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This picture has been sharpened.

 
 

This picture has not been sharpened.

 

Can you spot the difference?

You surely can.

Especially if you compare the bonbon in the front.

 

I love sharp, well-defined images.

I want all of my pictures to look that way.

But the fact is that the images that come straight out of my camera are usually rather far from being sharp. Partially it’s caused by my shaky hands. And additionally, cameras themselves usually don’t produce very sharp images… for some specific reason… that I once read somewhere… but have already forgotten.

 

Luckily, there’s good news. Photo editing software has been sent to this planet to save us.

Whoever or whatever has sent it, THANK YOU SO MUCH for that.

 

To edit my pictures, I love to use Photoshop Elements 8.

It’s simple and fun to use.

And this is what I do to make my pictures sharper:
 
 

1. I open the picture in Photoshop (File -> Open…).
 

2. Duplicate the background layer (‘Ctrl + J’ on PC or ‘Command J’ on Mac).

Make sure that the newly created layer stays highlighted.

 
 

3. In the upper bar, press Enhance -> Unsharp Mask.

 
 

4. A window will pop up.

We have three sliders here: Amount, Radius and Threshold.

Frankly, I was looking for a way to use these sliders for quite some time. Until, after about 6 months of using Photoshop, I’ve learned that:

 

Amount – shouldn’t be lower than 50. I like to start with 50 and increase it if necessary. But most of the times, 50 works just fine.

Radius – I almost always use 0.6 setting.

Threshold – I usually keep this one at 0. Only sometimes, when I think the picture looks a bit too harsh, I increase this setting to 1 or 2.

 

So, once again, I usually go by 50 – 0.6 – 0 formula.

My blog-sized pictures seem to be happy with it.

 

5. Once you are satisfied with the Amount-Radius-Threshold setting, press OK.

 
 

6. Then, have a look at the Layers Palette.

Here’s a little thing that you can use, but definitely don’t have to if you are perfectly okay with the way your picture looks like now.

 

In step 2 we duplicated the background layer and since then we’ve only worked with this duplicated layer. Which means that we’ve only made changes to the duplicated layer, leaving the background layer untouched. The good thing about working this way is that now you have a very precious chance to adjust the opacity of the changes that you’ve made. You have the whole scale of 0 – 100% here for you to play with. So if you think that your sharpening should be about 20% less strong, you can easily achieve that by using the opacity slider and setting it to 80%.

Awesome, isn’t it?

 

7. In the upper bar, press Layer -> Flatten Image.

 

8. And finally save the image (File -> Save as…).

 

Again:

Before.

 
 

And after.

 
 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial as much as I’ve enjoyed this bonbon.

Mmm.

It had milk filling, my favorite.

 

Love,

Petra

 

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Right now I am preparing a yummy recipe that I’ll be posting here tomorrow. Meanwhile I have something else you might want to see.

 
Over the past few months some of you asked me how this or that photo had been taken. Your questions gave me an idea that you might find interesting to see how several of my sets looked like. I myself love this kind of information and seek it eagerly wherever possible.

So, from now on, if I find the photo set that I’ve created interesting in a certain way I’ll show it to you.

If it helps at least one of you then my mission was worth it.

 

The picture above is by far not perfect or exquisite or anything. But what I find interesting about it is the lighting. You might be wondering how on earth that set was lit and whether I used artificial lights or not. And how I dare own photography lighting without letting you know.
 
 

So, this is what the set looked like.

I don’t use lights since I don’t own photography lights.

But what I own is my home-made silver reflector (you can find its heart-touching story here). And then I have one window. And then I have some white paper that I duct taped to the wall and to my kitchen countertop. And that’s it!

Very, very simple.
 
 

This is the job that my camera did.

Well, she was really trying.

I still love her dearly.

And yes, I refer to my camera as her. It’s my best friend after all. Actually, I might start calling her Amelie.
 
 

And this is how Photoshop helped.

Needless to say, I love Photoshop.

I might start calling it Fred.

 

See you soon!

Love,

Petra
 

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These bite-sized cookies are perfect for having with tea.

(Psst, coffee is all right too.)

They taste wonderful and are very, very simple to make.

I like to prepare them when my sugar craving strikes out of the blue. Or when friends call unexpectedly saying they will come soon.

These cookies just save lives.

 
 

Here’s the list of ingredients.
 
 

1. To make your own Tea Cookies, first preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

2. Sift the flour and sugars into a larger bowl.
 

 

3. Add the softened butter, two egg yolks and lemon zest…
 

 

4. …and use pastry cutter or just a plain fork to turn the ingredients into a crumbly mixture.

