Photoshop 101

What is This Class?

This is a jump-start into Photoshop expertise. The hardest thing about learning Photoshop is to get over its learning curve. You don't need to know everything about Photoshop in order to use it; bite it off a bit at a time and realize that its not very difficult to do each step. This class is organized in a way that starts you with immediately useful steps then builds on them.

The absolute best way to learn this material is to walk through it once with the lecture, then reinforce the learning the next day by walking back through each of the exercises. DO THEM. Don't just read them, because doing them begins the process of teaching your brain/hand to do it naturally. Photoshop is a creativity-mind-hand learning process - you need to engage your creative energy to direct you to solve the problems a piece at a time. The only way to do that is to know how the different processes work well enough so that you don't have to think of them, which gets in the way of your creativity.


Image Saving (Exercise 1)

Open File ->
Save As

Observe the save options: First pick the file type, then navigate to where you want to save it. "Save as a copy" simply adds "copy" at the end. You may wish to think a bit about naming. I use:

The JPEG save options pane:

Basic Cropping (Exercise 2)

Open File ->
(Cropping tool) click and drag to define area ->
(Cropping tool) type 'return' or click 'check' to accept, or
type "escape" or click 'no' to cancel ->
Save As

After you left-click and drag, you can re-grab the control points and adjust the crop as necessary before you approve it or cancel it.

Undo and Revert (Exercise 3)

Edit->Undo (at the top) or Type control-Z to step back through the "undo" stack

Edit->Redo or Type control-Y to step forward through the "undo" stack


Revert will undo all edits and put the file back to the last state you saved.

Cropping with Options (Exercise 4)

Open File ->
(Cropping tool) examine cropping tool options ->
(Cropping tool) click and drag to define area ->
(Cropping tool) type 'return' or click 'check' to accept, or
type "escape" or click 'no' to cancel ->
Save As

Take a look at the upper bar of the crop tool, there are 2 blocks for input width/height. You can put in the size you want the resulting image to come out to! You can use units! So if you want your image to crop and resize an image to 800 pixels height, put "800px" in the height field. You can also use "cm" or "in" (in which case we have to get into dpi and resolution) - just stick with pixels if you're an internet user.

Put your mouse-pointer on the crop-frame just past the control point. It will turn into a "rotate" symbol. Now you can adjust your crop and rotation in the same operation!

Resizing Images (Exercise 5)

Open File ->
Image -> Canvas Size

Save As

The "canvas size" change is useful before you're going to attempt to print an image. First, do your cropping, and then if you need it to come out at 6" x 8" at 600dpi you can set the size using "canvas size". This is usually a final step in my work-flow that I use to set up a file for print; I then save the adjusted/sized file as a separate version (this also helps if you're doing other print-centric adjustments like tweaking the color to make it come out right on a given printer)

Tilting Images (Exercise 6)

Open File ->
Select->All (control-A)
(Zoom out a click by hitting control-minus)
Edit->Transform->Rotate type "return" or click 'check' to approve

Save As

If you need to align something vertically/horizontally, you can turn on a viewing grid or add a vertical bar using the command
View->Show Grid

Skewing Images (Exercise 7)

Open File ->
Select->All (control-A)
(Zoom out a click by hitting control-minus)
Edit->Transform->Distort type "return" or click 'check' to approve

Save As

The transform tools all work approximately the same way.

Skew is useful for correcting vertical lines if you photographed something using a camera where the focal plane is tilted. If I am doing that, I usually perform all my corrections first, then crop the image afterward.

Cleaning up Underlying Images: Healing Brush (Exercise 8)

Open File ->
(Healing Brush Tool) adjust brush size
(Healing Brush Tool) hold alt and click (alt-click) source point
(Healing Brush Tool) paint on target spot; when you release it will sample and blend pixels

Save As

Heal brush tries to blend texture and coloration with the surrounding pixels but for best results you should sample from someplace nearby that has approximately the same texture and brightness.

Extra fact: the "source" can be another image that's open in photoshop. So if you want to give someone's skin a brick texture try using healing brush with the source being brick and then paint on the target.

