Here we’re going to discuss how to improve your photographic workflow with some new timesaving features in Bridge and Photoshop CS5. Becoming a better photographer is an adventure and lifelong pursuit. Therefore, to help you reach new horizons in your own photographic workflow, read on.

One of the pitfalls of digital photography is that we tend to capture too many photos. As a result, most of them will end up being lost or buried on a hard drive. The remedy is to create contact sheets for a quick visual reminder.

To create a contact sheet in Bridge, first choose Window>Workspace>Output. (Note: The contact sheet option is in a new location in Photoshop CS5.) Customize the panel settings on the right and after making changes click the Refresh Preview button to see an updated layout. When satisfied, click Save.

In the current digital age, watermarks are more important than ever. A watermark gives you the ability to protect your image or to reinforce your brand. In Bridge CS5, you can add watermarks in the Output module to either create single or multiple image layouts, or Web galleries. This way, when you deliver or send your files digitally, they can be protected from unfair use. For a basic text-based copyright, select PDF, and then in the Watermark section, enable Add Watermark, Place on Each Image, and Insert Text. Enter text in the text field and then choose a Font, Size, and Color.

Another effective way to use a watermark is to use a graphic, logo, or brand identity element on top of the image. First create a graphic in Photoshop and save it as TIF or PNG. (Hint: Use PNG when you want to have transparency.) Then, in the Watermark section, select Add Watermark, Place on Each Image, and Insert Image. Click on the icon to the right of the Path field, select a graphic, and use the sliders below to customize the size, opacity, and position of the watermark. This way you have precise control over how and where the watermark is displayed.

A common need for photographers is the ability to change the name of their images. The good news is that you can now batch rename files with more ease than ever while in Bridge CS5. Select one or more images, Right-click on a selected image, and choose Batch Rename. In the Batch Rename dialog, notice the two new options: Presets and Preview. While these are simple improvements, these are great timesavers. Use the Presets drop-down menu to save, store, and reuse common renaming conventions, and click on the Preview button for a quick visual of how the file names will actually appear.

If you haven’t used Mini Bridge, you’ll definitely want to start using it. Mini Bridge provides you with the ability to browse, filter, sort, preview, and open images from directly inside of Photoshop.

To open Mini Bridge, click on the Launch Mini Bridge icon (circled) in the Application Bar or choose File>Browse in Mini Bridge. Yet, in order to be even more effective, you’ll want to set up a custom keyboard shortcut. Choose Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts, twirl open the File options, and assign Browse in Mini Bridge a shortcut. This way, you can quickly (and efficiently) access and use Mini Bridge whenever you need it.

The Mini Bridge panel can be relocated or resized just like any of the other panels, and the interface is relatively intuitive except for a few new icons. Use the Filter icon to choose a range of filtering options, the Sort icon to access options to change the order of files, and the Tools icon for image placing options. The View icon (located at the bottom of the panel) allows you to change the interface layout and the Preview icon has various preview options. You can press the Spacebar to enter Full Screen mode and double-click on a file to open an image.

Photoshop is a strong program jammed-packed with features. Yet, the downside is that many features aren’t relevant to your own workflow. The good news is that you can quickly and easily customize a workspace to suit your needs. To create a custom workspace, choose Window>Workspace>Essentials (or whatever workspace you want to use) or click on the Essentials button in the Application Bar. Note: To access more workspaces in the Application Bar, click-and-drag the handles (circled) to the left. Make changes in the workspace in regards to panel sizes, positions, or visibility and Photoshop will automatically save the changes.

Working with layers and layer style effects in CS5 has been improved. Now you can select one or more layers and then change the opacity of all of those layers at one time. Simply Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on multiple layers and change the Opacity in the Layers panel. In addition, the layer style effects settings (drop shadow, stroke, etc.) are capable of being saved with customized default settings. To set a default, apply a layer style effect and click on the Make Default button in the Layer Style dialog. To reset the settings, click on the Reset to Default button.

One of the most significant features in Photoshop CS5 is the ability to refine and improve selections and masks. First, make a selection and then click the Refine Edge button in the Options Bar, or create a mask, Right-click on the mask in the Layers panel, and select the Refine Mask options. In both situations, this action will open a Refine dialog. In the Edge Detection section, enable the Smart Radius checkbox and increase the Radius to work on a larger edge area. Then, use the Adjust Edge sliders to dial in the exact selection parameters. Click OK when finished.

