Understanding Photoshop for Great Images

This is an overview of some of the basics that can be accomplished with Photoshop CS and Photoshop Elements. Sometimes specifics will vary from program to program, but overall these instructions should work with each program. Shortcut keys listed are for PC’s. Mac’s will have similar shortcuts, usually with the open apple key taking the place of the ctrl key. I am using commands from Photoshop CS2 and Elements 8, so they might be slightly different with different programs. 

Helpful Books:

For the Basics: “Photoshop CS2” (or pick your version, he has a book on each one) by Scott Kelby.

More Advanced: “Advanced Digital Black & White Photography” by John Beardsworth

When you open Photoshop or Elements, you will likely see a blank gray or black screen, a column with tools on the left, a file menu at the top, and several palettes on the right (these are the boxes on the right with various information in them). In Elements, you will want to make sure you are on Full Edit mode to see the palettes. First, I close any palettes I don’t need by hitting the “x” in the upper right corner of each. The only palette I leave open is the Layers palette (it says “layers” on the tab in the upper left corner). You can open any palette by clicking on “Window” in the top toolbar and selecting which palette you want. I usually open the “History” palette (called the “undo history” in Elements). The History/Undo History saves the last few things that you have done, so that you can go back and click on previous edits if you mess up. You can shrink the palettes by minimizing or move them around with your mouse at any time if they are in your way. 

Next, you will want to open Adobe Bridge. In Elements you do not necessarily need to open the Organizer, since it isn’t really as useful as Bridge. Bridge/Organizer is basically a file management tool which will help you have access to your photographs as a group. You open it by clicking on the small icon at the top right of the page, usually it has a magnifying glass, a folder, and says “Br” on it (in Elements it is an icon that says “Organizer”). If you don’t have Bridge with your version of Photoshop, don’t worry, you can just open files directly from the File->Open command in the toolbar.
To open your photos in Bridge, you can select one at a time, or use shift-click to select groups, or use ctrl-click to select multiple individual photos.

Layers are not really something you “do” but rather a way of organizing the actions you have taken so that you can easily undo things that you don’t like without messing up your original picture. A good analogy is that they are like layers of a cake that you can move around or change on top of each other without affecting the bottom layer (your original picture). Many of the adjustments I will be discussing create their own separate layer automatically, making it easy to work with them. Don’t worry if you don’t really understand what a layer is, it starts to make more sense once you start working with some of the other exercises here. Important things to know are that you can click on the “eye” icon next to a layer on the Layers Palette to make the layer visible or invisible. You can also change the opacity of a layer (meaning making it more transparent. . . see the Orton effect notes for an example). To delete a layer, just click and drag it over the trash can.


This is also an example of using layers. This works the same in Elements and full Photoshop. First, open the two pictures that you want to combine and make sure the Layers Palette is available (Windows->Layers and in Elements make sure you are in Full Edit mode). Look at the two images side to side and see if you want to make any color or exposure adjustments with either so they will match well. You can do this after you combine them, but it is less complicated to do it before. Once you have made any needed adjustments, you will want to select the picture that you want to copy from. The trickiest part of combining two images is selecting the image that you want to copy without getting extra background or foreground details. There are a lot of different ways to do this, but this is the one that works the best for me.

First select the rectangular marquee tool. It is in the toolbar on the left side of the page on the left toward the top, and looks like a square made with dotted lines. Click and drag on your image to make a square around the image you want to copy. If you want a circle or another shape, when you select the tool, hold your mouse down on it and you will see other shapes you can choose from. If you want to have a less sharp line between your pasted in picture and your background, you can choose to feather the selection by entering an amount of pixels in the “feather” line at the top of the screen below the file bar (3-8 is usually sufficient). This will create a slightly smooth transition between the two images rather than a sharp line. Once you have selected your image, go to Edit->Copy (ctrl+c is the shortcut key). If your image contains multiple layers and you want to have them all copied, you will have to use Edit-> Copy merged (shift+ctrl+c).

