require a layer that's filled with black, white, or gray. Usually, when you create a layer of this type, you'll use it in a blend mode that will make the base color invisible so only your effect shows. You could create a layer; fill it with gray, black, or white; and then change the blend mode; or you could do this: Hold down the Alt key when you click the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Choose your blend Mode from the dropdown menu. You'll now see an option that says, "Fill with [name of blend mode]-neutral color." Turn on the checkbox, and you're now ready to apply your effect safely.
5. Dragging your lens flare around
Speaking of lens flares, did you know that you're not limited to adding the flare to the center of the image? You can position a lens flare anywhere on the layer. When you choose Filter > Render > Lens Flare, you'll see a preview window with your layer visible. Just click-and-drag the flare in the preview window for exact placement.
6. Layer style control
When you're creating layer effects, you can reposition the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, and Gradient Overlay layer styles by clicking-and-dragging in your document window. This makes it much easier to precisely position your effects compared to moving sliders. (Note: To add a layer style, click on the Add a Layer Style icon [fx] at the bottom of the Layers panel).
7. Smoother line art
Sometimes when you bring bitmap line art into Photoshop, it can have jagged edges. These aren't very pretty, but we can fix them. Add a little bit of a blur to the line art using Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (2-6 px). Now press Ctrl-L for Levels. Click on the black and white triangles and drag them toward the middle. Notice that the line art becomes nice and sharp again, sans the "jaggies."
8. Create a new layer under your current layer
Usually when you create a new layer it goes above the currently active layer. What if you want it under the layer? If you hold down the Ctrl key while Clicking the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, the new layer will be created directly underneath the currently active layer.
9. Duplicate a layer directly in your document
There are many ways to duplicate layers; for example, you can drag a layer to the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, or press Ctrl-J. How about duplicating the layer and moving it to where you want all at the same time? Right in the document, switch to the Move tool (V), hold down the Alt key, and click-and-drag out a copy of your layer to where you want. This is great for small parts pf an image that you want to duplicate.
10. Transform selections
I'm sure that you already know that you can move a selection while drawing it by holding down the Spacebar, or that Shift constrains a selection and Alt key will draw a selection from the center outward. Here's another great little tip for working with sections: After you've made your selection, choose Select>Transform Selection. You now have all the same tools as Free Transform available for your selections. Right-click to see all the options.
11. Layers to files and files to layers
It can be painfully boring to bring a bunch of images into a layered document, it can be just as boring to get all the layers out and into their own documents. Great news! You can automate both. To bring them in, choose File>Scripts>Load Files into Stack. Select your images, click OK, and they will all be loaded into a layered stack. When you've finished working on them, choose File>Scripts>Export Layers to Files. Or you could choose File>Scripts>Image Processor for even more options.
12. Where is the Lighting Effects filter? Hint: 32-bit
Have you ever wondered where the Lighting Effects filter has gone? You know the one, Filter > Render > Lighting Effects, The good news is that it's still there in CS5 (the most stable version in my opinion). The bad news, it only works in 32-bit mode. You can easily run Photoshop in 32-bit mode (this also makes your old plug-ins work again). Close Photoshop and find the icon to launch the program. On a Mac, click on the icon to highlight it and press Command-1. At the bottom or the General section, you'll see an option that says, "Open in 32-bit mode/' If this is checked, then Photoshop will run in 32-bit; if it's unchecked, it will run in 64-bit. The catch? You have to restart Photoshop to change it. In Windows, navigate to the Program Files (x86)>Adobe>Adobe Photoshop folder then double-click the Adobe Photoshop.exe file.
13. Video filters
Photoshop Extended (the version that comes with all the Creative Suites) has the ability to work with video. You can apply most of the same creative effects that you use on your photographs to video. Perhaps you've tried running some filters and found that the effect was only applied to a single frame. The secret is turning the video into a smart object (Right-click the video layer in the Layers panel and choose Convert to Smart Object. Once it's a smart object, the filters will become smart filters and affect the entire video sequence.