Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop

Jan 11, 2019 ~ Photoshop has to be one of the most intimidating pieces of software EVAH. It is huge and powerful and yes, there are tons of YouTube videos on every subject and task, but most of them start in the middle of the paragraph. It is like listening to a story where none of the characters are identified, the time frame is not specified, you have on blinders and ear muffs and to get to the end you have to first go to China. Which no one bothered to tell you until you made a big mess of things. 

A couple of times I have sat down with friends to answer questions and show a few techniques but there is so much to learn. And I have been asked to do one-on-one Photoshop training but I really don’t want A JOB teaching. When you are helping people you have to know what level of skill they have and the presentation needs to be tailored so it works for them. It is a lot of work!

So I am going to attempt to explain some basic tasks in Photoshop starting at the very beginning with photos and links to more detailed info. This post will hopefully get you set up to accomplish a simple task in Photoshop. There are many ways to achieve the goal; this is my work flow and if you are just starting out, then you can try this until you get comfortable. Even if you use Photoshop you might find a few new tricks or tips.

This will be easier to follow this if you

  • have Photoshop CC subscription. This gives you up-to-date Lightroom, Photoshop and Bridge (and includes Adobe Camera RAW)

  • have images in RAW format. No jpgs for this exercise

  • know how to get your photos out of the camera and into a folder on your computer

If you have an older version of Photoshop, some of the screens might look a bit different and/or some features may not be available. We can make do but the subscription version is well worth the $9.99 a month. The objective is to get an image open in Photoshop and do some stuff with it. I use a PC with Windows; if you are a Mac user, then you are smart enough to translate the instructions into Apple-talk.

My work space in Bridge - it can be changed and rearranged and resized how ever you want

We are going to start with Bridge, open an image in Adobe Camera RAW, do some basic editing and then open the same image in Photoshop to finish up. That is the road map, OK? Any video I link to will open in a new window so you don’t lose your place.

This is how I have Bridge set up. ALL of the panels are movable, resizable and can be shown or hidden.  Watch the  Customizing Bridge workspace video for some ideas of what you can do. It will also familiarize you with the names of different panels.

I keep two panels open in the upper left:  Folders (to see the directory structure on my computer and access images) and Metadata (the camera settings for the selected image). Below that panel is the Keywords panel and below that the Filter panel. I generally don't use any of the others so they are closed. Want to set yours up like mine? Open Bridge and select Window > from the menu bar and put check marks beside Folders, Metadata, Keywords and Filter. Leave Preview and Path checked, but uncheck any other. Then drag those panels in place with your mouse. (Hold down the left mouse key and grab the tab and move. You should get a bright blue line around the panel and it will snap in place).

I will wait while you do that.

Bridge allows you to assign Keywords which are very helpful for searching and finding older images. You can set it up a lot of different ways; I use the Filmstrip workspace (Window > Workspace > Filmstrip) where the selected image is previewed larger at the top. You can make the Filmstrip (or any of the panels) larger or smaller. You know how to hold your mouse over the edge until it turns into a two-headed arrow, then hold down the left button and change the size? right?)

Part of the Metadata panel.

As you review your images in the Filmstrip, keep the Metadata panel open. You can check the settings you used for each shot, which is a very useful analysis.

You can customize what information is shown by expanding or closing the headings. I keep the Camera Data (Exif) section expanded.

Double-clicking the selected filmstrip image opens it in ACR otherwise known as Adobe Camera RAW. If it doesn't then check Edit > Preferences > General tab. Select the check box for "Double-click Edits Camera Raw Settings in Bridge". (Camera RAW Preferences is not the same as Preferences, don’t get confused).

Note: ACR is periodically updated to handle new cameras; if you can’t open a RAW file with ACR, then check for updates or read this page if you are using an older version of Photoshop.

My computer shown on the Folders panel in Bridge. Yes, I still play Sims 3

OK. Let's get started. The hardest thing about Photoshop is there are at least TEN ways to do anything! The way you do a task is a preference, not that one is right and the others are wrong. And that is why watching YouTube videos can be so exasperating; everyone has it set up differently, some use short-cuts, some use different tools and they all talk too fast. And that is confusing to a beginner.

Bridge is basically a viewer that displays files from your computer. Open Bridge and use the Folders panel to navigate to where your photos are stored on your computer or external hard drive. That is the way I do it, and my directory structure is the same on all external hard drives. I even use a 5tb external hard drive as my working drive. Photos are not stored on my computer since they can fail for many reasons. I save everything by year, location and date. That works for me, but the important part is to have a system and use it consistently. And back up your images in two places or more.

Or you can find your image on your computer and right-click the file name and choose Open with > Photoshop. A RAW file will automatically be opened in ACR because Photoshop cannot directly display RAW files - they have to be converted in Adobe Camera RAW (or some other program).