Cleaning up Underlying Images: Clone Brush (Exercise 9)

Open File ->
(Clone Brush Tool) adjust brush size
(Clone Brush Tool) adjust opacity and flow to 15% and 15%
(Clone Brush Tool) hold alt and click (alt-click) source point
(Clone Brush Tool) paint on target spot
; pause occasionally and re-sample a different source-point - watch the blemish slowly disappear!
Save As

This is what "healing brush" does; it just automates it. It's what we did before "healing brush" was invented.

Depending on how impatient you are and how fine your hand is, you may use different opacity and flow rate.

Now, turn clone brush to 100% 100% and it's a straight pixel-copier.

For removing large blemishes (e.g. tattoos) clone-brush 100%/100% from some region of skin that is about the same color and texture then blend the edges and coloration using many passes with healing brush.

If you need to repair an "edge" of something you can fix it by "nudging" pixels from an undamaged area into the damaged area.

Layers (Exercise 10)

First, a word about layers and why I am presenting them at this point: All of the steps thus far are steps that (in early versions of Photoshop, at least) cannot be done non-destructively. From here on, many of the operations will involve changes to the image that can be done in layers, which allow you to make the changes so that they can be re-visitted later.

This is based on my workflow; I think of it as follows:

  1. Basic image clean-up (crop, tilt, skew)
  2. Effects (fuzz layers, monochrome conversion, etc)
  3. Level check (I always do this as the last step when I decide an image is nearly done)
  4. Save full resolution version
  5. Resize for web posting
  6. Quit (without saving; that way I still have the full resolution version)

Up until you start working with layers, you don't need to have a work-flow. Once you begin to understand layers, then you'll need to organize your approach a little bit.

What you need to know about layers:

Levels and Color Correction (Exercise 11)

Open File ->
Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels
Save As

Adjust the black point and white point ("clipping points" where the pixels either go all white or all black) with the sliders.

The center adjuster shifts the overall tonal range up and down.

Observe the histogram bars - if they start to "break up" and have gaps between them, that means that you are "stretching" the tonal range to the point where photoshop is going to have to interpolate between colors - this means, experientially, that your image will start to look "blobby". Some of us don't like that. (You can get a poster-like look by messing with levels and the mid-point)

If you hold down the alt-key while using the points, you'll see where clipping will occur. This is incredibly useful.

Levels can also be used to set the black/white/grey points to correct for color shift automatically!

Black and White Conversion (Exercise 12)

Open File ->
Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Channel Mixer
Save As

When you select the "monochrome" check-box, you're now converting to b/w. Adjust the conversion ratios to suit. They do not have to add up to 100% but I usually make them do so. If they add up to more than 100% you are expanding the contrast range of the image. If they add up to less than 100% you are compressing the contrast range. Skin-tones are in the red channel, shadows are blue. If you want to pull in some shadow detail try 70% blue, 30% red. If you want glowing skin use 70% red, 15% blue, 15% green. You'll learn what you like best.

Black and White Conversion with Selective Color (Exercise 13)

Open File ->
Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Channel Mixer ->
(Color Select) select black ->
(Paintbrush Tool, 100% opacity 100% flow)Paint on the image
Save As

When you paint on an adjustment layer's mask, areas that are black have the affect un-applied. Areas that are white have the affect applied. Areas filled with 50% grey have the affect 50% applied.

You can go back and forth between what is applied and what's not applied, by switching back and forth between black and white on the brush.

A quick way I use to change the layers' fill colors is to use keyboard shortcuts. If you set the colors to black and white using the little black and white tab to the bottom left of the color selector, you can fill a layer with the background color by selecting all (Control-A) then deleting everything (Delete) which will immediately give you either all black or all white.

