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7 Tips For Learning Photoshop

Learning Photoshop isn’t easy. Use these 7 beginners tips to give you the upper hand when wrestling with the world’s most popular image editing tool.

Adobe Photoshop has been synonymous with all forms of digital art since the stone ages of computer graphics, rendering, and post-production visualization. The program has undergone countless quality of life changes over the past two decades and evolved into a program that is both more user friendly and powerful than it has ever been.

However, for newcomers and early-learners, untangling Photoshop’s mess of options, settings, tools, and techniques can be an exercise in retaining your sanity and exhausting your patience. If you don’t have a solid foundation of basic knowledge under your feet, using photoshop in any kind of productive way will leave you discouraged, beaten down, and perhaps with a computer shaped hole in your window.

Fear not! These 7 tips will help you weather that initial surge of fundamental know-how so you can start learning from experience, practice, and repetition.

1 | Make a Keyboard Shortcut Cheat Sheet

As you start using Photoshop for professional work, keyboard shortcuts will be vital for maintaining efficiency and making sure you get the most out of time spent with the program. Creating a physical cheat sheet will not only act as a quick reference guide for keyboard shortcuts, it will help you gain an initial understanding of the robust Photoshop toolset.

If you need a little help getting started, this cheat sheet should help you understand which shortcuts will toggle which tool. Print it out, copy it in your notebook, or paint it on your wall in the form of an interpretive mural. Whatever you do, study these tools, what they do, and how to use them effectively. Start practicing that (ctrl+z) now!

2 | Use the Magnetic Lasso Tool

I hate to admit it, but I went through years of Photoshop pain using nothing by the Polygon Lasso tool to select and isolate layers, unaware that the magical Magnetic Lasso tool hid there in plain sight, mocking my every ill-advised move. The tool allows you to quickly separate areas of a photo or image without tedious mouse-work, making it easy to edit, or perform other actions on without affecting the rest of the image.

Accessing the Magnetic Lasso is as easy as holding the left mouse click down over the Polygon Lasso until a drop-down menu appears. Select the one at the end with a small magnet on it (duh), and away you go! Soon enough, you’ll be wondering how you ever went through life without it.

3 | Also Use the Magic Wand Tool

The other Photoshop master of selection is the Magic Wand tool. It’s the “I’m too lazy to take time to separate this object so here’s hoping I can just Magic Wand the thing and be on my way,” tool. You can adjust the threshold with which the Magic Wand will select the pixels, which gives you some control over what will be selected and what won’t.

Be advised, though, there are some problems the Magic Wand simply can’t solve. For complex images that don’t have clearly defined edges or boundaries, you’ll have to rely on more discrete means of selection, such as the Magnetic or Polygon Lasso.

4 | Understand Adjustment Layers

For post-production, few tools are more important to a stunning final image than Adjustment Layers. It allows you to adjust the hue, color, and saturation of an image by adding a top layer filter that can be adjusted on the fly. The additional layer is essential for the ability to turn it on or off with the push of a button, making changes temporary and easy to manage.

Adjustment Layers can be found as a black and white circle icon at the bottom of the Layers tab. Use it wisely.

5 | Always Consider Layer Management

Layers are going to quickly become your best friend when working in Photoshop. If you’re working on a large, complex image with many layers and sublayers, it’s it’s important to keep them labeled and organized in a way that makes them easy to manage. Create a system of hierarchies and stick to it with rigorous discipline.

Once you get the hang of basic layer organization, you can start getting into Clipping Masks, Layer Styles, and a variety of other useful tools that work even better when things are clean and tidy.

6 | Spot Healing Brush

For the imperfections in the images we edit, the Spot Healing Brush is here to rescue us from what might otherwise be a tedious and complicated task. It’s the tool that made Photoshop famous, and is sure to make your photo editing life much easier in the future.

Use the brush to select the area you’d like to clean up, and watch magic unfold before your eyes as it samples pixels from the surrounding area to create the perfect blended patch. You’re welcome.

7 | Learn How to Use the Histogram

The Histogram is that stock market tracker looking thing that will tell you if your photos or images have an issue with exposure. Once you understand the basics, it will help you fine tune pictures and renderings so they feel more balanced.

To the right of the histogram is light, to the left is dark. If the peaks and valleys of the graph are leaning towards the right, it means your image could be overexposed. To the left, underexposed. Of course, these are only mean to be rules of thumb to guide your perception. Don’t let them govern everything you do, as creative license can mean an underexposed image is just what you’re trying to convey.

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