Looking to bring the best out of your photos using Adobe Photoshop? Learn all about the tools you'll need to edit your photos like a pro, even if you have no previous experience with Photoshop.
Watch the Photoshop for Photographers Free Course
What You'll Learn
- An introduction to Adobe Photoshop
- How to use Adobe Camera Raw
- How to use Layers
- How to use the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush
- How to work with Adjustment Layers
- How to install and use Photoshop Presets
- How to create Layer Masks and Selections
- How to use sharpening
- How to save and export
- Start to finish: a photo edit
About Your Instructor
I live a double artistic life as a photographer and a drummer, currently based in Nova Scotia, Canada. I've been working as a photographer for the past 15 years and specialize in portraits and still lifes. Post-production has always been a love of mine, so developing my skills in Photoshop and Lightroom has always been a priority, and I'm keen to share what I've learned!
1. Introduction to Photoshop
If you're a photographer like me, knowing your way around the basics of Photoshop is essential for getting the best out of your images. We'll start out in the main Photoshop workspace. This is the main window where we’ll make all of our adjustments.
On the left is the Photoshop Toolbar, where we’ll find many tools that we’ll be using throughout the course. On the right-hand side we’ll find a series of tabs, all of which are customizable. I use the Histogram at the very top, which is incredibly useful to keep an eye on the tonalities and colour balance of the image. Next is History, which allows me to keep track of my edits and jump back or forth as need be to check for reference as needed. Finally, we have the Layers tab, which is where all of our Adjustment Layers will live.
2. How to Use Adobe Camera Raw
Here we'll take a look at the power of shooting RAW and using Adobe Camera RAW editor inside of Photoshop to set our image up for success before getting into the main Photoshop workspace.
2.1 White Balance
Setting a proper white balance gets the colours in your image to a neutral starting place. Built into Photoshop are a number of helpful White Balance Presets to use if your image was made in Daylight or on a Cloudy day, etc.
Photoshop has a built-in algorithm to correct for common distortion and vignetting flaws from a camera/lens combination. Here we'll use the Profile Corrections to set a neutral starting point.
The Basics tab is where we make all of the major adjustments to our photo, such as Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, etc. Spend some time in this section to really set your photo edit up for success.
3. How to Use Layers
Working with layers is one of the absolute best features of Adobe Photoshop. This allows us to make edits in a non-destructive way so we can maintain the highest possible image quality.
4. How to Use the Clone Stamp & Healing Brush
The Clone Stamp and Healing Brush tools are the best ways to get rid of distracting elements in an image or fix up blemishes on a subject's skin.
4.1 Clone Stamp Tool
The Clone Stamp Tool works by copying pixels from a designated area and applying them to another—kind of like a really high-end copy and paste, but for specific pixels. You can copy an exact area and then paste that to another area to easily get rid of a distracting element in a photo.
4.2 Healing Brush Tool
Like the Clone Stamp, you use the Healing Brush Tool to paint with sampled pixels from an image. The major difference between the two is that the Healing Brush also matches the texture, lighting, transparency, and shading of the pixels you’ve sampled to the pixels being healed.
5. How to Work With Adjustment Layers
Having the ability to work non-destructively is quite possibly the best part about editing in Photoshop, and using Adjustment Layers is the key. Using adjustment layers allows us to make these edits without permanently changing any pixel values, so we can make changes again and again without any loss of image quality.
As photographers, this is where we can get into the meat and potatoes of our photo edit. There are numerous Adjustment Layers we can use to help bring the best out of our images. The most commonly used adjustment layers are Brightness/Contrast, Curves, Hue/Saturation, Vibrance, and Black & White.
You can stack adjustment layer on top of adjustment layer, so be sure to use as many as you need to get your image to where you want it.
6. How to Install & Use Photoshop Presets
When you’re starting out on your photo-editing journey, working with Presets can be a very helpful way to get a professional look, and quickly. Presets are basically different edits that can be saved and recalled at the click of a button.
Presets are a great way to explore an editing style you may not have thought of before, or help you to break out of similar post-production stylings.
