I'm a newbie struggling to come to grips with Photoshop concepts, and I want to do something really simple. Just put, around a rectangular photograph, an elliptical/oval "fade-out to white" effect, so that the inner part of the pic is highlighted, and the less interesting areas near the edges fade gradually to white. The kind of thing seen in wedding photos years ago :-). Easy to do, if my memory serves me right, in most of the cheap image editors I've played with, but for the life of me I can't figure out a quick way (or any way) to do it in Photoshop CS. Would some kind soul please help a real beginner? Thanks in anticipation.
There are many, many ways to do this, Dan but here's what I'd probably do:
1) Create a new layer and place it under your photo layer.
2) Fill it with white.
3) Select the eliptical area you'd like "highlighted" or rather, not faded at all with your marquee tool.
4) Select "QuickMask" (or hit Q) and you'll notice a colored mask now around your selection.
5) Go to Filters>Blur>Gaussian Blur and adjust the slider to the level of blur you think would work. Click OK.
6) Switch out of QuickMask mode (hit Q again). You will see your "marching ant" selection again (which might be a bit smaller now, but that's ok).
7) Making sure you're on your photo's layer (and not the white one you created in step 1), hit the Layer Mask button at the bottom of your layers palette. This will mask out the image that wasn't in your blurred selection.
If I'm understanding your question correctly, that should be about it.