Next, go to the picture that you want to copy to. To paste the picture you just copied into your other picture, go to Edit->Paste (ctrl+v). On the layers palette, you will see a new layer containing the picture. Your picture is now sitting on top of the original image, and can be moved and readjusted as needed. If you need to resize the image that you copied, select the layer containing the image so that it is highlighted in blue, and go to Edit->Free Transform (In Elements: Image->Transform). Your image will now have squares on either end which will allow you to click and drag to make the picture smaller, or rotate it. Hold down the shift key while adjusting in Photoshop, or select Constrain proportions in Elements if you want to make sure your image keeps its original height to width ratio. To move the image, select the Move tool (an arrow icon in the upper left-hand corner of the toolbar.)

Once you have adjusted the size of your image,then you can get rid of extra background elements. First make sure the layer you want to edit is selected. If you are using Elements, you will want to select the Eraser tool (it looks like an eraser). Use the eraser tool by clicking and dragging on your image to erase extra stuff you don’t want. It often helps to zoom in (ctrl+ + and out ctrl+ – ), and adjust the size of your brush in the upper left had corner below the file bar, or using ctrl + [ or ] .

In full Photoshop, you can also use layer masks. First, select the layer you want to edit. Then on the layers palette, click the layer mask icon (it looks like a square with a circle inside). To select the layer mask, click on the square layer mask box that then appears beside the name of your layer. In the tools palette, select the paintbrush. Paint with the brush on your image with black if you want to totally hide the layer, or grey if you want the layer to show through a little bit. You can select varying shades of grey by clicking on the square black paint swatch at the bottom of the tools palette. If you make a mistake, you can also switch back to paint with white. This will make the layer show through again. Helpful hint: Black painting makes the layer invisible, white painting makes it visible. If you alt-click on the layer mask square that is beside your layer, you will see on your image exactly where you have painted which color. This can be helpful to see if you missed a spot.

For artistic effects, you may also want to try desaturating the background layer or adding the Orton Effect (see below). You can also play around with the artistic filters (Filter->Filter Gallery) . Finally, you can continue to add as many shots as you want. You may also want to start out with a new blank page (File->New) and paste multiple images onto the blank page, as this will give you a lot of freedom to move around all your images (like if you want to make a collage).

This one is pretty easy. In Photoshop, open the image and go to File->Automate->Fit Image. Select either height or width and enter your pixel amount. You will want to make sure that the other dimension is a much larger number, since the task will constrain the photo to the SMALLEST pixel size you enter. 

In Elements, go to File->Process Multiple Files. Click on Resize Image and enter either the width or the height, and leave Constrain Proportions checked.

Photoshop can help your picture have clearer, crisper lines through sharpening. This won’t totally save a very blurry picture, but can help a lot with getting rid of slight blur and making your picture have a bit more punch. There are several ways of sharpening in Photoshop, but the best is Unsharp mask. Elements has Unsharp mask only. To sharpen, first open your image. Sharpening applies directly to your image without creating a new layer, so I often copy the picture (ctrl+j) to create a new copy layer and then sharpen that layer. This way it is much easier to undo if you make a mistake, and easier to use the eye icon to compare the sharpened picture to the unsharpened version. To sharpen go to Filters->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask (Elements: Enhance->Unsharp Mask). A dialogue box will come up that has three different places where you can enter information. Usually I leave the middle line (Radius) set the same. For the Amount number, I usually stick between 80 and 100, sometimes going up to 150 if I have a black and white image or want a very strong sharpen. For the threshold, the smaller your number is, the stronger the sharpen. I usually stick between 3 and 1. For a slight sharpen (ex. Portraits), I usually set the radius to 80 and threshold to 3. For a stronger sharpen (ex. Nature), I usually go with 90 and 2. And then for the strongest sharpening (ex. Architecture), I usually do 100 and 1. If you over-sharpen, your picture will start to look a little fake and will get strange little white flecks in it. Hints: zoom in (ctrl+ +) to get a closer view of the details, or while the dialog box is up, click in important areas of the picture (like eyes) to see a close-up of these in the box’s window.