 

5. Then use your hands to form a ball.

 
 

Like this one.

Though creating a face is not necessary.

But it helps.

Kidding!

But it really does.

Kidding again!

 

Now I’d like to tell you this: Please, be patient when you find yourself in the phase in-between the crumbs and the dough ball. It only takes patience and trust that those crumbs will eventually come together. Give it five minutes or so and you’ll see success!
 

 

6. Place the dough ball on a very, very lightly floured surface.

This dough is almost not sticky at all so you really need very little flour, if any.

And besides that, the more flour you’d be using the firmer the cookies would get. And we don’t need that.

 

7. Using the palms of your hands, roll the dough until you form a log which is about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) wide in diameter.

 

8. Then cut the log into about 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick rounds.
 
 

9. Place the rounds onto the sheet and bake in the preheated oven (350 °F – 175 °C) for 10 minutes.

The cookies should still be very pale in color when baked.
 
 

10. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Enjoy, dear friends.

(This recipe makes about 30 cookies and will take you about 40 minutes to make.)
 

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I have something to admit.

There are only few things in this world that I love more than this photo editing technique.

I know, it sounds strange, but right now that is exactly what I feel.

Tomorrow everything might change, especially if I find a new, amazing technique that will fill my heart with joy.

But today I feel like applying a vignette to all the photos that I’ve ever made.

Please, somebody, come and stop me.
 
 

This is what my picture looked like before.

It is a lovely tomato from my Mom’s garden. Actually, that’s what my diet consists of mostly these days.
 
 

And this is the same picture after I applied the vignette effect.

Adding a vignette to an image basically involves adding a subtle (or not so subtle) edge effect to it.

A popular vignette technique involves darkening the edges of your image which gives the image a slight border and helps keep the viewer’s eye in the photo.

In other words, the darkened edges make your subject stand out.

Well, who wouldn’t love that?

Let me explain this technique in particular steps – they are very, very easy.

NOTE: I am using Photoshop Elements 8 here (but I suppose that this method works fine with any photo editing program that supports layers and adjusting opacity).

 
 

1. Open your image in the photo editing program using FILE -> OPEN… .

2. Open a new layer using LAYER -> NEW -> LAYER.
 
 

3. There are 3 subsequent steps here:

  • 1. In the right-hand layer palette, make sure you click on the top (newly added) layer (it should be darkened now).
  • 2. In the left-hand tools palette, click the Elliptical Marquee Tool (if the Rectangular Marquee Tool is preset then right-click on your mouse and choose the elliptical shape, though it’s actually up to you which shape you choose).

    Also, have a look at how the ‘feathering’ is set in the upper bar. I had it set to 14. It will determine how strong and defined the border of the vignette will be.

  • 3. Click and drag over the picture to create an oval shape.

 
 

4. Click SELECT -> INVERSE to invert your selection so the border area is selected .

You will see ‘marching ants’ around your picture now.

 
 

5. I am describing another three subsequent steps here:

  • 1. Make sure that the foreground color is set to black (if not then just click the letter ‘D’ on your keyboard).
  • 2. In the left-hand tools palette, click the bucket tool.
  • 3. Click anywhere on the border area to fill it with black.

 
 

6. Now click SELECT -> DESELECT.

 
 

7. And finally, in the layer palette, adjust the opacity of the border layer to any value you like.

(Though I didn’t do that myself now – at this point, if you find the border too hard – you can also choose FILTER -> BLUR -> GAUSSIAN BLUR and use a high radius value to blur the edge of the border and soften it.)

8. Click LAYER -> FLATTEN IMAGE and then save your new picture.

 
 

I like it!
 
 

Hm, what do you think…will you give it a try?
 

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I am going to try to keep this easy, all right?

There’s no need for you to close this site, pack your things and flee to a secluded island.

Don’t let the aperture scare you!

Actually, the aperture is a good friend, it can serve your needs quite magically.

If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, you don’t even have to worry about anything – the camera does it all for you. But if you’re a ‘big’ DSLR camera user, then you might want to have a look into the magical world of the aperture.

So, what is that aperture?

Basically, it is the hole in you lens, or the eye of your camera – opening and closing as you wish.

See? I told you it’s not difficult.

And what does that hole/aperture do?

Well, primarily, there are two types of situations when the aperture can serve you well.

First, when the light conditions in the place where you’re taking photographs are not so good (low-light situations) you can open the aperture wide thus letting more light into your camera allowing it to work more effectively.

And the other kind of situation, the one that I am actually demonstrating here with the pictures, is using the aperture opening to influence the depth of your photographs.