If the Preset isn’t perfect for your image, you can always click back to the Edit menu and adjust any of the sliders. You’ll see the values in the Edit menu that were applied by the Preset, but you can tinker until you’re happy. Once you’re happy with the image and are ready to bring it into Photoshop, click on Open and you’ll be in the main workspace!
7. How to Create Layer Masks & Selections
All of those Adjustment Layers we just learned about are adjustments that are applied to the entirety of our image. This is very helpful to get a photo edit started, but what happens when you want to target an adjustment only to a subject’s skin—or only the sky in a photo, or only the foreground, etc. This is where layer masks and selections come into play and unlock an entirely new level of editing power in Photoshop.
Use the Brush Tool to manually paint onto a Layer Mask. Painting with black will hide that portion of the layer, and painting with white will show that portion of the layer. Resize your brush as needed to make an accurate mask.
7.2 Copy & Paste Custom Layer Masks
Photoshop makes it really easy for you to copy a mask onto another Adjustment Layer, so you don’t have to do that manual brushing again. Hold down the Command key and click on the mask you previously made—this will bring up marching ants around the area you previously masked. With the marching ants still marching, create a new Adjustment Layer, and the mask will automatically be pasted!
7.3 Creating a Selection in Photoshop
Built into Photoshop are a few extremely useful selection methods that use AI to determine where certain parts of your image are. Specifically, Photoshop can use AI to detect (with shockingly good accuracy) the Subject of an image, and the Sky in an image.
Photoshop now makes this so easy for us photographers. All we need to do to get a selection of our subject is to go to Select > Subject, and Photoshop will work its magic and detect the Subject, creating a selection around it.
Similarly, to create a selection of the sky, all we need to do is go to Select > Sky, and like magic, Photoshop will create a selection of the sky.
Once you've got your selection made, create any Adjustment Layer and the selection will turn into a Mask.
8. How to Use Sharpening
Sometimes an image may not be as perfectly sharp as you'd like it to be, or perhaps you want to add some visual interest to a specific part of your image. Sharpening is a great solution here. Sharpening adds localised contrast to the edges of the image or selection. This results in the details appearing clearer or crisper, or exactly as it sounds—sharper!
Typically, we only want to apply sharpening to the in-focus areas of our image or just the main focal point. We’ll put our recently acquired selection and masking skills to work here.
First, create a New Layer containing the pixels you want to sharpen. You can load a mask you've previously made by Command-clicking the Mask. Then click your Background Layer, and go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy. This will duplicate the selected pixels onto a new layer, where we can now apply the sharpening.
The best and easiest sharpening to use is the Unsharp Mask. To apply the sharpening, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. That will bring us to the Unsharp Mask menu with three sliders: Amount, Radius, and Threshold.
We’re going to leave the Threshold at 0, and just focus in on the Amount and Radius settings.
Amount determines how much sharpness will be applied. The amount you’ll use will vary depending on a whole number of factors, including the size of the image, so it’s best to experiment with this setting and let your eyes guide you.
The Radius setting controls the size of the details that will have the sharpening applied. The majority of the time, I keep my Radius under 1 pixel so that the most amount of detail is being sharpened.
9. How to Save & Export
You’ve finished your edit! Now what? The fun of File Management, that’s what!
First things first, we’re going to want to save the working Photoshop file so that we can return to it at any point and preserve the ability to make edits without losing any image quality. Go to File > Save and choose where you want to save this.
Make sure the Format is Photoshop, which creates the file extension .psd. Double-check to ensure that Layers are checked, and then click Save.
We now have a saved version of the Photoshop file, but we still need to save this as a JPEG so we can share the image.
Let’s go to File > Save As and click the Format over to JPEG. Be sure to name the file the same way, but with the Format changed to JPEG, notice this time the file extension is .jpg. Click Save, and now we’ve successfully saved a full-size JPEG of the edit.
The last step here would be to resize the image for the web, so we can easily share the photo without the file being so large. The full-resolution photo that we just saved is the right file for any kind of printing you may need to do as it’s the biggest file you’re able to create. However, for sending over email or posting to Instagram, a smaller file size would be more appropriate.
