I have to admit that at one time I used to go around telling people that the Elements Lasso tool was fit for nothing because there was no way you could draw a sufficiently accurate freehand selection with the mouse – and that there were plenty of other selection tools which were far better.

Until I wrote a magazine article about the Peak Photography Centre, where trainer Simon Watkinson demonstrated a really simple way of making localised adjustments using nothing more sophisticated than the Freehand Lasso tool and feathering options.

Since then, I’ve changed my mind. I thing the best adjustments are almost always made with a comparatively crude and fast selections which are then feathered so that the adjustment blends in with the image naturally.

So here’s Simon’s technique, modified to use adjustment layers rather than direct adjustments, and the Gaussian Blur filter rather than the Feather options. The idea is the same, but using adjustment layers makes the results easy to modify later on.

Elements lasso tool

For my start shot I’ve chosen this rocky landscape from Kilve Beach in Somerset. I used a graduated filter to darken the sky but it wasn’t enough to give the picture the contrast and impact I was looking for. I think I know what it needs to make it work, though. The band of rocks in the centre needs to be lighter and more contrasty, while the sky and the flat rock pavement in the foreground need to be darker.

01 Selecting the rocks

Elements lasso tool

OK, so I’ve made a rough selection of the rocks with the Freehand Lasso tool. If you try this and deviate too far, you can hold down the Shift key and drag to include more areas, or hold down the alt key and drag to remove areas you didn’t mean to select.

Now I need to create a new Levels adjustment layer using the drop-down menu on the Layers palette…

02 Masked adjustments

Elements lasso tool

See what’s happened? Elements has used the active selection to create a mask for the new adjustment layer – you can see its thumbnail just to the right of the adjustment layer itself. The black areas on the mask are protected from the adjustment, while the white areas will be adjusted.

The adjustment panel now displays a histogram for the selected area only. I’ll drag the white point and black point sliders to meet the left and right ends of the histogram. This boosts the contrast in the rocks.