Five Miles Barefoot in the Snow Uphill Both Ways

Or Photoshop’s 25th Anniversary

It’s Photoshop’s 25th year of being the best image editor out there, and everyone is having a good time this week reminiscing about the days when they first started using Photoshop. I came late to the party. I couldn’t afford Photoshop when I first heard about it somewhere around v3. I not only would have had to pay for the software, but also for a new computer capable of running it. I’m sure some of you can empathize with that situation.

In the late 90’s, I bought a new computer and started taking courses in Computer Science, which was the department that housed Graphic Design. Adobe had a fabulous deal for students. Not only did we get to buy software on an academic discount, but they offered an upgrade path to the retail version. Many companies, if not most, didn’t offer any upgrade path from the academic purchase. I was beyond thrilled Adobe made it possible for me to buy Photoshop 5 and, at the same time, ensured that I could afford Photoshop 5.5 (really, so soon? I just bought 5.0!).

I’m still a mixture of jealous of those who had the resources to buy into Photoshop back before there were layers, and relieved it was never so difficult for me. I think to myself how much more I’d know now if I’d started with the most basic tools back then. I trudged barefoot five miles in the snow uphill, but it wasn’t uphill both ways. That’s reserved for users of Photoshop 3 and 4. It also, thankfully, didn’t mean building the first road to anywhere, which Photoshop 1 and 2 users had to do. Photoshop 5 began the modern era of Photoshop—almost easy for beginners.

So as others are looking back, remembering when this feature or that took away some of the hardship—layers, Adjustment layers, Smart Objects—yeah, pretty big deals—I looked back and realized for me, the big new feature was when John Nack, then Product Manager for Photoshop, sponsored JDI’s. A JDI is a “just do it” feature that doesn’t cost a lot in Adobe man hours, doesn’t mean rewiring the entire application to contain it, and doesn’t produce any lovely, jaw-dropping results. What it does is let you double-click on a layer name to rename it without popping up a dialog, or right-click on the image with the Brush tool and pop up a dialog that lets you, right there, change the angle of the brush. Not having to open the enormous Brush panel over and over again is huge.

The fact that Adobe made a concerted effort to promise us, through JDI’s, that it would keep revisiting the way Photoshop’s tools and interface served us, that it would listen to our grievances even when there’s no way for Marketing to highlight the feature and capture our imagination, was an important re-commitment to quality from this giant company to us, the users.

I looked it up and JDI’s got going in 2009 in Photoshop CS4. Most of these rolled out to very little fanfare. You have to search to find them in the online Help. Adobe is now apparently lumping JDI’s in with other feature “enhancements,” but to me, they’ll always be JDI’s. For those of you who are curious about just how important JDI’s have been to us, here is a fraction of all of them, taken from posted lists more or less in chronological order. I added the comments in parentheses. May Adobe never forget the lesson that taking the thorns out of our paws can often make the biggest difference in our lives.

  1. Added the ability to save to unsupported bit depth for JPEGs (down-sampling 16-bit files to 8-bit) (no having to quit the Save dialog and manually change the bit depth because you forgot)
  2. Added a straighten image tool
  3. Added the ability to close all open images without saving
  4. Added a preference to always default to the folder you last saved an image to (no more endless navigating to the folder you really want to save to)
  5. Increase brush size to 5000px (great for us scrappers and art journalists who use image brushes a lot)
  6. Allow changing of blend modes for multiple layers at once (the list forgot to say “blend mode and opacity.”
  7. Allow changing color labels to multiple layers at once
  8. Show blend if/Blending Effects badge on layer (no more being puzzled by hidden effects)
  9. Add command to insert “lorem ipsum” for type
  10. You can now see recent colors in the Swatches panel
  11. A single click on the Lock icon now unlocks a background layer
  12. 10 color samplers instead of 4. You can now change all color samplers in the Info palette at the same time (Yay! my most asked-for JDI)
  13. Narrow Options Bar for small displays (big deal if you’re on a laptop)

Here’s to another 25 years with Adobe Photoshop, helping us create the worlds we imagine.


Restoring Trudie Ann – Part 1

The first step to make an old photo presentable

I’ve often thought that Nova Scotia in the old days must have been rather poor since it couldn’t seem to afford many names for the females. I can’t keep the generations in my family straight for all the Anns and Margarets. By all accounts, Trudie Ann was someone everybody liked, and I think this snapshot shows her as someone who had a good time and didn’t take herself too seriously. Studio portraits take a lot of effort to convey true character—a formal sitting, while lovely to have, is usually more staged than intimate— which makes a rare shot like this one worth taking the time to restore.

