Understand Photoshop In 10 Minutes Or Less

by Dustin Olsen

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Photoshop is overwhelming!! There is no way around it! There is just so much to constantly learn that undoubtedly, at some point, we have all needed someone to show us around and give us a few pointers. Photoshop is the digital photographer’s greatest tool if you know how to use it. Here are the things we all wished we knew when we started working with Photoshop:

How layers work
The number one thing that we need to understand about Photoshop is how layers work. It can be very confusing at first, but once you realize you have greater flexibility with your edits, you won’t go back.

Layers work from top to bottom. The bottom layer is your base layer, or the foundation of your creative project. From there, you add new layers on top of that to apply your edits and build upon your foundation. If you want to paint a color or increase exposure – add a new layer to affect the lower layers. It’s easy!! If you don’t like the layer with your edits, you can hide it by clicking on the “eye” icon to the left the layer. This way you can toggle back and forth to see how your edits are affecting everything below it.

Word of Caution – once you start working with layers, be sure to have the correct layer selected. There is nothing more frustrating than to keep attempting an effect that does not appear to be working only to discover that you had the wrong layer highlighted. Almost every tool in Photoshop is designed to only affect ONE layer at a time.

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Masking
What is a layer mask?? This is another part of flexible editing – but when you have this enabled on your layer, you are able to hide or reveal certain parts of your layer by just using the brush tool and painting over that area. You don’t want to use the eraser tool – this effectively replaces that option!! If you want to hide something, use a mask… decide you went too far or need to bring part of that hidden area back? Use a mask. Some people might ask why not just throw the lasso tool around it and hit the big delete key? Well – a mask allows for greater precision when selecting your objects and you even have the flexibility of bringing an area back if you went too far. Once you hit that delete key or use the eraser tool, you commit to the idea that you don’t need that data or information anymore.

You can only use Black or White paint in order for the mask to work. Just remember, black paint conceals… and white paint reveals. An easy way I like to remember this is: Black is dark like the night – things are hidden. White is light like the day – objects are visible.

To add a layer mask to your layer – you select the small icon at the bottom of your layers panel that looks like a square with a circle in the center of it. You’ll notice a white square linked to your layer thumbnail.

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Adjustment Layers
These pseudo adjustments (i.e. – Exposure, Brightness, etc) are similar to what you find in CameraRaw. It is applied as a separate layer and it comes with a mask. While you are able to make such adjustments globally… you can also mask out areas if you want just certain parts to be affected by the layer.

Your modifying options of these adjustments layers is available in the Adjustments Panel (Window >; Adjustments) when that specific layer is selected. You can hide these and get a greater idea of what you are adjusting – and if you do not like it, just delete or hide that layer and you are back to where you were.

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Filters
Isn’t it just so awesome that Photoshop comes with all these super wicked filters?? Virtually one click away and you can transform a photo and make it look like a hand-painted canvas piece of art or a psychedelic dance hall print. Because it’s so easy, I would suggest you proceed with caution. These filters are very cool but need to be creative and used in moderation because otherwise, it screams AMATEUR.

However – filters such as blur and sharpen are great to use (and some of the very few exceptions) when working on finishing touches of a photo. But just like anything else – too much of a good thing becomes bad. Using filter effects should be done in moderation. Don’t overdo it… actually… never mind. Go overboard!! Get it out of your system and then go back to it and not overdo it.

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History States
For every action applied – you just created a history state. By default Photoshop will only keep track of your 20 previous steps. If ever you decide you want to go back in time… only 20 clicks before hand can be undone. No more.

If you have plenty of RAM in your computer, we suggest that you change your Photoshop Preferences to support around 200 history states. You may not use all of those – but you have the assurance of being able to undo the edits you are doing.

Preferences >; Performance >; Under “History & Cache” >; Change History States from “20” to “200”.

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CameraRAW
What is all this hoop-la about CameraRaw and what is this RAW image format I see on my camera?? To be honest – CameraRaw is not technically part of Photoshop but most photographers will do 90% of their editing in the CameraRaw dialog window before making it all the way into Photoshop. CameraRaw allows you to adjust your photos to reflect as if the camera settings were set for that. For example, you forget to change the white balance or the exposure compensation on your camera – No problem! Shooting RAW images gives you that option because of all the data and information contained in the image. CameraRaw also makes it so you can push it to the next level with basic type edits. It’s extremely powerful and all the pros are doing it.

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Image Processor

Do you have a lot images you need to apply the exact same thing to each one? Using image processor is the quickest way to get things done quickly! I use this one when I convert all my RAW images to JPG or when I have series of photos I need to optimize for the blog. Image Processor is the easiest way to streamline your workflow when working in Photoshop.

File >; Scripts >; Image Processor…

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What is something you wished you knew when you started working in Photoshop??

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. Lisa says

    Thanks for the awesome article! I am currently taking the portrait class and am LOVING it! I can’t wait until you offer a photoshop class – I’m ready to sign up right now!

  2. says

    Great guide for that first class in Photoshop. Very similar to what I teach in my classes. Layers is number one for sure! WAsn’t sure about introducing masks so soon but after reading your article I might just do that. Thanks for the guidance!

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