For correcting the exposure of a RAW image, use the RAW adjustments (see below). For a tiff or a jpeg, first open the picture in Photoshop. Then, copy the picture into a new layer (Layer->Duplicate Layer or shortcut keys ctrl+j). At the upper left had corner of the layers palette, you will see “Normal” in a box with an arrow to the right of it. Click on the arrow and you will see lots of different options. Select “Screen” to make your picture lighter, or “Multiply” to make it darker. Keep copying the layer until the image has gotten as dark or as light as you want it. If you only want to take it up or down a little bit, use the opacity slider in the top right of the layers palette to make your layer more transparent, thereby lessening its effect. 

If you want to correct the exposure on part of an image but not on the whole thing (like brighten up the ground when you have exposed for the sky), use the eraser tool (Elements) or layer masks (Photoshop CS2-4) as explained above in the Combining Multiple Images section.

There are several tools on the toolbar that allow you to remove unwanted objects (like sensor dust, or scratches on old scanned photos). You can use them individually, but sometimes a combination of several tools will work well too. 

Patch tool: only in full photoshop, not Elements. (Hold down over the Healing Brush tool to get the patch tool, fourth from the top of the toolbar.) This tool allows you to draw a line around the object you want removed. After you have completed drawing around the object, you will see a dotted line circling it. Click your mouse in the middle of the place you have circled, and drag it onto another part of your picture that looks similar. The computer will automatically merge the selected area with the color and texture of the area you moved the patch to. This is the smoothest way to get rid of problems, but it will only work when the problem is isolated (meaning it is not near edges or patches of other colors). You can also change the mode of the patch tool (in the bar below the file bar once you have picked the patch tool) to darken or to lighten. These modes will mean it will only change pixels which are darker or lighter than the selected area (good for working on facial problems on portraits, like zits or light sweat patches).

Clone stamp tool: (Looks like a stamp, fifth from the top of the toolbar in PS, 7th in Elements) To use this tool, hold down the alt key while you click on an area with pixels you want, and then click on the area with the problem pixels. This will copy the pixels from the alt-clicked area onto the pixels from the problem area. It helps to change the size of the stamp (shortcut keys “[“ and “]”) and the hardness in the bar below the file bar. A softer stamp will have less severe edges. The clone stamp tool does not smooth together as well as the patch tool, but can work even up against an edge. Alt-click multiple times to change the area from which you are sampling, in order to avoid getting repeated patterns in the texture.

Spot healing brush tool: (Looks like a bandaid) This is the easiest tool to use, you just make the brush big enough using the file bar or shortcut keys “[“ and “]” to cover the whole problem area and then you just click. The computer will automatically pick another area of pixels to copy over. This works the best for things that are in a relatively similar background (ie getting rid of sensor dust specks in a plain blue sky) since you don’t have any choice over where the computer selects the pixels from.

One important thing to remember when using these tools is to make sure you have an undo option (since you can often work for a while on a change and then decide you don’t like it). One way is to copy your picture before you start and make all adjustments on a layer, so that you can delete the layer easily if needed while not changing your original picture. Another thing you can use is the history palette (window->history (or undo history in Elements). The history palette saves about the last 10 things you did. If you want to undo, you can just click on the line listed before you started on your edits. Also, before you start, you can make a snapshot (click the icon that looks like a camera at the bottom of the palette). This will save your picture in the current state before you edit, and you can always click on the saved snapshot to revert back to that state. You can make snapshots as many times as you want during different stages of the edit. Snapshots are not available in Elements.

Works the same for Elements and Photoshop. Use the crop tool in (3rd from the top of the toolbar in PS, 5th from the top in Elements, looks like a cropper). Click and drag over the area that you want cropped in your picture. To select a certain cropping ratio (ie 8×10, 5×7), enter those numbers in the info bar at the top of the screen, and you will be able to crop to that ratio.