Since Camera Raw is so easy to use for basic edits, I like to start there. If my photo is already a PSD, as this one is, I can use Photoshop CC which has the Camera Raw filter built in, allowing it to run as a Smart Object filter on any image layer inside Photoshop. You can’t use the Crop, Straighten, or Rotate tools, but you do have access to almost all other features, and of course, you can non-destructively crop within Photoshop proper.

Layers panel with Camera Raw Smart Filter
Using the Camera Raw Filter as a Smart Filter in Photoshop CC and above.


If you’re still on Photoshop CS6 or earlier, there is no Camera Raw Filter. You can, however, open your JPEG or TIFF scan in Camera Raw, then open it as a Smart Object in Photoshop. And if you prefer to start in Lightroom, you have  the same features that are in Camera Raw, and can later use Photoshop layers to help you finish your project.

If you have Photoshop Elements, choose your JPEG or TIFF in the Open Dialog, then select Camera Raw from the Format list at the bottom. PSE has a limited set of features in Camera Raw compared to Photoshop or Lightroom. However, you do get that all-important Basic tab that deals with color and tonality.

Choosing Camera Raw Format in PSE's Open dialog
Selecting Camera Raw in the Format pop-up list after choosing a JPEG file in Photoshop Element’s Open dialog.

After converting my background to a Smart Object, I chose Filter> Camera Raw Filter. The histogram suggested that there was severe clipping in the highlights, but to make sure it was only the white surrounding the oval image, I held down the Option/Alt key while clicking on the Highlights slider. The display clearly showed the image had no clipping.

Camera Raw histogram and clipping triangles
Triangles in the upper right and left corners of the histogram indicate if there is clipping somewhere in the image.
Highlights clipping preview
Displaying Highlights clipping by holding down the Option/Alt key while adjusting the Highlights slider.


You can also click on the highlight triangle above the histogram to toggle the clipping display for the overall image. When you Option/Alt click on a single tonality slider (Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks), just the clipping for that region is displayed.

If your software uses an older version of Camera Raw or PSE, you might not have the same sliders, but most of it has similar functions.

Camerea Raw tonality sliders
The settings I used to moderately adjust tonality in the Trudie Ann image.

I used Camera Raw to apply a very little capture sharpening—this is not the same thing as output sharpening to a printer or the web, and should only be used to restore a hint of sharpness to a digital file.

Preview of sharpened regions when holding down the Option/Alt key
The Masking slider in the Sharpening area of the Details tab in Camera Raw limits the areas that get sharpened. Holding the Option/Alt key while adjusting the slider displays the areas in black that are protected from sharpening.

I also adjusted the Luminance noise sliders, turned on B&W in the Hue Saturation section (although you can convert your scan to a neutral B&W by any of your preferred methods) and used the Upright feature in the Lens Corrections section to straighten the photo’s perspective slightly. If you’re using the regular Camera Raw or Lightroom Develop interface and know you want to further crop and straighten, you can do so now.  Why clean more than you have to? And cleaning is the next step I need to take to restore Trudie Ann.

Box Of Photos

Restoring retouching, and retelling my stories

When I was still a very little girl, my Gram would sometimes bring out a metal book-shaped box, or an old black paper album, and show me pictures of her family. Most of the pictures were from ancient times, her youth, and none of the other people in the photos were anyone I had ever met. Along with the pictures, Gram would often bring out stored treasures—an old dress carefully wrapped in tissue, a hand-painted plate, a lace doily or initialed napkin that her Aunt Annie had made.

The pictures, mostly fading amateur snapshots, and the objects the people in the photos had once touched, maybe even made, brought the Past into the Present. My family weren’t much to talk about their lives. My dad never said anything about his own family, and my mom didn’t say much more. Gram just told me the stories by showing me pictures and saying a few words about the people in them. But for the most part, all the people in the photos remained little more than familiar strangers to me.

Nevertheless, I believed they were as real as my neighbors and classmates. Going on nothing more than the expressions on their faces, I imagined them being much the same as we were, and the choices they made, those few I knew about, inexorably leading to today, to where we lived, the people we knew, what we looked like, what values we were taught.

Photos are odd ducks. They exist in the margins between fact and fantasy. Sometimes they do a good job of revealing the true character of a subject, human or not. Other times they do an equally good job of concealing any facts. Yet always there is a kernel of truth declaring that something existed once, even if the entire image is a reflection of our imagination. The strangers in photos were or had been as real as I, and they deserved my care and respect.

And that’s how I first began to learn to use Adobe software, especially Photoshop, to bring the people and places in old family photos back to life, to start telling our stories as I imagined them—and making up a few new stories along the way.