In order to understand Photoshop, you must first understand what all of the tools mean. While there is certainly much more to learn (including filters, masks, curves, etc), knowing how to use the tools available to you will make editing your photographs much easier.
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On the lefthand side of your screen, you’ll see a toolbar filled with tons of little icons. While you may be staring at them blankly wondering what each one does, I’m about to make things a lot easier for you. We’re going to go down the list, one by one. While you may not use all of these tools all the time, the more advanced you get the more you’ll be using each and every one of them.
This is the Move Tool, and you can access it easily by pressing the V on your keyboard. This allows you to move things around on any given layer, or even move the entire layer itself (more on layers later). Click on whatever you’d like to move, and drag it around.
This is the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M on the keyboard). It allows you to select part of the canvas in a perfectly rectangular shape (or a perfect square if you hold down the Shift key while selecting). If you click and hold on the Marquee Tool, you can also choose to select parts of your image in the shape of an ellipse, a single column, or a single row. The Rectangular Marquee Tool can also be used to crop your image. Simply select the part of the image you want to keep, then go to Image > Crop.
This is the Lasso Tool (L on the keyboard). It allows you to select parts of your image in unusual shapes. This Lasso Tool is a free-form tool, meaning you can click and drag around in squiggles or straight lines and still select that certain area. If you click and hold on the Lasso Tool, you can also select the Polygonal Lasso Tool (allowing you to select unusual shapes made out of straight lines) or the Magnetic Lasso Tool (allowing you to easily select parts of an image, since the ‘magnetic’ quality of this tool follows the natural contours of your image).
This is the Quick Selection Tool (W on the keyboard). This tool works as a sort of paintbrush selection, allowing you to ‘paint’ over parts of an image and select parts of the image that are similar in tone and texture. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also choose to use the Magic Wand Tool, which allows you to click around your image and will select parts of the image that are similar in tone.
This is the Crop Tool (C on the keyboard). You can select specific size constraints, or you can just crop your image however you’d like. Once your crop tool shows the part of the image you want to keep, simply press the Enter key to crop it.
This is the Eyedropper Tool (I on the keyboard). It allows you to easily return to a color that you can’t seem to reproduce on your own. Simply click on a color within your image that you want to use again, and the eyedropper will change your foreground color to the exact color you just clicked on.
This it the Spot Healing Brush Tool (J on the keyboard). This tool allows you to ‘paint’ over areas of your image that need to be fixed (such as a blemish on someone’s skin), and will use parts of the image around it to ‘heal’ that certain part of the image – blending it in a natural way. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also choose the Healing Brush Tool, which allows you to take a sample from a specific part of your image and then blend that into the imperfection. You’ll also find the Red Eye Tool, which, as you may have guessed, will reduce red eye.
This is the Paintbrush Tool (B on the keyboard). The paintbrush tool acts as a paintbrush, yet allows you to paint in a variety of different sizes, opacities, and styles. You can paint anything from a spray paint effect to little leaves. If you click and hold on this tool, you’ll also find the Pencil Tool, which works in the same way yet isn’t as fluid as the paintbrush.
This is the Clone Stamp Tool (S on the keyboard). It works in a similar fashion to the healing brush tool – since you can select a certain part of your image and ‘stamp’ it onto a different part of your image – yet the Clone Stamp doesn’t do any extra blending for you.
This is the History Brush Tool (Y on the keyboard). Photoshop keeps track of the last 50 edits you made to a particular image. Let’s say you desaturated your entire image, yet you decide that you actually want to keep the color in one part of your image. By using the History Brush, you can actually paint the color back onto your image!
This is the Eraser Tool (E on the keyboard). You can use the eraser tool the same way you use the paintbrush tool (different sizes, opacities, patterns, etc), except it erases parts of your image or layer instead of paints.
This is the Paint Bucket Tool (G on the keyboard). It allows you to fill in a specific area of your image with whatever your foreground color is set to. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also use the Gradient Tool, which will create a gradient that blends your foreground color with your background color. You can also choose to use one of the preset gradients, or create your own (both of which will let you blend more than two colors together).
This is the Blur Tool (which doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut)! You can use the Blur Tool to paint over certain parts of your image, and using this tool will blur that area. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also use the Sharpen Tool (which will sharpen the areas you paint over) or the Smudge Tool (which will smudge certain parts of your image). The Smudge Tool is especially helpful for creating wispy, dreamlike areas or blending colors together.
This is the Dodge Tool (O on the keyboard). Anyone take traditional film photography in school? Remember making homemade dodging tools? Mine looked exactly like this little icon. The Dodge Tool will lighten the parts of your image that you paint over. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also use the Burn Tool (which will darken the areas you paint over) and the Sponge Tool (which you can use to either saturate or desaturate the areas you paint over).
This is the Pen Tool (P on the keyboard). It can be used to either create vector graphics or create pathways that are useful for various types of advanced photo editing; the Pen Tool can be difficult to comprehend, so sign up for our helpful course that will explain it thoroughly!
This is the Horizontal Type Tool (T on the keyboard). This tool allows you to insert text into your image horizontally, using different sizes, fonts, and colors. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also choose the Vertical Type Tool (which allows you to insert text vertically), as well as the Horizontal Type Mask Tool and the Vertical Type Mask Tool – which allow you to create type-shaped selections.
This is the Rectangle Tool (U on the keyboard). It allows you to create rectangular shapes (as opposed to selections) within your image. If you click and hold on this tool, you can also create rounded rectangles, ellipses, polygons, lines and custom shapes (such as hearts, arrows, and copyright signs).
This is the Zoom Tool (Z on the keyboard). It allows you to zoom into parts of your canvas by clicking on a particular part of your image. If you want to zoom out of your image, hold down the Option key while clicking with this tool. I find it easier to hold the Command key while pressing the + and – keys to zoom in and out of your image.
These are your Foreground and Background Colors. If you press D on your keyboard, it will revert the colors back to those shown. If you press X on your keyboard, it will flip the colors (so that white is the foreground and black is the background). If you click on either one, a new window will pop up that will let you select a different color.
Now that you understand what all of these tools mean, it’s time to dig deeper into this wonderful program! Sign up for Udemy’s course on Photoshop Essentials and dig even deeper into what each of these tools can do for you.