Blur Layers (Exercise 14)

Open File ->
Bring up Layer menu (F7)->
(not strictly necessary) Image->Adjustments->Desaturate (or Ctrl-shift-U)->
Blur->Gaussian blur (set it so it's obviously blurry)->
Go to layer menu top-left drop tab ("Normal") select "Darken"->
Go to layer menu top-right and adjust Opacity to around 40%->
Save As

Alternate forms:

What's going on with this? Most of what photoshop filters do is a variation of blur layers! It's just hidden for you by the user interface!! What you are doing is applying a layer effect and using the tonal range of the image itself (the blur layer) to adjust how it's applied to the background image. This is a very very powerful technique.

A "grunge layer" is basically the same thing, but add noise to the blur layer. (Filter->Noise->Add Noise then set layer to "vivid light")

Playing with Blending Modes (Exercise 15)

Experiment with the various layer blending modes. Especially "Multiply" "Darken" "Soft light"

Vignette /Highlight Layers with Curves (Exercise 16)

Open File ->
Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Curves-> (pull up the curve to where you want the part you are concerned with)->
Color selector, set black/white with white being the background color->
Brush tool - fairly soft, 50% flow 50% opacity->
paint on the area where you want the effect applied->

adjust layer opacity in layer menu->

Save As

You can also use this to darken (just make the curve adjustment go the other way) On most of my images I have a brightening curve layer and a darkening curve layer to play with my highs and lows.

Experiment: you can use Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur to soften the layer you've been painting on. You can use any filter you like, even textures...

Vignette Layers with Curves and Gradient Fill (Exercise 17)

Open File ->
Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Curves-> (push down the curve to where you want the shadows)->
Color selector, set black/white with white being the background color->
Gradient tool (set for circular gradient)->
put the gradient where you want it->
adjust layer opacity in layer menu->

Save As

This technique can be used to adjust color range if one side of the picture is too bright on one side. Or to make a "spotlight" point. Be careful with gradient fills since they are often so even that JPEG compression on sites that re-compress will make them look "blocky"

Grunge Layers (Exercise 18)

Open File ->
Layer->New Layer->
Edit->Fill (set to "use white")->
Filter->Noise->Add Noise (set to about 90%)->
pull up layer menu, set top-left layer mode to "overlay"->
adjust layer opacity in layer menu->

Save As

Remember: You can erase areas on the layer mask if you don't want them to apply to the underlying image. Just use a soft eraser tool or paint on it.

Edge Enhancement Layers (Exercise 19)

Open File ->
Pull up layer menu (F7) "duplicate layer" on background->
Filter->Stylize->Find Edges->
set layer blend mode to "Overlay" or "Multiply"->
adjust layer opacity in layer menu->

Save As

Experiment also with using Filter->Other->High Pass Filter.

You may also want to blur the found edges layer just a teeny bit.

Actions (Exercise 20)

Open File ->
Window->Actions (bring up actions menu) ->
Click on the "turn over new leaf" icon at bottom to create a new action->
give the action a name; notice the 'record' button is now pressed!->
everything you do from now on is recorded in the action->
you can press 'stop' to stop recording, or not->
now the action can be run by selecting the action and clicking "play"

Things to notice: the "give me a dialog" box can be clicked on an action to have it ask you the options and interact with you. This does not always work since some filters, etc, do not interact with the user. But, typically, you might want to have it interact with you when it comes time to save a file - ask the file name - or set a crop, or whatever.

Loading Someone Else's Actions (Exercise 21)

There is a little "additional menu" arrow at the upper right of the actions menu; go down halfway and there is an option to "Load Actions" - choose a .ATN file and it will import them.

Because of variation between versions of Photoshop, not all actions can be loaded in all versions.

Adding Text (Exercise 22)

Open File ->
Click on the text tool ('T' on the menubar)
Your cursor will turn into a text insert point
Check the text settings (font, color, size, etc) to make sure they are what you want
Click on the image where you want the text
Enter your text

When you create a text blob it is automatically a new layer. If you want to delete the layer, bring up the layers menu (f7) and drag the new text layer into the trashcan at the bottom of the layers menu.

You can use the positioning tool to move the text around.

If you right-click on the text layer in the layers menu, you will see an option for "blending options" - many of these, such as drop shadow, outer glow, are very useful for text.