Photoshop is one of the absolute best tools for enhancing your photos. The program packs a huge array of adjustments, filters, selection options, and more – but if you’re trying Photoshop for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
That’s why, in this article, I break it all down for you. I share my top five Photoshop tips, including:
- A simple way to speed up your Photoshop workflow
- A great method for enhancing image colors
- How to use Photoshop to emphasize your main subject
By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be ready to improve your images with pro-level Photoshop adjustments!
1. Learn basic keyboard shortcuts
Photoshop is a very hands-on program.
In other words, to get things done, you often need to select multiple tools, create layers, create masks, duplicate layers, and so on.
And while you can do all those things manually – just by clicking around the interface – you can dramatically speed up your post-processing workflow by learning a handful of simple Photoshop keyboard shortcuts.
(The shortcuts aren’t tough to learn, and if you practice, I guarantee that you’ll nail them within a few hours.)
We’ve written an article covering our favorite Photoshop keyboard shortcuts, and I highly recommend you check it out. In the meantime, here are a few of the most common:
- V – Select the Move tool
- F – Toggles through screen display modes
- Space – Temporarily select the Hand tool
- B – Select the Brush tool
- D – Set the foreground and background colors to their default values
- X – Swap the background and foreground colors
- E – Select the Eraser tool
- S – Select the Clone Stamp tool
- W – Select the Quick Selection tool
- Ctrl+J – Duplicate the selected layer
2. Enhance colors with Saturation, Vibrance, and more
Serious photographers love to adjust the colors in their work to create interesting effects (the results are sometimes subtle and sometimes eye-popping).
In fact, this type of adjustment, known as color grading, might be the single biggest thing you can do to create polished, professional-level work.
Now, you can do color grading in a few different ways, but the basics involve:
- Adding color tints to the image highlights, shadows, and midtones (often separately)
- Saturating and desaturating colors
- Pushing colors in different directions (e.g., making blues more green, reds more orange, etc.)
Photoshop offers very fine controls for color grading, but I’d recommend you start out with a simple color enhancement.
Select Adjustments in the Image menu, then select Vibrance:
Next, try boosting the Vibrance, the Saturation, or both the Vibrance and the Saturation:
You don’t want to take it too far, but in my experience, a bit of extra Vibrance and Saturation will increase the intensity of the colors and make your image really pop off the screen.
What’s the difference between Vibrance and Saturation? Saturation increases the intensity of all the colors in an image, while Vibrance increases color intensity a bit more selectively (with a focus on the less-saturated colors). Vibrance is especially helpful if you want to add punch to your portrait photos because it specifically avoids skin tones. Saturation is especially helpful if your image is full of colors and you want to wallop the viewer over the head!
Once you’re done with your Vibrance and Saturation adjustments, you can call it a day – or you can experiment with advanced color grading methods. The next step might be to apply a Color Balance adjustment and use the tool to add interesting tints to the highlights and shadows. (Here, I’d recommend just playing around until you get a result you like!)
3. Add a vignette to focus the viewer
Vignetting is a technique designed to emphasize your main subject. You simply darken the edges of the frame, forcing the viewer’s eyes to move toward the (brighter) image center:
It may seem simple, but it works extraordinarily well, and it’s a Photoshop trick that professionals use on a huge percentage of their images. (Of course, you need to be subtle about your vignetting; as the pros often say, the best vignettes are felt, not seen!)
Now, there are a whole lot of ways you can use Photoshop to create a beautiful vignette, and I’m going to share with you the easiest one:
First, select Filter, then choose Lens Correction:
Click on the Custom tab, then find the Vignette section:
Finally, slide the Amount to the left to subtly darken the edges of your image. You can use the Midpoint slider to change the size of the vignette (moving the Midpoint slider to the right will widen the circle; moving the Midpoint slider to the left will close it down).
4. Boost sharpness for extra punch
Most images can do with a slight increase in sharpness; it’ll enhance detail, emphasize texture, and give your files a bit more oomph.
But how do you improve image sharpness in Photoshop?
The simplest method is to select Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. The window will then let you select a sharpening Amount, where higher values increase the sharpness effect. (To fine-tune the result, you can also adjust the Radius and Threshold sliders.)
But many professionals prefer to use another sharpening technique, known as high-pass sharpening, which works like this:
First, duplicate your image layer (select Ctrl+J/Cmd+J), and rename it “Top.”
Second, make sure that the top layer is selected, then click Filter>Other>High Pass to open the High Pass filter.
Third, adjust the Radius slider until you can only see the edges of the image. Click Okay.
Fourth, change the blend mode of the Top layer to Overlay.
Fifth, adjust the Top layer opacity until you get a result you like!
5. Have fun with Photoshop filters
Have you ever wanted to make your photos look like watercolors, oil paintings, mosaics, or pastels?
Then you must check out Photoshop’s Filter Gallery.
You see, Photoshop Filters are basically automated effects that you apply to your images with a few clicks, and they can help you achieve certain special effects or looks. They’re not hard to use, but the results are outstanding. Here are just a few of my favorites:
- Film Grain
- Rough Pastels
- Colored Pencil
- Graphic Pen
- Stained Glass
To apply a Filter, head to Filter>Filter Gallery:
You’ll see an array of Filter options; simply click the corresponding icon, then adjust the sliders to taste.
These days, I don’t use Filters much – I prefer to create my effects manually – but they’re a great way to have fun when you’re just starting out in Photoshop. Note that you’re not limited to just one Filter; you can always stack several Filters for unique effects!
Photoshop tips for beginners: final words
Well, there you have it:
A handful of easy tips to get started with editing in Photoshop.
So learn a few keyboard shortcuts. Experiment with color grading. And have plenty of fun!
Now over to you:
Which of these Photoshop tips is your favorite? How do you plan to approach your post-processing workflow? Share your thoughts in the comments below!