In Photoshop, use the measure tool (looks like a ruler, click and hold under the eyedropper tool, second from the bottom) to trace along a line in your image that should be straight. It can either be horizontal (like the horizon), or vertical (like a column). Then go to Image->Rotate Canvas->Arbitrary. Photoshop will automatically rotate the image to make it straight along your line. You will need to crop it down a bit if you don’t want blank space along the edges. 

In Elements, select the straighten tool (looks like a blue square). Check Rotate all layers. Click and drag a straight line along your picture as discussed above. Elements will automatically straighten the image for you.

(Of a jpeg or a tiff, with RAW files it is best to use the RAW editor as explained below) 

In both Photoshop and Elements, in the Layers mask click on the add new adjustment icon (the black and white circle). Select either Hue/Saturation or Photo Filter. I tend to use Photo Filter the most. Using the Photo Filter menu, you can select from a number of colors to lay over your image. You can also use the density slider to make the effect more or less powerful. You can use as many filter layers as you want, and use the eraser key/layer mask to apply the changes to one part of your picture and not the other. In Hue/Saturation, you use sliders to change the hue (tone) and saturation (brightness) of the color. Click on “Master” and select colors to make color adjustments to individual colors.

(Of a jpeg or a tiff, with RAW files it is best to use the RAW editor as explained below) 

Both Elements and full Photoshop have Levels as a way to edit contrast. However, full Photoshop has a better tool called Curves that allows you to have a lot more choice in how you add or take away contrast from your pictures. For almost all of my images, I usually make some sort of contrast adjustment since it can help pictures be a lot brighter and have more impact. I rarely ever use Levels, but if you don’t have curves, it works ok. If you are confused about what exactly you are adjusting by changing contrast, imagine your image as a black and white photograph where you will be making changes to make a stronger difference between dark and light tones. (Complicated explanation: With levels, you are basically shrinking the tonal range of the picture, which is why when you use it your histogram will look like it has pieces removed. With curves, you are making adjustments to the brightness level of individual tones of pixels, so you will not actually be losing information).

Levels: (These instructions are the same for both Elements and Photoshop). In the layers palette click on the adjustment icon. It’s a half-black half-white circle at the bottom of the palette. Select Levels from the options you see there. A screen will come up that allows you to adjust the level of the tones in your image with sliders. There are three triangles; black, grey, and white, that you can move along a slider bar. The black triangle represents the darkest tones in your images. Sliding the black triangle to the right will set the black point of your image to a higher value. This basically means that the darkest tones of your image will start to get darker. You will want to make sure that you don’t lose too much detail in your shadows by going too far. The white triangle represents the lightest tones. Similar to the black triangle, shifting the white triangle to the left will make the lighter tones in your image lighter by decreasing the white point. You will also want to watch that you don’t lose too much detail in the highlights. The grey triangle represents the midtones. Moving it to the left will make the midtones darker, and the right will make them brighter. I usually end up brightening up the midtones in all of my pictures.

Another thing you can do with levels, if you don’t like the sliders, is to use the eye-droppers. There are a black, a white, and a grey dropper. Select the black eye dropper, and click on the darkest tone in your image. Select the white dropper, and click on the lightest tone in your image. These two actions will set the black tones in your image to pure black, and the white tones to pure white. With the grey dropper, you can select the tone that is the closest to a middle grey tone in your image. With a color photograph, this can be hard to do, so you might need to try different points. This will then set the midtones to be exactly in the middle of the image’s tonal range.

