Photoshop Basics in 10 Steps or Less

Photoshop is an amazingly powerful tool. But if you don’t use it on a daily basis, like I do, it can seem pretty overwhelming.

The best way to become a Photoshop expert is to get in there are start using it! So instead of describing the many tools of the program, I’ll show you what can be done with them.

Let’s start with a photo:

Photoshop Tools Image Untouched

1. Crop Tool

Photoshop Crop Tool

When you hit “Crop,” a selection around the entire image will appear. Grab one of the edges or corners of the dotted selection line to crop in on the image. Notice how a grid appears over the image. This is the “Rule of Thirds” guideline (you can turn this off, or change to another preset if you wish in the view drop down). Once you adjust your image and crop selection, hit enter to confirm your crop.

2. Adjustment Layer to Lighten the Photo

Photoshop Adjustment Layer

Select “Levels” from the adjustment layers drop down in your Layers palette. The Levels tool adjusts the light exposure in a photograph. You can drag the 3 triangles under the histogram to make your adjustments. The left triangle corresponds to the black point in the image, the right corresponds to the white point in the image. The center triangle adjusts the mid-tones. Since our image is a little dark, I will drag the right triangle towards the left, which will pump up the whites in the photo.

Once you master the Levels adjustment, you can start experimenting with the Curves tool, which will give you even more control over adjusting the histogram.

3. Adjustment Layer to make Photo Black and White

Photoshop Black and White

Select “Black & White” from the adjustment layers drop down.

Your photo will automatically turn black & white. You can use the color sliders to adjust the grayscale tone of each color in the photo. Our photo had a lot of yellow tones in it. If we drag the yellow slider towards white, all the yellow tones will start getting lighter.

4. Add a mask

Add a Mask in Photoshop

I want the word Cheers to not be black and white anymore, and the easiest way to achieve this is to create a mask on the Black & White adjustment layer we just created. An adjustment layer will automatically have a blank mask ready for you, but for any other layer, add a mask by hitting the “Mask” button at the bottom of the Layers palette. All you have to do is select the area you want to mask off, and color it in black.

5. Use the Pen Tool to Make a Selection Around a Word

Using the Pen Tool in Photoshop

Select “Path” from the tool mode drop down and trace around the letters using anchors and curves.

6. Make a Selection of your Path

Once you’re done, click on the Paths palette, and hold down the Apple key while you click on the path layer. This will make a selection of your path.

Make a Selection of your Path in Photoshop

7. Color in the Mask

Color in the Mask

Go back to the Layers palette and click on the mask of the Black & White layer. Now, click on the Brush tool and make sure the black color is selected. Adjust your brush size by hitting the brackets ( [ or ] ) on your keyboard. Then start coloring in. Your mask will reveal the original image color.

De-select your path, and you can touch up the edges by drawing freehand with the brush tool.

8. Adjustment Layer to change Hue

Change Hue in Photoshop

Now wouldn’t it be cool if that yellow was our Delphic blue instead? Go back to the adjustment layer drop down and select “Hue/Saturation.” Drag the Hue slider until you reach a nice blue hue. Then, adjust the Saturation slider to make the color more or less vibrant.

9. Add Shallow Depth of Field

Add Shallow Depth of Field

Finally, grab your Blur tool. Brush it over the background of the photo on the photo layer. Adding a slight blur to the background is an easy way to fake a shallow depth of field.

The great thing about using adjustment layers is that you can go back and adjust everything whenever you want. I went back to the Levels adjustment to darken the blacks in the photo.

You can also toggle the visibility on and off to compare the before and after.

Toggle the Visibility in Photoshop

Hope you enjoy using these tools as much as I do. Cheers!

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