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Ten Go-to Editing Tips for Using Photoshop

PS CC launch

The recent release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC) 2014 (which is the 15th release of the product) got me thinking about my own workflow. Photoshop is an amazing piece of software. I have been using it commercially since version 5. However, I don’t necessarily think the latest version is the best one. I’ve just recently upgraded to CS6 and I’m loving it but I can’t see myself going the CC route just yet, as it doesn’t suit my business model.

The beauty of this software is the power that it can bring to your images, but it is a complex piece of software and coming to grips with it as a beginner can be daunting. Time and practice will be your allies in learning Photoshop.

As a photographer, Photoshop is the main editing software package I use in my photography workflow. Every photographer or designer has their own unique approach to editing images using Photoshop. I find this fascinating.

I’m constantly refining, and tweaking my editing workflow. I get such a buzz when I find an alternative method or a shortcut, that I wasn’t aware of before, which makes things more efficient. Having said that there are a lot of the features in Photoshop I wouldn’t use, and there are some that I use more than others.

Before I start editing my images in Photoshop, I open them with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) since I shoot RAW format. I need to make basic adjustments such as exposure, white balance, correcting chromatic aberration and any lens distortion. From there, I take my images into Photoshop as Smart Objects.

The following tips for using Photoshop are my regular editing techniques in no particular order. These can be used in most versions of Photoshop. These are a small set of useful tips. I could have extended it by a dozen more.

Ten go-to editing tips for using Photoshop

1. Duplicating Layer Masks for other Adjustment Layers

To save time when you need a copy of a mask from one layer to another adjustment layer; when you’ve used the brush tool to create a mask. Simply hold down the Option key on a Mac or CTRL key on a PC, click on the layer mask and drag it to the adjustment layer in question. This makes a copy of the layer mask without having to redo the same again.

Gorilla duplicating masks on other adjustment layers

2. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer with a Difference

Normally in the Curves adjustment, you adjust points on the curve line which affect the image’s tonal range. The S-shaped curve is a classic tonal tweak for boosting contrast and color saturation. However, if you add a curves adjustment layer, change the blend mode to Soft Light and reduce the Fill down to approximately 55% (the reduction amount will depend entirely on your image & preference), this gives a similar boost to color and contrast. For demonstration purposes, I have left the Fill at 100%, so that you can see a difference as outlined within the white square.

Field in France curves softlight

3. Dodge and Burn

Create a separate layer, change the blend mode (Mode) to Overlay and fill the layer with 50% gray. Name this layer “Dodge and Burn”. The Dodge and Burn tools are my go-to method for making selected areas of an image lighter or darker. Dodge is for lightening and the Burn tool is for darkening an area. Use a soft Brush and set Exposure to between 6-12%. In most cases, I leave Range set to Midtones. If you find that you have overdone it in the specific areas, just reduce the Opacity on the layer. The image on the right (below) shows the areas where I used the Burn tool to darken his arm, his face, and the bright spots in the background, and also where I lightened his back shoulder.

Secret Agent Dodge Burn

4. Layer Comps

I find the Layer Comps feature in Photoshop invaluable. It is a useful guide to the different editing stages as a before and after comparison. It is so easy to overdo it and get carried away with over-editing your image. This has five stages from straight out of camera, to the final image.


5. Stamp Visible

Cmd+Shift+Alt+E (Mac) or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on a PC is the command to keep all the layers in a Photoshop file and make a merged copy on top of them. I find this particularly useful, especially at the end of my editing process, where I apply some sharpening or contrast by using a Topaz effect (plug-in for Photoshop).

6. The “Place” Command

This is found under File>Place. I normally work with multiple images in the same document. Therefore, I find using this method really handy as it imports the image as a Smart Object automatically, which is great for resizing the image without any degradation.

7. Patch Tool

The Patch Tool was my favorite of the Healing Brush Tools in Photoshop CS5. But now that I’ve upgraded to CS6, the Patch tool has just gotten even better. You can now use the Patch tool to fill using the Content-Aware on a new empty layer. I prefer to set the Adaption to Loose. Make sure Sample All Layers has been ticked. The Healing Brush also feels more intuitive to use than before.

Ringbuoy Patch Tool

8. CMD+T or Transform

I seem to use this shortcut a lot. If I’m working on multiple images in the same document, I may need to resize one or two of the images accordingly. As I import my images using the Place command, this means they are converted to Smart Objects, so the resolution of the images isn’t affected when transforming or resizing.

9. CMD+T+Warp Tool

Similar to the above point, the Warp tool is great for fine-tuning an element of an image, especially if you are working on composites. In the image below, I was using my own stock photo of Heron’s talons to replicate the Owl’s talons for the purpose of realism.

Owl Warp tool

10. Opening a Second Window for the Same Document

When you are retouching your image to get rid of dust and blemishes and so forth, you may need to zoom in as much as 300% or more. Open another window for the same document by Window>Arrange>New window for new_filename.PSD but keep it at 25% (or fit to window). This way, instead of zooming back out to see how the image looks and then zooming back in to resume your retouching, just click on the second window where you have the same document viewed at 25% (or fit).

Do you have another other go-to Photoshop tools or tips you’d like to share? What is in your workflow? Please share in the comments.

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Sarah Hipwell
Sarah Hipwell

is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at SarahHipwell.com or at 500px.

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