The Basics of Photoshop Magic

Fabio Pihiero cc 2.0

The term “Photoshopped” is now a common word in our contemporary vernacular. Photoshopped images surround us daily in advertising and even news media. Like radio, film and television before it, Photoshop quickly became a tool easily misused, if not abused. The preponderance of Photoshopped images makes discerning fact from fiction more challenging than ever. However, one quickly learns that even with the most basic knowledge of Photoshop they have an advantage over the non-user when it comes to discerning falsified images. When you put time into working with textures, lighting and compositing in Photoshop you develop a keen eye for the tiniest tell-tale signs of image manipulation even in the most deftly altered images.

Image manipulation has come a long way from the rosy-red confines of the darkroom where one spent hours prepping a photo by exposing and developing, dodging and burning, cutting and pasting—skills that required a great deal of time to learn and even more to perfect.

Over the last 25 years, Photoshop has been used to shape how we see reality. When Photoshop technology first arrived it was magic to most of us. We no longer had to hassle with tubs of chemicals, negatives, razor blades and lithographer’s tape. Here were all those tools and a thousand more at the click of a mouse. With so many tools at one’s fingertips it’s no wonder the prospect of learning Photoshop appears daunting at first.

Here are a few key things to know about Photoshop before you set out to learn the program:

  • Photoshop tools are learned on a curve, the difficulty level is up to you.
  • It’s all about the layers.
  • Adobe will continue to tweak the program until the sun turns cold.

Beyond that, mastering this program is just a matter of time, patience and practice. Unlike the old school methods of manipulating images by hand where there was the right way and the expensive misadventure, Photoshop is an incredibly forgiving program that allows for any number ways to create an effect or solve a problem.

Before now, you may have discovered programs similar to Photoshop in your Instagram application or rudimentary drag-and-drop graphics sites like Canva or These alternatives are serviceable, but lack the versatility of Photoshop and would never have the capacity to help you create images like these.

Say you want to convert a color image to black and white. You can adjust your image by shifting the entire file to grayscale mode and removing all color, or you can use the hue and saturation tools to reduce color or de-emphasize color levels. Transversally, you can take a black and white photo and through a process of digital painting, layering and masking, colorize the image.  

At first blush removing, hiding or altering elements of an image may appear a complex process, but it’s actually quite systematic when you discover that Photoshop, like most Adobe Creative programs, is crafted to be applied in layers. With layers you can treat and tweak as you see fit by adjusting aspects of the image at different levels. For example, when you colorize an image you are actually creating and combining several aspects of the image on individual levels within a single file. You can keep, reject or manipulate those individual layers. If you don’t like what you’ve done you can go back, undo the process and try again.

As a beginning Photoshop user, you’ll undoubtedly be first introduced to key tools like the clone stamp—a tool you can use to literally paint away a portion of your picture with details borrowed from elsewhere in the image.

Another is the brush tool. This is one of the most varied and detailed tools in the Photoshop arsenal. It works like a real world brush or pencil, but one can apply not only colors, but textures. Possibilities for adjusting the shape, size and density of the brush tool are practically infinite as it allows the user to utilize brush styles found in the palate or create one from scratch.

To remove or create composite elements in an image, one usually depends in any number of selection tools, from tools that give you a general geometric shape, to lasso tools that allow you to find the edge of a subject down to the very pixel, to the magic wand tool that looks for degrees of colors, light and dark in the image.

These tools are seemingly counter-intuitive at first, but make greater sense the more time you apply to practice and exploration. These are but a handful of tools that make up the backbone of all versions of Photoshop and can be used simply or elaborately depending on your comfort zone. 

Photoshop, like many Adobe Creative Suite applications, is always evolving. One always has the option of sticking with their current version of the software, but there may be challenges down the road when it comes to compatibility, especially when it involves importing a piece of work done in an older version of the program.

To avoid these kinds of challenges, Adobe established the Creative Cloud option, a subscription-based method of program upgrades. Reaction to the Creative Cloud was mixed, especially where consideration of any long-term financial benefit to the user is concerned. That said, there’s no getting past the fact that the Creative Cloud keeps the user regularly abreast of changes, both minor and radical, to the ever-evolving program. However, regardless of which version of Adobe Creative Suite you are using, many of the tools and processes remain the same.

Photoshop is a magical tool that will amaze and intrigue, but need not be off-putting. Once a user gets a handle on the basics, the sky is really the limit and they’ll soon discover it to be creative resource that is truly only limited by one’s imagination.

Learn more about Continuing Education’s Introduction to Adobe Photoshop course.

Posted on: October 20th, 2015 at 11:24:44

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