How Big is Your Adjustment Window?
Photoshop CS4 introduced a number of changes to the user interface, some of which can take a bit of getting used to. As an advocate of adjustment layers, one of the changes I get asked about most often is the new adjustment panel. Why on earth did Adobe make it so small?
Good question. My best guess is that they simply sized it to fit down the right-hand side of the screen with everything else. Everything now lives in a "panel," and all these panels hang out together as part of the vertical dock down the right of the screen. While this does make the user interface cleaner, not everything works as well confined to this space. Some things simply cry out for more room than the vertical dock permits. At the top of such things that could benefit from more space is the adjustment panel that in CS4 takes the place of the dialog window that used to appear when you were editing an adjustment layer. Trying to fit a Levels or Curves display in such a narrow column just doesn't let you have the same sense of control that prior versions of Photoshop provided.
A common reaction when users first encounter this is to grab the edge of the vertical dock with their mouse and drag it further to the left. While you can do this, the adjustment panel display doesn't get any bigger; it hugs the left edge of the dock and doesn't change size at all. No matter how far left you drag the edge, all you end up with an ever bigger blank area to the right of the adjustment panel contents. It would make sense for the panel to expand to fill the available space but I guess the Adobe engineers assumed people wanted empty space more than bigger Levels and Curves. Most of us would beg to differ.
But there is an answer that, while not perfect, does help considerably. Hidden at the top of the panel's fly-out options menu is the "Expanded View" option. You can get to the options menu by clicking on the panel menu icon in the upper right-hand corner of the adjustments panel. By default, this option is unchecked. If you select it, the vertical dock will expand to roughly half again the width it started as and the adjustment panel controls will actually grow in size with it. Hallelujah.
Be careful that you actually click on the menu icon and not just on the panel's title bar to the left of the icon. If you do, the entire panel will collapse down with only the title bar remaining. In your effort to make the adjustment panel bigger you accidentally made it disappear. While this can be a bit of a shock, it's easy to remedy. To get the panel back again, just click on the collapsed title bar again and you'll be right back where you were. Now just click all the way to the right where the menu icon lives and the menu should appear. The "Expanded View" option is the first item on the adjustment panel menu.
If your monitor is big enough, I'd recommend simply leaving the panel expanded. At least if you like adjustment layers as much as I do.
Regular (right) and Expanded (left) views of the Photoshop CS4 adjustment panel
The red arrow points to the panel's menu icon