Just getting started in Photoshop Elements? (Don’t feel bad if you’ve had Elements for years and feel like you are still getting started!) These Photoshop Elements tips will give beginners the foundation you need to understand the basics of the program and begin editing your photos.

Separate Your Edits with Layers for Maximum Edit Quality

If you are new to the Photoshop family, the concept of layers might seem a bit obtuse. Using layers makes it easier to use Elements though, believe it or not.

Think of your layers as a chest of drawers to store your edits in. You probably don’t store your socks, shirts, and pants all in the same dresser drawer, right? (Well, you do if you are my 14-year-old, but let’s not get into that.) You have separate drawers to keep your clothes tidy and make it easy to find them when you need them, right?

Photoshop Elements for Beginners

Each layer in your photo file is a drawer for a separate edit. You might have layers that do the following:

  1. Brighten the exposure.
  2. Fix the color.
  3. Saturate the color.
  4. Caption your photo.

The benefit of editing your photos with layers is that you can access and modify each type of layer without changing your other edits.

Say that you wanted to brighten a photo and saturate its colors. Without layers, your process might look like this:

  1. Brighten the photo.
  2. Saturate the photo.
  3. Realize that your photo is too bright.
  4. Undo the saturation.
  5. Undo the brightening.
  6. Re-brighten the photo.
  7. Re-saturate the photo.

But with layers, your process would be much shorter:

  1. Brighten the photo.
  2. Saturate the photo.
  3. Realize that your photo is too bright.
  4. Return to the brightening layer and adjust it.

Photoshop Elements for Beginners

Even though layers might seem like unnecessary steps at first, you’ll soon find them to be indispensable for editing in Photoshop Elements. Each time you create a new edit, create a new layer for it. And if you need an overview of the different types of layers in PSE, I’ve got you covered.

Don’t see that Layers panel? Click on the Window menu to turn it on.

Fix Under- or Over-Exposed Photos with a Brightness/Contrast Layer

If your photo is too dark or bright, the easiest way to fix it in Photoshop Elements is to use a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer. Go to the Layer menu, select New Adjustment Layer, and then Brightness/Contrast.Photoshop Elements for Beginners

A Properties panel that looks like this will open:

Simply move the Brightness slider to the left to darken your photo or to the right to brighten it.

Adjust Funny Colors

When you take indoor or low-light photos, the color is going to look funny sometimes. The way colors render in your photo is called “White Balance.” A photo with good white balance has whites that appear white, without color casts that are orange/yellow or blue.

You can fix this by finding a neutral in your photo. And in the photography world, neutral doesn’t mean beige or khaki – it means white, gray or black. Keep in mind that gray is a dark white or light black. They are all different tones of the same color.

Once you’ve found this neutral in your photo, and it does need to be gray rather than white or black, you can tell PSE, “Hey. This point right here should be pure gray. Fix it, and fix all the other colors while you’re at it.” You’ll do that by adding a Levels Adjustment Layer (Layer Menu>New Adjustment Layer>Levels). Click on the gray eyedropper, and then click on a part of your photo that should be gray.

The most important words in the prior sentence are “should be.” If it were already gray, you wouldn’t need to fix it.

Sometimes this edit takes several different clicks with the gray eyedropper. Keep working until you find a color balance that looks natural.

Do parts of your image color or exposure adjusting that the rest of the photo doesn’t need? Click here to learn about layer masks.

Add Text to Your Photos

One of the biggest strengths of Photoshop Elements is that you can add text, captions, or journaling to your photos. However, the Text tool tripped me up more than anything way back when before I knew what I was doing in Elements.

To add text, click the text tool from your toolbox to activate it.

Each tool in Photoshop Elements has a unique set of options. The text tool is no exception. After you select it, you can use the options to select the font type, size, and color. When your options are configured to suit your taste, click and drag to draw a text box. After you draw, you can begin typing.

If you want to change any of your font options after you type, click and drag to select the text and then change whatever you’d like.

After you finish, you must click the checkmark at the lower right corner of your text box. This commits your changes. And if you want to go back and change the text later, double-click on the text icon on your layers panel.

Want to add a color block behind your text like mine? This helps the text show up in front of a busy background. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool and click and drag the shape you want your box to be.

Go to the Layer Menu>New Fill Layer>Solid Color to create your color block.

Choose the color from the resulting color picker and click OK.

Is your text hidden now? Click and drag the color fill in your Layers panel so that it is under the text layer, like this:

Save Your Files

When you save your files for the first time, you will be presented with what might be a long list of unfamiliar options. Let’s simplify!

At this point, your file is an organized stack of layers that you can go back and change whenever you’d like. You might find that your print doesn’t look like you expected or that you want to remove the black and white conversion that you created. It’s important that you save your file as a PSD in order to keep these layers. Each and every file that I edit in PSE is saved as a PSD throughout my editing process. When I begin my photo edit, I go to the File menu and select Save As.

I name the file and select PSD from the Format drop-down menu. When I click OK, that means that I have just created a brand new layered file. I type command/control S throughout my edit and at the end of my edit to ensure that the current version of the file is saved.

However, a PSD is a file that can only be opened in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. You can’t post them online or send them to print labs. You’ll need a JPG for that. At the end of my edit, after saving my final PSD, I return to the File menu and select Save As again. At this point, I select JPG from the drop-down menu and hit OK.

PSE will open the following window, asking you to assign a file Quality (or size) for your JPG. If you want to print the file, save it at the maximum quality. Reduce the quality only for posting online or quick email shares.

Other Useful Tutorials

Do you feel like the world of Photoshop Elements is starting to make better sense to you? If you have any lingering questions, post them in the comments below. And check out these tutorials for further reading.

If those tutorials leave you wanting more, check out my in-depth Photoshop Elements workshop. Complete with comprehensive homework assignments, you and I can work together to edit your favorite photos. Check it out here, and let me know if you have any questions.

And if you’d like more free tutorials like one full of Photoshop Elements for Beginners tips, subscribe to my email list. You’ll receive a weekly newsletter, product news, and instant access to my entire library of freebies!