Being able to delete or remove unwanted items in a frame has long been the desire of photographers. Now this process is easier than ever. First, make a selection of an object with the selection just outside the area of the object—if the selection is too close, it won’t work well. To increase the selection, choose Select>Modify>Expand and use the Expand dialog. Then press Shift-F5 to open the Fill dialog and choose Content-Aware from the Use menu in the Contents section. Click OK.

In the previous version of Photoshop, the Spot Healing Brush was primarily relegated to removing small blemishes in a frame. Now it can be used to content-aware fill larger areas. It’s especially good at removing items that are distractions, which are on top of complex content—think telephone wires in front of a tree.

To use this tool, select the Spot Healing Brush tool (J), choose Content-Aware in the Options Bar, and then click-and-drag over the element that needs to be removed. For example, here the garment strap was removed with a single brush stroke. (Hint: Make sure the brush size is slightly larger than the blemish.)

HDR and HDR type of effects have taken the photographic community by storm. More and more photographers are beginning to experiment with how they can use these effects to improve their images. HDR toning provides a set of powerful controls that can be used to quickly make subtle or dramatic HDR-like effects. To use HDR Toning, choose Image>Adjustments>HDR Toning. In the HDR Toning dialog, experiment with the various presets from the Preset drop-down menu, or simply create a custom effect by modifying the Edge Glow, Tone and Detail, and Color controls.

Many argue that true HDR has finally come of age in Photoshop CS5, and I completely agree. HDR is a valid and powerful tool for both creative and corrective purposes. HDR Pro is now stronger than ever giving you controls to deal with common HDR problems (like ghosting) and more precise controls over tonal blending. To use HDR Pro, capture multiple frames of the same subject at different exposure settings. Next, select the images in Bridge and choose Tools>Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro. In the Merge to HDR Pro dialog, use the Edge Glow, Tone and Detail, and Color/Curve sections to create the desired effect.

The Targeted Adjustment Tool (TAT) allows you to make precise adjustments. You can use the TAT with Black & White, Curves, and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers. Simply create one of the aforementioned adjustment layers, select the TAT (circled) from the Adjustments panel, position the cursor over the area of the image you wish to adjust, and click-and-drag. This is one of the most powerful tools in Photoshop, and is something you’ll use frequently. I recommend you choose Auto-Select Targeted Adjustment Tool from the flyout menu (circled). This way, each time you open one of the supported adjustment layers, the TAT will be selected by default.

Photoshop CS5 comes preinstalled with a few features that you have to dig around in order to find. One of those features is the incredibly helpful LAB Black & White conversion action. To access this action, open the Actions panel (Window>Actions), click on the flyout menu (circled), and choose LAB – Black & White Technique. This will load the action into the Actions panel. Next, open an image and click on the Photo Toner Technique action. Click on the Play icon and the action will run through the various steps, which will help you to create a potentially more compelling black-and-white image.

In Photoshop CS5 there’s a new way to work with color. In particular, the Eyedropper tool (I) now features a color-sampling ring that acts as a visual aid to help determine the correct color. Surrounding the selected color is a 50% neutral gray ring, which visually isolates and sets apart the color being sampled. In addition, you’ll find a heads-up display (HUD) color picker, which allows you to quickly choose colors while painting. To open this display, press Control-Option-Command-click (PC: Shift-Alt-Right-click). There are also two options for the HUD: the Hue Strip or Hue Wheel. Choose Preferences (PC: Edit)>General to select the HUD you like best.

As a photographer seeking to create more powerful images, learning how to work with masking is key. In Photoshop, masking provides you with the ability to selectively paint various types of adjustments. New to CS5 is a set of brushes called bristle tips located in the Brush panel (Window>Brush), which helps create more realistic, smooth and clean masks. The bristle tips provide the ability to specify precise brush bristle characteristics, which helps create natural-looking brush strokes. With a bit of practice you can use these brushes in addition with the other brushes to expand and improve how you create masks.

To use lens correction, choose Filter>Lens Correction. This will open the Lens Correction dialog where you’ll see a new tab titled Auto Correction. If your camera profile is available, the filter will select a profile for your camera and lens combination. Select the various types of auto corrections you’d like to have applied and click OK. In the example shown here, you can see how even an image captured with a fisheye lens (left) can be relatively corrected (right). Note: While typically you won’t be using this filter to remove such dramatic fisheye distortion, it does illustrate the power and potential of this new feature.