Curves: (Not available in Elements). Curves is a little complicated to understand, but once you have tried it a few times you will start to get the hang of it. Again, click on the adjustment icon on the Layers palette, but this time select Curves. You will see a graph with a straight line. The lower left corner of the line represents dark tones, the middle is the midtones, and the upper right is the lightest tones. The x-axis is the input value of the pixels in that tone, and the y-axis is the output value. When you first start, there are no differences (meaning you haven’t changed the pixels yet), so the line is straight. What you want to do to is click on different points of the line to create a point. If you drag the point above the line, the pixels of that tone will get brighter. If you drag below the line, the pixels will get darker. To increase contrast, you will want to make something similar to an S-Curve along the line. To decrease contrast, you will want to make more of a sideways U-shaped curve. The best part about curves (as opposed to levels) is that you can really make adjustments in whatever area of the tone you want to. Wherever on your curve that has the steepest slope, that is the area of your tonal range that will have the most contrast. For example, say that you took a winter picture and want to have more contrast within the snow, but leave the other tones alone. Then you would make a curve that looks straight until it gets to the highlights section (upper right) of the line, and then steepens there. Again, this probably sounds pretty confusing right now, but if you have the opportunity, play around with it a little bit to see how adjustments in the curve will affect your

Here are instructions how to create the Orton Effect with Photoshop. This gives photographs a slightly blurry and fantasy-like feel to them. For examples, here is a link to a Google search page with lots of Orton Effect photographs: 


Step 1: Open an image and create two layer copies.

Open your image in Photoshop and make sure you have the Layers palette visible. If it is not, you can open it from the menu bar at Window→Layers. Create a copy of your image by selecting on the menu bar Layer →Duplicate Layer. Hit OK. (shortcut key for this is ctrl+j). Repeat this step to make a second layer copy. On the layers palette, you should have three layers, with the bottom being the background and the top two being copies. Your picture will not have changed at all yet.

Step 2: Create the blurry layer in the middle.

On the layers palette, you will see an icon that looks like a little eye to the left of the name of each layer. Click the eye next to the top-most layer (copy #2) and it should disappear, temporarily hiding that layer. You do this since you are about to work on the second layer, and you will want to be able to see it. Select the second middle layer (copy #1) by clicking once, and the name should be highlighted blue. At the menu bar, select Filter→Blur→Gaussian Blur. When the Gaussian blur dialog box comes up, you will want to select a radius of between 15 and 60 pixels (the lower the radius, the less blurry your effect will be). Once you have completed this step, re-click the eye icon next to the top layer to make that layer visible again. This will briefly make your picture look like it did before you blurred it.

For step 3, there are two different options to make the final view of this effect. Feel free to try both to see which works the best with your photograph. You can also do a combination of both 3A and 3B.

Step 3A: Finalize Orton Effect by decreasing opacity of the top layer.

Select the top layer so that it is highlighted in blue. At the upper right corner of the layers palette you will see “Opacity: 100%.” Select the arrow next to the 100% and you will see a slider bar. Move the bar to the left to make a smaller percentage, and you will see the blurry layer start to bleed through the top layer. Adjust to your preference. You can also decrease the opacity of the blurry layer if you think it is too blurry. Also you may want to sharpen the top layer to draw more attention to the detail lines (but this is optional). To do this, select Filter→Sharpen→Unsharp Mask. Leave the Radius at 1. Putting the amount at 80 and threshold at 3 will make a very soft sharpen. Amount 100 and threshold 1 will be a pretty strong sharpen. If you have put the opacity on the top layer really low, you might even want to go crazy and do an extreme sharpen and put the radius up to 500. This will really draw the edges into focus and will give your image a more flat look.

Step 3B: Finalize Orton Effect by changing layer blending modes

Make sure your layer opacity for each layer is set at 100%. Select the top layer. At the upper left had corner of the layers palette, you will see “Normal” in a box with an arrow to the right of it. Click on the arrow and you will see lots of different options. Select “Screen.” This will make your top layer very light. Select the middle blurry layer. Change “Normal” to “Multiply” for this layer. This will make the middle layer darker, and the final image will have more of a soft look to it than for the 3A step. You can also make some interesting effects by just having one layer set to multiply or screen.

