As an online editor at the Lawrence Journal World, part of my job is to constantly expand and adjust my skill set. I'm always looking for new tricks or technologies to learn and use in our news coverage. Until recently, my Photoshop skills were pretty poor. I could crop or make minor size adjustments to images, but found myself frustrated if I wanted to do something more advanced.

Rather than rely on someone else, I started taking online classes through a local community college and have used my new skills on a daily basis. Here are a few of the tips I've found most helpful when it comes to editing and adding images online. (For reference, I'm working in CS5. If you're working in a different version, some of the options may not be available.)

Crop to exact sizes
It’s common for photos to need to fit a specific size in your CMS so that they don't end up stretched or squished, or throw off the page display. For example, I often have to crop photos to pixel dimensions of 900 x 400 or 340 x 430. Using Photoshop's crop tool presets will save you some time.

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Select the crop tool from the tools panel on the left. If you can’t see the tools panel go to Window > Tools to make it appear.

3. In the tool options bar, you’ll see three fields where you can input numbers: width, height and resolution. Set the width and height to your required dimensions. (For this example, we’re using 320 x 240 pixels.) Make sure you type “320 px” and “240 px” so Photoshop knows you want pixels (not inches, which would create a giant image).

Leave the resolution at 72 pixels/inch. That’s a good resolution for the Web. If you're printing an image, you want a much higher resolution like 300 pixels/inch. Keep in mind that the higher an image's resolution, the longer it takes for your website visitors to download. If you're sharing photo files with the copy desk (and your CMS doesn't automatically compress images for you), you'll want to upload images with a lower resolution.

4. With the settings in place, click and drag across the image. You’ll see a box with constrained proportions on the image.

5. Adjust the box until what is inside the box is your desired result. Hit Enter or click the crop tool in the tools panel. Your new image resizes and crops itself to 320 x 240 pixels.

6. Save a new image (so you don’t ruin the original) as a JPEG.

Extra tips:

  • You can use this method to increase the size of small images, but don’t expect a great outcome. Often, trying to blow up tiny images results in grainy, blurry pictures.
  • Photoshop usually saves these settings for you, so the next time you use the crop tool it will be ready to go with the previous dimensions. If you want to remove the settings, just delete the numbers in the Width and Height field.

Using selection tools to highlight
There are times when you may want to highlight a specific area of an image, be it a chunk of text or an area of a photo. The rectangular and elliptical marquee combined with an adjusted fill layer can help you accomplish that.

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Select either the rectangular or elliptical marquee.

3. Click and drag the marquee over the area you want to highlight.

4. Now you have to invert the selection. Currently, the area selected inside the moving track will be affected by future changes. We want the area outside the selection to be affected. To invert the selection, go to Select > Inverse. You’ll see a moving track appear around the border of the image.

5. Make sure the foreground color is set to black by clicking on the tile and moving the color selector to the black corner of the color palette. Then go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. You can name the layer if you want, but you don’t have to. Click OK if prompted. A black layer appears outside your selection.

6. You need to adjust the opacity of the Fill Layer so you can see the rest of the image, but the selected area remains highlighted. In the Layers panel (usually on the right side) make sure the Fill Layer is selected. Then click the opacity slider and select a setting between 50 and 60 percent. If you don’t see the Layers panel, go to Window > Layers.

7. Save a new image (so you don’t ruin the original) as a JPEG.

Spot healing
Sometimes you may need to make a cosmetic change to a story. I ran into this recently with a photo of a parking ticket, in which the ticket clearly displayed the make, model, license plate number of the car and ticket number. Using the spot healing brush and clone stamp, I got rid of the numbers and was able to post the image.

In this example, we’ll use spot healing to remove a time/date stamp from an image.

1. Open the image in Photoshop. Select the zoom tool (the magnifying glass) from the tools panel and zoom in on the area you want to change.

2. Select the spot healing brush from the tools panel. The spot healing brush is great, because it doesn’t need a sample area to draw from in order to make corrections (a similar tool, the healing brush, requires a sample from the image in order to work properly). Change the brush size in the options bar to reflect the size of the area you want to change.

3. Click and drag the brush over the area you want to heal.

4. Work your way across the area until healing is complete.

5. Spot healing works best on areas that are not surrounded by a lot of sharp, complex edges. In that case, try using the clone stamp tool, which lets you sample and clone specific pixels in an image. Not getting the results you want? Try adjusting the size of the brush to see how it influences the area you’re healing or cloning.

Do you have additional good tips to share? Leave them in the comments or send them my way: