Photoshop CS4 One-on-One Top 10 New Features

I wrote this article for But then it occurred to me, as if in a dream: Wait, I should make this available to everyone on the site. So here it is, slightly modified to suit the unique needs of the denizens of dekeOnline. In other words, I spiced it up.

I hope to add links and figures soon. Like this one (below). And maybe even fix a few typos. Check back real soon, you hear?

Ye old Photoshoppe

In the meantime, here’s the article:

Every upgrade to Photoshop offers up a bounty of labor-saving, time-shaving, and downright inspiring new features. And wouldn’t you just know it? I’m growing more and more convinced that CS4 is more bountiful than most. Here are my Top 10 new features in Photoshop, from semi-lame to absolutely great:

10. Spring-loaded tools. Temporarily select a tool by pressing and holding its shortcut key. For example, when retouching an image with the healing brush: Press and hold Y to temporarily get the history brush, erase part of your modification, and then release Y to return to the healing brush. Sexy name for a run-of-the-mill feature. Might catch on. Time will tell.

9. The Adjustments palette. Nondestructive adjustment layers (which are independent layers of editable color adjustment) are now handled in a central palette. Some folks will love the convenience, others will lament the many changes that were required to accommodate this feature. Mostly, though, the palette aggregates stuff that’s been there for ages. One new item, Vibrance, enhances color intensity without exaggerating noise.

8. The Masks palette. CS4’s other new palette is largely another aggregator, providing convenient access to old features. Three new items: The wonderful Color Range command can now directly generate masks. Color Range can see base colors based on proximity. And you can blur edges parametrically (meaning non-permanently, by the numbers).

7. The enhanced Bridge 3.0. The Bridge is CS4’s asset manager, permitting you to preview and organize your images. Auto-updating workspaces, a review mode complete with image carousel, full-screen preview, folder-independent image collections, and search-based smart collections are just a few improvements. Oh, and you can assemble multipage PDF contact sheets from the Output panel.

6. Improved toning tools. Paint with the dodge tool to lighten an image; paint with the burn tool to darken. Only thing, the tools used to suck. Now they’re so good, I actually use them on a regular basis. They’re still destructive (meaning they permanently change pixels), but in a good way!

5. Camera Raw 5. Essentially a logically organized and altogether independent color adjustment application, Camera Raw continues to be that top-secret tool that makes every version of Photoshop worth buying. This time, it offers the equivalent of nondestructive and highly customizable dodge and burn. Which you can apply as brushstrokes or gradients. Plus you can add vignettes inside crop boundaries. It’s like a free copy of Lightroom’s Develop module bundled inside every version of Photoshop. Which given that Lightroom costs more than a Photoshop upgrade, and this is just feature 5 of 10, is fairly significant.

4. Target adjustment tool. Associated with three color adjustments—Hue/Saturation, Black & White, and Curves—the target adjustment tool lets you selectively modify colors and luminance levels by dragging in an image. For example, drag on a model’s lips to boost their saturation. No need to isolate a hue range. Just drag. Honestly, if you aren’t loving this tool within a week, check to make sure you have a pulse.

3. The tabbed-window interface. This feature has already proved controversial, with a few noisy Macintosh users in particular voicing disapproval. But speaking as a cross-platform guy with a decidedly Mac bias, it’s a net-sum gain. You now have the option of docking every image in a tabbed window. Click a tab to switch documents. Drag a tab to reassign priority. Plus, you can drag-and-drop a layer onto a tab to move that layer from one image to another. The tabbed window interface is a masterpiece of design and a thing of beauty.

2. Content-aware scaling. Part of Adobe’s advance compositing suite, the Content Aware Scale command lets you stretch or squish low-contrast “background” elements independently of high-contrast “foreground” ones. Which means you can bring people together, turn horizontal images into vertical ones, and otherwise transform photographs intelligently. My guess: five years from now we’ll all be mocking this feature for what it got wrong. (The degree to which it can mess up certain images is fantastic!) But in the moment, you’re going to be singing its praises. This is Photoshop’s first truly magical feature since the magic wand. And that was 18 years ago, babies. (Okay, the healing brush was also magical. And that was, what, seven years ago? So we’re talking three magical features in two decades. Got to admit, magic is rare.)

