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Adding Text to Photographs

By Liz Ness  ·  May 5th, 2011

Sometimes, a picture is much more informative with a few words to add some details to the scene. However, adding text can either distract from the image or the image can distract from the text, making the words difficult to read. That’s when transparent overlays are useful.

The following tutorial shares how to create a basic transparent overlay.

  1. Open a photograph in Photoshop Elements
  2. Select the Eyedropper tool (I) to sample a color from the photograph
  3. Select the Rectangle shape tool (U) and check the Geometry Options to ensure that the rectangle is unconstrained.

    (Please click on image to for larger view.)
  4. Draw a rectangle where you wish on the photograph. Then, change the opacity to something between 15% and 45%. (For the example, I chose 15%.)
  5. Create a new layer above the shape layer. Then, press Ctrl (Mac: Command) and click on the shape layer to create a selection.
  6. Select Edit>Stroke (Outline) Selection… and set the width to 10 px, the Location to Center, the Blending Mode to Normal, the Blending Opacity to 100%, and the Preserve Transparency option should remain unselected.
    (Please click on image to for larger view.)

    TIP – Get Rid of the Top Border: Select the shape layer, then press Ctrl (Mac: Command) and select the new layer (so that both layers are selected together). Then, select the Move tool (V) and use the up arrow key to nudge the layers upward, hiding the top border from view.
  7. Return the background and foreground colors to their defaults (D).
  8. Next, select the Horizontal Type tool (T) and click (and hold the mouse button) in the top left corner of the transparent box. While continuing to press the mouse button, drag the mouse to the lower right corner of the transparent box. Then, release. This should create a text box and now you can add your text.

The transparent text box is such a great way to add text, while buffering it from distracting elements in a photograph. It helps keeps text legible and the overall story of the photo and words together intact.

9 Replies to Adding Text to Photographs:

  1. Bruce

    May 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Nice! Thank You!

    • Liz

      May 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      You bet, Bruce. Thanks for your comment! =)

  2. Mary

    May 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I love the transparent overlay idea. It’s very readable without being distracting.

    Great idea, Liz! Thanks!


    • Liz

      May 6, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for your comment Mary! =)

  3. Cynthia

    May 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Excellent tutorial, Thank you for this technique.

  4. Steve

    May 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Thank you Liz, awesome idea

  5. James

    May 6, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Nice tip, Liz. Hmm, same for the vignetting. ; )

  6. Liz

    May 6, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Thanks Cynthia, Steve, and James! =)

  7. Mark R

    November 20, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Step 5 did not work for me. I tried it numerous times, and when trying to outline the selection kept getting the message that it could outline a selection because there was no selection. Very frustrating!

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