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TUTORIAL | Graphic Thoughts: Photo Montage Efficiency Using Keyboard Shortcuts in Adobe Photoshop
Posted Jan 9, 2008 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Shortly before writing this tutorial, I had the incredibly difficult job of creating a photo montage tribute to a friend who lost her life to cancer at the age of 36. As with most memorial tributes, turnaround time for the project was extremely short. The goal was not only to create a montage for her on video, but also to memorialize her life in a hardcover book (to give to her family and her small children) through my side company, My Life In Print. For that reason, I opted to scan all of the photos for high-resolution printing at a later date, instead of my previous "norm," which was simply to set up my copystand and capture the photos via a spare Sony VX2000 video camera.

Step 1: Scanning to Photoshop
But let’s get back to where it all begins: acquisition. For this montage, I used a Canon Canonscan 8400F and Adobe Photoshop CS3 (Figure 1, below). The process is very straightforward: You scan your photos; then you save them. However, that’s not where you save time—it’s in "tweaking" Photoshop to make the process even faster than you thought possible.

First, I’ll go through the process; then I’ll explain how I made the process faster. To begin, open Photoshop and choose File > Import > Canonscan (if your scanner is installed on your computer, its name should appear among the Import choices). Following these steps, my scanning software opened automatically.

Because of the size of most of the photos, I was generally scanning, on average, three photos at once, all at 300 dpi (again, to keep the resolution high enough for printing in the book). If you’re only going to use the photos for video, then choosing anywhere from 100 to 200 dpi is fine; 150 dpi is perfect because it gives you more resolution without a gigantic file size.

figure 1

Step 2: Cropping and Straightening, Rotating, and Auto-Adjusting Color
This step is the cool part, and few videographers realize they can do it. Begin by choosing File > Automate > Crop and Straighten Photos (Figure 2, below). This ultra-handy script was first introduced two versions ago in Photoshop CS. It looks at your scanned image (in my case, three photos) and it "auto-magically" crops the photos, straightens them if they are slightly skewed, and then adds them to their own individual windows. This is a huge timesaver!

figure 1

Since many of my photos were landscape-based (horizontal), I had to rotate them. I laid them all on the scanner the same way, which meant that I could rotate them all counter-clockwise simultaneously rather than rotate them individually. To rotate a group of photos from a single scan, simply choose Image > Rotate Canvas > 90 CCW (or you may choose 90 CW for "rotate 90 degrees clockwise"). Once I had my images rotated, I chose Auto Color (Image > Adjustments > Auto Color) and Auto Levels (Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels) for quick cleanup of color, brightness, and contrast.

Step 3: Correcting Red-Eye
Some other pictures also needed red-eye correction. To do this, I chose Photoshop’s Red Eye tool (Figure 3, below). You can find it on the toolbar under the Spot Healing Brush tab, or press J multiple times and scroll through your choices until it appears.

figure 1

Again, this is where you’ll locate all of these functions on Adobe Photoshop CS3, so some options may be different (or nonexistent), depending on your version. Naturally, there are a number of other choices you could make, such as sharpening an image, desaturating, etc.

Step 4: Using Keyboard Shortcuts for Common Functions
These Photoshop functions are great, and they will streamline your workflow to an extent that’s probably not possible with other tools. But when you’re modifying and processing dozens of photos in the same way, there’s an even faster workflow available to you. In this case, I would say that on 95% of the photos I was making the same adjustments. Wouldn’t it be nice to simplify these routine adjustments so that I could implement them with a single keystroke?

Beginning in Photoshop CS2, Adobe allowed the user to change the keyboard shortcut keys, and naturally they’ve retained this breakthrough feature in the CS3 version. So, that’s what I did.

To begin, go to Image > Keyboard Shortcuts. There you will see the exact menu choices from the original drop-down list. Off to the right, you will see what the current keyboard shortcut assigned to that process is. However, if you don’t like the default, you can simply change it.

These are the settings I used, but feel free to do what makes sense to you. I started with F12 (File > Import > Canonscan) to open the scanner software. Once the images were scanned, I pressed F8 (File > Automate > Crop and Straighten Photos). Next, I chose F4 (Image > Rotate Canvas > 90 CCW) to rotate any photo that needed rotation (Figure 4, below shows how I mapped the shortcut to the function). Upon inspection of the photo, I chose Shift-Ctrl-B (Auto Color) and Shift-Ctrl-L (Auto Levels). If nothing else was required, I then chose F9 (File > Save for Web and Devices) to save the photograph (in my case, I saved them as JPEGs at around 70% quality), and I was done.

figure 1

If you want to go a step further and truly automate the process all the way through, you could create a Photoshop Action, which records your every move so that you can repeat those "moves" on another photo. While I didn’t see the need to create an Action in this case, to automate things further, you would probably want to create an Action that handles the image in Landscape as well as Portrait mode. (I’ll talk about Actions in a future article.)

Again, the ultimate goal is efficiency, and by using custom keyboard shortcuts that you can assign to any key, you can move much more quickly through the application. While I had a sticky note on my monitor to remind me of the shortcuts I had created, the process became second nature after doing it a few times. I could blaze through the acquisition of hundreds of photos and then move quickly to the montage itself.

Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.

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