1. OpenGL navigation. Forget all that other crap. Seriously, content-aware scaling? As if. So far as I’m concerned, Photoshop CS4 offers one and only one new feature: OpenGL navigation. Assuming you have a video card that supports OpenGL (most do), then here’s what you get: Slow continuous zooms. Rotate the view. Get the hand tool, toss the image, and watch it sail across the screen. Hold down H and click and hold for bird’s eye. And by God if every zoom level isn’t a thing of bicubically rendered beauty. (No idea what I’m talking about? Trust me, huge.) OpenGL navigation is so good it makes me hate CS3. Some nights, OpenGL navigation and I open a bottle of wine and just talk about how lucky we are just to have met each other. It’s that good.

Plus you Mac people (who will soon get wind that Photoshop CS4 supports 64-bit processing but only under Windows Vista): MacBook Pro and Air users can try out all that freaky two- and three-finger ultra-swipe stuff and watch Photoshop CS4 keep right up with you. Frankly, it’s sort of major. Of course, this falls under the OpenGL umbrella, which is yet another reason me and OGL are so goofy on each other. (Well, it’s why I like her. Who knows why she takes a shine to me?)

So that’s the summary. For the full story, down to the last granular detail, with you as master of the application, purchase and eagerly await and read Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One. You’ll be glad you did.

Next entry:Pathetic Attempt to Keep My Job Subsidized (or WWSD?)

Previous entry:Faking an HDR Portrait


  • Thanks :)

    Thanks for this summary of new features smile

    I don’t think I will like this adjustment palette… but other features look really nice :D

  • Re: Thanks :)

    @Lolka: The adjustment panel is one of my favorite new features. grin It takes a little while to get used to it, but it saves a lot of time.

  • That’s interesting

    I will say, the Adjustments palette/panel has grown on me over time. I don’t consider it a downgrade by any means. It’s not much of a reason to upgrade given that most the features are already readily available in CS3. But it is conveniently located and it does include the target adjustment tool.


    —I hate the fact that it remains ten feet tall even when you’re using a two-slider adjustment like Vibrance.

    —Adobe desperately needs to get the adjustments in order, IMHO. We now have 21 adjustments (16 available as adj layers), many of which are repetitive, none of which were designed to specifically complement each other, none of which is particularly adept at adjusting tint or temperature, and with no consideration given to priority. Which is largely why Camera Raw and Lightroom and Aperture exist.

    If the Adjustments palette looked like the Basic panel in Camera Raw, I’d be a happy monkey. If you could take an image into Camera Raw on-the-fly when editing it in Photoshop, I’d even consider that cause for a bit of cheer.

    It’s as if Adobe has gathered all the adjustments and tossed them in a junk drawer, so they’re no longer scattered all over the countertops. That’s a start, but they still need to be organized.

    Of course, I say this as a guy whose office looks like a bomb went off in it. grin

  • Question


    The new adjustment panel is frustrating to no end, from a workflow standpoint.  In CS3, when you envoked an adjustment layer, the dialog would pop-up, and one could immediately begin working with the dialog using keyboard shortcuts (tab, arrows, etc.).  Now, (at least from what I’ve experienced), there’s no way to really activate the adjustments dialog so that the keyboard shortcuts can be used immediately—one has to click in the panel in order to activate it. 

    Has this been your experience?  If not, how do you fix it?

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be a way to create an adjustment layer without an associated mask.  I know in CS3, you could turn off the mask option using the layers panel settings… but is this no longer the case in CS4?

    - Jacob

  • Problem with save for web colors

    I just started having this problem with Photoshop CS3…

    When I “Save for Web and Devices” the colors change.  In the 2-Up panel, my original has a green which is #C8F9DC, but in the panel on the right the color has changed to #B1F9DC.  What is causing this?  I’ve never had this problem before in the years and years I’ve used Photoshop.



  • Re: Save for Web Colors

    The reason for is that you have most likely checked convert to sRGB in the panel where you are selecting monitor profile in save for web menu. . Uncheck the box and you should be good to go. In CS4 used background filled with your color and tried to save it. It came right up.  sRGB is checked by default.

  • I had to ask this too - here’s Deke’s answer

    “First, make sure you do not have an adjustment layer active. Then go to the Adjustments palette. Click on that indecipherable icon in the top-right corner that brings up the flyout menu. Then choose Add Mask by Default to turn it the hell off.”

