Home How-To Tip Of The Week 10 Things Every New Photoshop User Should Know—06/27/11
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Monday, June 27, 2011

10 Things Every New Photoshop User Should Know—06/27/11

Getting started with digital image editing? Read this first.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
So you've been making photographs for a while and now you're ready to make them even better with post-processing? Chances are good that you've invested in the industry standard digital image editing software, Photoshop. Before you fire it up—or at least before you get too far into it—take a look at this advice for every new Photoshop user.

1. It won't always seem so overwhelming. Soon enough you'll know just what (most of) those tools do, and you'll feel comfortable wielding them. The beauty of Photoshop is that even after years of daily use you can still discover new features/tools/tips and tricks that improve your workflow and make your day. But you don't have to learn all those things right away.

2. There are lots of ways to do almost anything in Photoshop. Sure, some of them are easier/better/more efficient, but if you find something that works for you, go for it. Then when you find a better way that works better for you, that is the time to do it another way. Don't feel obligated to work in a way that isn't perfectly comfortable for you. If it works, keep doing it. 

3. A few choice speedkeys will really speed things along. Hold the Control key (or Command on a Mac) and hit: A, to select all; C, to copy a selection; V, to paste a selection; S, to save the file; W, to close the file; O, to open a file; N, to start a new file. There you go. I just told you the most important and easiest speedkey combos to use. Efficiency is always helpful, even if you're not in a hurry. 

4. Filters are nice, but their “wow” factor wears off. It's not that the neat things filters do eventually stop being great. It's just that new photographers often find themselves processing with a single neat “special effect” filter and calling it quits. That gets old fast—for the photographer and for the folks viewing the pictures. So get it out of your system now, and then get ready to advance to more nuanced effects. Advanced users don't usually rely on one-click fixes, they work with combinations of filters and effects—the ones that don't scream, “I just got Photoshop and found cool filters!”

5. Photoshop is no excuse. Just because you can do so much great stuff in the program is no excuse to let your camera and lighting skills atrophy. Photoshop really excels at making well lit, beautifully shot photographs become outstanding in post-production. Use post-processing to make your photos better, not to make them in the first place.

6. Layer Masks are powerful. While they may remain on the horizon for a new user, at least for a little while, it's good to know about these powerful tools early on. Nobody told me about layer masks until several years into my Photoshop use. Actually, that's not true: I knew about them, but I thought they were too complicated for me to understand. It turns out these powerful tools aren't overly complex. Think of layers like a cartoon animation cel: paint a character on one layer and overlay it with another until you create a finished scene. That's how Photoshop layers work, and layer masks simply allow you to paint away parts of a layer (non-destructively, of course) to control what parts are hidden and what parts are seen.

7. Content-aware fill is pretty powerful too, and more than a little bit magical. I asked my photography students what they wished they knew about when they first started using Photoshop and they practically shouted in unison, “Content-Aware Fill.” This smart fill allows you to quickly select an object you want to remove and with one click the background is filled in. What's most impressive is that this feature allows for the replacement of fairly complex backgrounds and patterns with impressive accuracy.

8. Speaking of selections, they are really important. If you think about Photoshop primarily as a way to precisely improve selective areas of an image, you can see why making a precise selection would be so important. There are plenty of tools to allow you to create selections—from the marquee tool to the magic wand to the lasso. All of them perform the same basic task in subtly different ways, and all of them can be used in conjunction. Learn how to harness each for its specific specialties and before you know it you'll be making precise selections every time.

9. Subtlety is good. That's fairly useful advice in life, actually, but what I really mean is that to do things well in Photoshop requires doing things seamlessly—so your edits don't leave a trail of evidence and create a fake looking image. Subtlety is not accomplished with a heavy-handed approach. Instead of making a big change with a single click, try building up several smaller edits into a larger result. Rather than using the clone stamp set to 100%, for example, try setting it to 50% and using more clicks. Instead of doing everything on a single layer, try spreading edits out across multiple layers. Instead of doing more with less clicks, do more with more clicks.

10. Whatever you do, don't ever forget that Photoshop is just a tool. It's not a panacea, nor is it a magic fix for everything that ails your pictures. It can't make good photos from scratch, it can only help you improve your photos.

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