As a beginning photographer, Photoshop can seem like a very daunting program. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of menu options, palettes, tools, filters, and layer styles that can drastically alter the quality of your images for better or worse. If you have never used Photoshop before, Foundations of Photoshop is a great place to start.
If you do not currently have Photoshop installed, you can download a free version directly from Adobe. Alternatively, Adobe now offers what is known as the Creative Cloud. This product requires that you pay a monthly fee for access to the entire Adobe Creative Suite; a software package that easily costs over $1,000 if you buy it outright.
The cloud-based option makes it easy for beginners to start harnessing the power of Photoshop without huge initial costs. After all, you probably just spent hundreds of dollars on a new camera so justifying the cost of Photoshop can sometimes be difficult.
There are a seemingly limitless number of techniques that you can use in Photoshop to improve the quality of your images or create completely custom images based on the work of others. Hands down, the best way to learn Photoshop is to actually use it.
To get the most from this tutorial, open up your favorite portrait or facial shot to get started. Be sure to make a duplicate of the original and use this copy for your experiments.
Duplicate the Background Layer
Anytime you work with an image, the first thing you want to do is make a copy of the background layer of your image. The layers palette should be open by default and found along the right side of the screen.
You can create a duplicate background layer by selecting the Background Layer and selecting the Duplicate Layer option. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut ALT + J (on Windows machines).
Duplicating the background layer allows you to make adjustments to these duplicates without permanently changing the bottom background layer. If you make an adjustment that you’re not happy with, you can easily discard this duplicate layer and start over.
Automatic Image Adjustments
What many beginners fail to realize is that Photoshop has an arsenal of automatic image adjustment tools that can improve your photos even if you do not understand how they work. All of the basic image enhancement and adjustment tools can be found in the Image drop down menu bar and you might be surprised how effective some of these tools are even if you don’t have any previous Photoshop experience.
Some of the most useful tools are Auto Contrast, Curves, Brightness/Contrast, and Color Balance. These tools are especially useful for correcting mistakes you may have made when taking the picture such as improper exposure or the washed out look you sometimes get when using a flash indoors.
Of course, no image adjustment takes the place of a well taken photograph, but these tools certainly help! Fine tune your photography techniques in A Beginner’s Jumpstart Guide to Photography to ensure you are working with the best possible images in Photoshop.
Again using your portrait, click on Auto Levels in the menu bar. After making the selection, you should notice that your colors (more specifically the depth of your colors) have been enhanced. You would be surprised by how much of a difference this simple adjustment can make to the overall quality of your photos.
As you may have already noticed, layers are one of the most important aspects of working with Photoshop successfully. Think of each layer as a clear transparency stacked on top of each additional layer. In your layer palette, there is a small picture of an eye that allows you to turn the applied effects on and off easily.
If you want to see exactly how the Auto Level tool manipulated your picture, simply toggle the adjustment on and off. If you are unhappy with the adjustment, you can simply drag the duplicate layer to the trash and start over. You can learn more about harnessing the power of layers in the Adobe Photoshop CS6 Tutorial.
This is another automatic adjustment you can use easily in your photos. Also located under the Image tab in the menu bar, the Curves tool can look intimidating at first. There are preset options, however, that allow you to change the contrast. You can also manually manipulate colors and this tool works similar to Levels but offers more contrast intensity.
Remember that since you are using a duplicate background layer, any changes you make are not permanent and can easily be removed or modified until you find the right balance of color saturation and contrast.
Making Colors Pop
If you are unhappy with the results of using Levels and Curves, there is another automatic adjustment technique that works really well. This tool is called Soft Light and it should really make the colors in your image stand out.
To apply this technique to your portrait, discard the background layers you were working with to experiment with Levels and Curves and create a new duplicate background layer.
At the top of the Layers Palette, there is a drop down box where you can select Soft Light. This tool dramatically increases the contrast of your digital images. If this adjustment is too strong, you can adjust the Opacity to scale down the effect as needed.
If you haven’t already started to realize it, there are many ways to improve the quality of your digital images using Photoshop. These automatic tools make it easy for beginners to start manipulating their images in the same way that professionals do without having to understand the specifics of many effects.
Adobe Photoshop for Photographers explains all of these tools as well as a bunch of other techniques you can use to start creating professional-quality images quickly.
As you become more comfortable working with layers and the basic image adjustment tools available, you can start experimenting with more advanced techniques that truly bring a level of customization to your photos that cannot be duplicated with any other software.
The best part is that as long as you create a duplicate layer, you are not risking the integrity of your original image at all and can experiment with different tools and techniques until you find a combination that works well for your image.