    I’m not overly fond of the adjustment palette myself - though I’m sure I’ll get used to it. It just strikes me as one of those cosmetic changes that realluy doesn’t have that much benefit - it’s just pretty is all.

    But it’s all moot to me at the moment, ‘cos my mobo died last night. Bugger! :(

  • Adjustments palette shortcuts

    Like Petra, I’m only so-so on the Adjustments palette. (Sorry to hear about your loss, Petra.)

    But I got you covered on keyboard shortcuts. I’ll write up an article and link to it.

  • Thanks Deke… Im dyin to

    Thanks Deke…
    Im dyin to read it.

    Hook me up, my brotha.

  • Thanks Petra! I would have

    Thanks Petra!
    I would have found it myself in about 100yrs.

    You’re a life saver.

  • I believe this

    will answer your questions.

    If not, let me know, preferably on that page.

  • Swings and roundabouts

    One day a loss, the next day a gain. It’s all good. My mum is buying me a new ‘puter for Xmas. Luckily she’s computer illiterate,and needs me to do the newsletters for the shooting range at the farm, so is almost as frustrated that my mobo died as I am. Heheh. *does happy dance to Supergroove’s You Freak Me* :-D

  • I’m trying to pick up some

    I’m trying to pick up some new tricks and just starting to mess with some grid layout stuff. Have any suggestions on grid layout tutorials?

  • Unable to modify Macintosh keyboard shortcuts

    I was unable to modify the function keys as requested on the bottom of page xxi of the Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-On-One book. I’m using Mac OS X ver. 10.6. System preferences / keyboard & mouse screens are separate, unlike Figure 14. Are additonal steps required to modify the keys to Control-F9, etc. from the current F9, F10, etc.

  • brush angle control shortcut question

    Can I possibly get an answer to this question…I have used Photoshop extensively over the last couple of years as an illustration tool and found it annoying that it seems impossible to control the brush angle on the fly via shortcuts, like I can with size, transparency and edge hardness…I have once again spent useless time digging around trying to find an answer, but to no avail…yes I am of course aware of that I can use the numeric settings and the “crosshair” control in the brush tip section of the brushes pallet…if the numeric value could be made “sticky” it would be exactly what I would like - to be able to use up and down arrows on the fly to determine the angle…Is there something I am overlooking here. I would help my work greatly if I could get this solved.
    (I have seen tutorial clips from matte painters on “Gnomon Workshop”, for instance, where it seems like the instructor is controlling his brush angle in a way too rapid, not to be a shortcut..)


  • There is no brush angle shortcut

    And Photoshop offers no way to make one.

    The only way I know of to control the angle of the brush on-the-fly is to use a drawing tablet with a pressure-sensitive stylus, such as the Intuos from Wacom. Then you can twist the stylus to change the angle of the brush.

  • Keyboard shortcuts have changed in OS X 10.6

    The idea here is that you’re trying to change the Exposé and Spotlight shortcuts so that they don’t interfere with Photoshop. Spotlight is the main culprit because, by default, it prevents you from zooming.

    In OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), you go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts. Then switch to Exposé & Spaces in left-hand list and make the Control-F9, etc. changes. Next switch to Spotlight and set to F1 keystrokes advised in the book.

  • Also, aluminum keyboards *do* have an extra step

    If you’ve got one of the new-ish aluminum Apple keyboards, the Function keys by default are intercepted by brightness, Exposé, Dashboard, iTunes controls, etc. You can access the actual F1-F12 keys temporarily by holding down the FN key while you press said function key, or alternatively change your preferences (System Preferences->Keyboard) to use the special Apple functions only when you hold the FN key. But even after you do that, you’ll still need to remap the underlying F9, F10, etc. (Yes, Apple hijacks your function keys twice.)

  • angle disappointment

    Thanks for the surprisingly fast response…I have worked the brush parameters using Intuos4 (medium) but it seems the control is very so-so when it comes to the angle accuracy one would need to for instance place dozens of eye lashes around an eye with pixel precision. Do you address this question in any of your Lynda tutorials? ...and you put out some fine tutorials by the way! (free plug)

  • Great post

    Great post, you’ve helped me a lot

  • Great post, you’ve helped


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