Come, have a look at what I mean, there are plenty of examples here…
 
 

This is where I demonstrate the depth of the photograph (people usually call that the ‘depth-of-field’).

The picture on the left-hand side has the front subject in sharp focus while the subjects in the background are out of focus. This is called the ‘shallow depth-of-field’. It is so aptly named – you see shallow, you don’t see deep.

On the other hand, the picture on the right-hand side can be described as one with the ‘great depth-of-field’. See? It really is deep – the subject in the foreground is almost of the same sharpness as the ones in the background.

And you know what?

It’s under you control to decide what kind of picture you want to take – whether it’s the shallow one or the deep one.

Isn’t that awesome?

And yes, it has something to do with the numbers I’ve pasted into the pictures.
 
 

The ‘f/number’ that I’ve pasted into the pictures for you is meant to describe the aperture setting I had used while taking the particular picture. In photography, the ‘f’, or ‘f-stop’ or ‘f-number’ is used when the aperture is being discussed.

To practice the control over you camera’s aperture, all you need to do is to search you camera manual and find the little article on the aperture.

Once you find it and learn where that little button is, just do this: go for the lowest numbers (like 2 in my picture) if you want the shallow depth-of-field and go for the highest numbers (like 22 in my picture) if you want the ‘deep’, all-focused pics.

Your lowest and highest numbers might be different than mine since lenses differ in this aspect.
 
 

So what’s this again?

Petra?

Deep or shallow?

Yes, it’s deep, because I had my camera set at a high number – 22 in this case – making everything from the foreground to the background being in focus.
 
 

This is another example.

Three happy apples posing just for you.
 
 

The front apple is enjoying the focal attention while his friends are standing in the background being out of focus.
 
 

Here, all three apples enjoy being in focus.

I’d call this picture ‘One for all, all for one’.
 
 

Here, some peas also want you to see what the aperture is all about.

That’s so kind of them.
 
 

Low number – shallow depth-of-field.

There are times when you want to isolate your subject…when you want it to be in sharp focus while having the background out of focus. Portraits or food photos are good examples of these situations.
 
 

High number – great depth-of-field.

There are different situations when you’ll definitely want to have as many details in focus as possible. Just imagine taking a picture of a landscape, for instance, with all its trees, animals, hills, river, clouds…everything crisp and clear.

Note: I really need to let you know of this fact – the smaller the f-number the wider is the aperture opening. A little technical detail that you can remember or forget right now. I give you the permission.

I hope this all made at least a little sense and was of some help.

I wish you a lot of fun while playing with your aperture.

Go and have fun!

See you soon.

Love,

Petra

 

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Have you ever considered increasing contrast in your photos?

If I should speak for myself, I clearly remember the days when I was looking at the pictures I’d made and thought:‘Why, oh why does there have to be that ugly gray cast over my photos? I don’t want it to be there. I want my pictures to be vibrant and crisp!’

To solve this problem I first decided to pray and cry and scream and kick around and then cry some more (because that is the usual way how I solve my problems)…and then I remembered that times have changed and all that one needs to do to solve all the problems is to sit on her butt and start googling.

So I googled.

And did I find gorgeous things!

Basically, I came across three ways to increase contrast.

They can be used separately or all together.

Just have a look:
 
 

This is a SOOC (straight out of camera) picture that I made a couple of months ago on one of our trips.
 
 

And this is what I got after I opened my Photoshop and played for a while.

Note: I am using Photoshop Elements 8.
 
 

1. This is the first way to achieve better contrast in your pictures.

The change is rather subtle here – the final picture is a bit more defined and also slightly more vibrant.
 
 

To use the first method go to ENHANCE (situated in the tool menu on top of your screen) -> ADJUST LIGHTING -> BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST.

A small window will pop up.

In that window, drag the Contrast slider to the right just until you like the picture.

Try to be gentle since this method is rather strong.
 
 

And here we are with a tad better contrast.

But we want more, right?
 
 

2. This is the second method I’ve found.
 
 

In this case, go to ENHANCE -> ADJUST COLOR -> ADJUST COLOR CURVES.

A big window will pop up.

In this window you’ll see four sliders. Drag them so that you achieve a slight S-shaped curve on the graph.
 
 

This method is very effective, very gentle to the picture and it also pumps up your colors a little.

You just have to love it.

But there’s something that you’ll love even more…you’ll actually love it more than anything in this world…
 
 

3. And this is it – raising contrast with UNSHARP MASK.

Yes, I hear you – you use unsharp mask to sharpen your images.