Head to Image > Image Size where it will display the current size of our file. Currently the maximum file size to upload to Instagram is 1080 pixels wide, so that’s what we’re going to resize to. Set the Scale to Pixels, and then let’s set the Resolution to 72, since this is for the web. Next, manually enter 1080 in the Width box, and Photoshop will automatically fill in the height for you in relation to the original image. Be sure the Resample box is set to Bilinear. Then click OK.
Now the image has been resized for the web, but we still need to save it as a copy, so that we have a web-resolution JPEG.
Go to File > Save As. Click the Format over to JPEG and rename the file the same way, but this time add "web" to the end of the filename. Click Save, and you’re done!
10. Start to Finish: A Photo Edit
We’ve now covered all of the tools and tricks you’ll need to create a successful photo edit. Let’s take a look at them all, but applied to a single photo edit so that you can get a sense of the workflow. This will help you gain the confidence and experience to move through edits for yourself in Photoshop.
10.1 Adobe Camera Raw
Open a RAW Image in Photoshop, and you'll be in Adobe Camera Raw. First, set the White Balance. Use a preset to get close, and then manually adjust the sliders if need be. Next, go to Optics and turn on Use Profile Corrections. Head back to the Basics tab and make any and all adjustments to Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Saturation, etc.
Once you're happy, click Open and we'll be into the main Photoshop workspace.
10.2 Clone & Heal
Be sure to create a New Layer, rename it "Clone", and then select either the Clone Tool or Healing Brush, depending on your needs. Use the square brackets to resize the brush, and then Option-click to sample a 'good area', and click and hold to paint over the 'bad area'. Repeat as needed.
10.3 Adjustment Layers
Make any and all global adjustments to your image using Adjustment Layers. This could include Brightness/Contrast, Curves, Hue/Saturation, Black & White, etc.
10.4 Use Masks & Create Selections
Now make any local adjustments to your image using Adjustment Layers with custom Layer Masks. Again, this could include any of the Adjustment Layers.
Use the Paint Brush to manually paint a mask. Painting with White shows the layer, and Painting with Black hides the layer.
Photoshop has an incredible AI selection feature which can detect the Subject and Sky of an image. Go to Select > Subject or Select > Sky, and it will be able to detect and then create a selection of the Subject or Sky. Then create a new Adjustment Layer, and the selection will turn into a mask.
10.5 Apply Sharpening
Duplicate the Layer of the parts you want to sharpen, usually the subject of the image. Zoom in to 100% on the subject. Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Keep the Threshold at 0, and use a small Radius of below 1. Then slowly bring up the Amount slider until the sharpening sets in.
10.6 Save & Export
To save the working Photoshop file, just go to File > Save (or Command-S) and then be sure to change the Format to Photoshop. Name your file as you want, and click Save.
To save a JPG, go to File > Save As (or Command-Shift-S), change the Format to JPEG, and then name it in the same way you named the working file.
Finally, to make a web-ready version, go to Image > Image Size and make sure the Measurement is set to Pixels. Let’s first change the Resolution to 72 pixels/inch and then enter 1080 in the Width box. Photoshop will figure out the correct proportion for the Height. Be sure that the Resample box is turned on and Bilinear is selected, and then click OK.
To save this as a copy, go to File > Save As (or Command-Shift-S), Format to JPEG, and then name it the same, but add "web" at the end of the filename. Click Save.
Learn More About Adobe Photoshop
If you want to learn more about Adobe Photoshop, here are some really great videos from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube Channel that you'll want to check out!
Or check out some of these helpful written tutorials! Envato has a huge library of free Photoshop tutorials, and here's a taste of a few of them:
- Photoshop Retouching for BeginnersAbbey Esparza22 Nov 2022
- How to Remove a Person From a Photo in Photoshop Using Content Aware FillAbbey Esparza15 Nov 2021
- How to Fix Red Eye in PhotoshopAbbey Esparza17 Jan 2022
- How to Remove Shadows in PhotoshopMarko Kožokar13 Jun 2022
- How to Make Teeth Whiter in PhotoshopJamie Evan03 Jun 2022
- 30+ More Awesome Photoshop Actions for PhotographersPeter Sawyer16 May 2023