Remember to rename this picture when you save it, so that you won’t lose your original.

Advanced experiment: If you want certain parts of your picture to have the effect, and others not, use layer masks (in CS versions of Photoshop) or erase parts of each layer (in Elements) like in the combining multiple images exercise above.

In Photoshop, open an example image to do your adjustments on and open the actions palette (Windows->Actions). The palette is also often shown on a tab behind the history palette. At the bottom of the palette click on the “Add new actions” icon (it looks like a post-it note). Name your action and click ok. You will see that the “record” icon on the palette is on. Apply whatever adjustments to the picture that you want. Some examples would be curves, sharpening, size adjustments, and adding your copyright text. This works best for actions that will be applied to the whole image like sharpening as opposed to actions like removing dust which have to be applied to a specific part of the image. When you are done, hit the “stop” icon on the palette. This will have saved your action. You can also re-record after you’ve hit stop. To apply the action, you can either press play when a picture is open, or you can apply it to a group of images using Bridge. While in Bridge select all the images in a folder that you want to apply the action to. Select Tools->Photoshop->Image Processor. When the dialog box comes up, select the folder where you want the pictures to be saved (this action will always save the pictures in a new folder for you), select which file type you want to use (I usually use tiff or jpeg) and your jpeg resolution. At the bottom, click the box where it says apply action, and select your action. Hit ok and sit back and let Photoshop do the work. 

Another good tip is that you can set a pause during the action if you want to be able to adjust anything (for example, if you want to change text size or if you want to be able to adjust sharpening percentages). On the actions palette, click to open your action and view the steps. Anywhere that you want the action to stop for you, click the small box next to your adjustment step. This should work fine, but sometimes you have to play around with the actions and pauses a little bit to make it work just the way you want it to. If you think you are going to make changes in the action that will take more than one or two mouse clicks to fix, it could be easier to make separate actions and then run the image processor multiple times.

In Elements, this area is a lot more limited than in full Photoshop, and might be one of the largest differences between the two programs. Go to File->Process Multiple Files. You can select the files that you want to process in the Browse section. Select the destination of your files. You can change the names, add text, resize, and do some automated changes including contrast, sharpening, etc in the Quick Fix section.


I always shoot in RAW. If you do that, all of the information from your photograph is saved, rather than it losing information by compressing the file into a jpeg. This means that you will have a lot more options for editing your photograph later in photoshop. For some cameras (Nikon D40, D70) you may need to download a free application from the adobe site so that versions of photoshop below CS3 can read RAW files. 

http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/new.jsp (scroll down to the Elements section and click on the Camera RAW update). If you are still having trouble, I have read that sometimes the Nikon software can conflict with the Adobe RAW software, so you may want to remove the Nikon software from your computer, or try one of these other RAW editors: http://www.rawtherapee.com/

To open a RAW file, select the photographs you want in Bridge, and use File->Open->Camera RAW. This will open the RAW editor. Each version of this looks a little different (in fact the RAW editor is the biggest change I have found between CS2 and CS4), but most of the things you can do are relatively similar. You will see a screen with thumbnails of your selected photographs to the left side, tools at the top, and different tabbed pages with sliders on your right.

The best thing about Camera RAW is that you can select multiple files to edit at the same time (using shift and/or ctrl keys while you click on multiple thumbnails in the left-hand column). Below I have listed several things that I often do in Camera RAW. There are other options, so feel free to play around with it.

Tools at the top of the page:

Magnifying glass: Zooms in. Shortcut keys: zoom in use ctrl-+, zoom out use ctrl- – (this shortcut key also works in the general photoshop menu).

Hand: Click and drag on your photograph to move it around once you’ve zoomed in. You can also use tool bars, but the hand tool can be faster.

To crop a photograph: use the crop tool at the top of the screen (a square with a diagonal line). Click the tool and then click and drag on your image to crop it. You can’t crop to specific dimensions here, but you can later in the main photoshop menu.