And that is precisely what its primary purpose is.

But if you happen to adjust it ‘crazily’ – you’ll witness a miracle.
 
 

Just try it for yourself…go to ENHANCE -> UNSHARP MASK.

Now you’ll see a small window with three sliders – Amount, Radius and Threshold.

We are going to work with first two only.

With the first slider (Amount) go somewhere from 10 to 25 and with the second one (Radius) go almost to the end of the line.

And get amazed!
 
 

A am not lying when I say that I nearly shed a tear when I saw the result of this method for the first time.

It’s breathtaking.

The image is so much crisper, vibrant and more real.

I just love it!
 
 

Okay, being gentle with photo processing is one thing.

And I highly recommend that.

But being so greedy that you can’t help yourself from applying all the contrast increasing ways you know to one picture is something totally different.

I think that it’s done by people who want their images to be obnoxiously soaked up with everything there is to get.

I don’t know people like that.

All I know is that the picture above has all three methods applied to it.

(Oh, and in the last picture, that ‘someone’ also freed the horses’ heads from the shadow by going to ENHANCE -> ADJUST LIGHTING -> SHADOWS/HIGHLIGHTS.)
 

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This is a transition I’ve been really fascinated by lately.
 
 

The original picture of New York Cheesecake was nice but I thought it could really use some more lightness and focus on the delicious cake.
 
 


And here it is again, after the transition.

The background is brighter, a bit more blurry and romantic.

It feels kind of happy and ethereal.

If you’d like to have a look at how the process goes then I’ve prepared this cute little tutorial just for you.
 

Note: I am using Photoshop Elements 8 in this tutorial.
 
 

1. Open the picture you want to adjust.

Go FILE >> OPEN.

Now find out what’s the size of the picture – go up to the Image menu at the top of the screen and choose Resize – Image Size from the list of options, which will bring up Photoshop’s Image Size dialog box. We need to learn what the ‘Pixel Dimensions’ are. Then close the box.
 
 

2. Open a new blank (white) file with the same dimensions as the former picture.

Go FILE >> NEW >> BLANK FILE.
 
 

3. Now we are going to copy the first picture.

Double click on the first picture and then CTRL+A >> CTRL+C.
 
 

4. Next paste the copied picture into the blank file.

To do that double click on the second (blank picture) and then CTRL+V.

In the layers palette (where the arrow is pointing to) we have now two layers open – they are two layers of one picture.

What we do next is kinda ‘rub off’ bits of the top layer so that the bottom (white) layer will be slightly seen.

That’s the mighty trick!
 
 

5. For the above mentioned purposes we could really use something called a MASK.

For those of you who use ‘full’ Adobe Photoshop just click MASK.

And you, ELEMENTS users, don’t get scared – on one hand, it is true that Photoshop Elements doesn’t have the MASK, but we are smarter than that. Because we can CHEAT!

But pssst, don’t tell anyone!

Click LAYER >> NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER >> LEVELS.

Then, on the right-side panel (layers palette), click LAYERS back.
 
 

6. Now we need to get the layer which is in the middle position up to the top position.

Drag the middle layer one layer up (so that now we have the layer with the picture we want to improve in the top position).
 
 

7. We want the top two layers to marry each other now and function together in perfect harmony.

To achieve that (with the top layer clicked) click LAYER >> CREATE CLIPPING MASK.

And let the fun begin!
 
 

8. The red dots represent things you should adjust or have a look at before you start painting.

  1. Click on the white thumbnail in the middle layer (this is really crucial).
  2. Have the foreground color set as black (click ‘D’ key to achieve that).
  3. Click on the brush tool.
  4. From the set of basic brushes choose from the fuzzy ones (I chose 300).
  5. Adjust the size so that it works for your picture.
  6. Adjust the opacity to about 20%.

9. Now you can start painting over the picture – the areas you paint should become slightly whiter.

If something goes wrong, please, check the above 6 points again.
 

10. Finally, when you’re happy with the result, click LAYER >> FLATTEN and then FILE >> SAVE.
 
 

All right. By now you might be asking why you can’t create the white misty background in a simpler way – by painting the background white using a brush tool having the opacity reduced slightly or by using a dodge tool. Of course, that can be done, though it is not advised. Mostly because if you are not happy with the changes you’ve made to the picture, all you can do is click UNDO. And that is not very smart.

With this method, if you wish to go back and do something differently, just click the letter X on your keyboard which will switch the foreground color to white. Then continue painting over the picture and you’ll be able to see how your previous changes are being undone and you are getting back to the original picture.

Enjoy, dear friends.

Love,

Petra
 

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