Straighten tool: click and drag on your photograph where along any crooked line to make it straight. You can see how the photo looks over in the thumbnails, and adjust the crop box by moving your mouse to the edges until you see the adjustment arrows. Curvy arrows allow you to tilt your crop, diagonal arrows will make the box smaller or larger.

The other tools I don’t use much at all.

Right side menus:

I mostly use these for color, brightness and contrast adjustments. There will be several tabbed pages with sliders. Use the sliders to make adjustments.

Basic tab page (first one that you see):

White balance: slide left for more blue, or right for yellow

Tint: slide left for green, right for red

Exposure: slide left for more exposure or right for less. You probably don’t want to move past 1.5 because you will get lots of grain or odd exposure issues.

Brightness: slide to change the midtones levels in your photograph.

I don’t generally use the contrast slider or shadows here, as there are better ways to do this in other parts.

Some newer versions (Elements 8, CS3-4) have extra labels:

Recovery: can add tone to an overexposed area (but only if it’s not too overexposed)

Fill Light: will make underexposed shadows lighter

Blacks: darkens or lightens black areas

Clarity: Sharpens, but it’s better to use Unsharp mask later

Vibrance: Increases saturation of colors that are not already saturated.

Saturation: Increases saturation of all colors

Lens tab page: supposedly corrects for fringe on objects. This never really works for me so I don’t use it.

Sharpen tab page: Don’t sharpen here. Unsharp mask in Photoshop/elements works better. However, if you have Elements and want to quickly sharpen multiple RAW images, this might be a better option for you.

The following tab pages are not available in Elements:

Curve tab page: Adjusts contrast. Works the same way that curves works in Photoshop. It’s great to use it here so you can curve more than one photograph. Switch the mode at the top to “linear” and you can insert your own points (it automatically does a moderate contrast curve for you.)

Color adjustments page: Use to make changes in the hue and saturation of various colors. Hue will change the shade of the color, and saturation will change the brightness/amount of the color. Some of the versions of RAW have a lot of complicated things you can do here. Play around with this some and you will likely notice you do similar adjustments every time (for example, my camera shoots a bit greener than I would like, so I adjust most of the sliders just a little bit toward redder tones).

Making sure that the photograph that comes out of your printer matches what you work on in Photoshop is more complicated than it seems like it should be. First, you will need to calibrate your monitor so that it accurately reproduces colors and tones. To do this, you need to buy software. The program I use is ColorVision Spyder, and cost about $75 USD. Basically you install the program and hang the sensor piece over your monitor for about 15 minutes for it to run and balance your colors. You also will need to redo this every few months, as monitors will shift over time. 

Next, when you print from Photoshop, in the “Print with Preview” dialogue box you will see several options to choose from. In Elements, you will have to select More Options->Color Management. You will want to set the Printer Profile to read “Adobe 1998” rather than “RGB” since this method of reproducing colors is easier for printers to do correctly. (Side note: some types of paper will have a specific profile that you download off their website. The website will have instructions how to use these). You will want to set color handling to read “Let Photoshop Determine Colors” so that your printer will not automatically put in the colors it thinks should be there.

Once you hit print, you will see a dialog box for your printer. Every printer is different and has different options. You will mainly want to make sure that you are using the correct option for the paper you have selected. If there are any enhancement programs in your printer, you will want to turn them off, since they often simply add contrast and sharpening, which you will already have done yourself. Keep in mind that printers often print with a bit darker black than you will have in your original image. Also, after printing test pictures, you may see that your printer still needs some color adjustments. For example, my printer tends to print a little too red, so I have to move the Cyan up to +2 to get a better color balance.

Also, the type of paper you use will make a HUGE difference. I have an Epson printer, and I was originally printing on HP paper, and not getting good results. When I switched to Epson paper, my prints looked much better. I have also been experimenting with different kinds of paper from Inkpress (a sampler pack is about $10). They have directions on the website for how to set your printer for each paper type.