Or you can just double-click the RAW file and it will open in ACR. See what I mean? That is three ways to just open a file and we haven’t gotten started yet!

If you are having problems check to see if you have default image editor set to something else; or if you need to update Photoshop. Could be the Adobe Camera RAW plugin is not installed.

Image shown in ACR with crop outline

OK. Did you get an image from the Filmstrip to open up in ACR? It should look like the image above with a panel on the right full of sliders with a row of icons under the histogram plus a row of tools across the top. It also lists the camera data at the top of the panel. And I found a tutorial for you explaining some of the tools and features in ACR and how to use them: ACR Tutorial. < He does way more than anyone would but watch how he moves the sliders to change the image. And the way he compared both the original and the edited version was a new trick I learned!

All your basic image editing can be done right here with the sliders and panels. For this image, I have increased the Exposure just a bit (moved to the right to make it lighter), opened up the Shadows (not bad for shot at ISO 2000 but moved the slider to the right to brighten the darkest areas) and added just a bit of Clarity. Move the sliders back and forth and watch what happens. This is non-destructive editing; your original RAW image is not changed. If you look in your file directory you will see a tiny .xmp file for each RAW file you edit in ACR; that file has the changes and the original RAW file is unaltered.

You can see image file name is DSC_8454. NEF; this is for Nikon and other cameras have their own file extensions. Here is way more than you will ever want to know about RAW image file formats.

The Crop tool was used here to include part of that distracting stick on the bottom right so we can learn to remove it in Photoshop. Select Crop, then click and drag a size. You can move it around, even tilt the outline. Hold down the mouse over the word Crop in the menu bar and take note of the preset sizes and options. Notice at the bottom (go ahead and click the image above to embiggen) the size of the crop is shown - 24.7MP out of a 36MP image. With a smaller sensor camera you need to watch this size; a cropped image smaller than 7MP should be closely evaluated for image quality. You know that already if you read Portraits. Some people wait to crop in Photoshop, but I like to do my crops in ACR because I can see the finished size.

There are many more things you can do in ACR (the third icon Details is a very good Noise Reduction tool as long as you set Sharpening at zero first)  but this is just basic stuff to get you used to the workflow. Yes, it looks a lot like Lightroom as they used the same engine. But when you use Bridge and ACR you don’t have those pesky Catalogs. You can even go back to ACR from Photoshop and edit the RAW file again after you open it in Photoshop if you want. And it is tons faster, I hear. Not convinced? Ditch the Catalog, try Bridge.

When you have it looking like you want, then click Open Image at the lower right to ..... open Photoshop. Come on, you can do it!

Cropped and edited image opened in Photoshop

All you need to start working is this set up shown above. This is a very good video on Photoshop workspaces so take a minute to watch it first. 

I am using a modified version of the Essentials workspace.  On the menu bar go to Window > and make sure there are check marks beside Tools, Options, Layers and History. Uncheck every thing else. You may have to drag the Layers and History panels so they are on tabs together. (When you stack panels so just the tabs show, only the active panel will have a check mark on the list from Window). I like my Tool bar on the left vertically but it can go anywhere. Bill has his on the right side; you can even make two short rows. The Options bar is across the top and shows what you can do with each tool you select. It can be moved and I put it at the bottom when I am using my tablet for editing. You need the History panel so you can keep up with what you are doing and even delete something that didn't work so well. And the Layers panel is absolutely necessary. Yes, I am planning a couple of tutorials on Layers very soon!

OK. Got that? Tools, Options, History and Layers. I will wait right here while you play around with your program. NOTHING is gone forever, it can all be displayed again. And if the set up is too dark for you, you can change that from the menu bar Edit > Preferences > Interface. Select one of those nicer grays if that is easier on your eyes.

A little more about file formats. The RAW image has all the data the camera saved when you took the photo. You enhanced and revealed some of that with the sliders in ACR. Now that the edited image is open in Photoshop, it can be saved as a .psd file and further edited or used. Some people work in .tif instead of .psd, but that is a preference. Like I said, there are ten ways to do anything in Photoshop.

You can’t post it on Facebook or even print it until you save it in another format, usually a .jpg.

Zoomed in look at ugly stick in the lower right. Note the History panel is showing, the Layer panel is behind it on its own tab

Now... zoom in with you mouse scroll wheel (if it doesn't zoom, then go to Edit > Preferences > Tools and make sure the check box is selected for Zoom with Scroll Wheel). Select the Lasso tool on the Tool bar. It is the third from the top and if you just hold your mouse there for a second, a nice little tutorial will appear and you can click Learn More. If you don't see the Lasso tool, remember tools are stacked. Click the tiny triangle to expand the choices. It might be hiding under the other selection tools in that group.

With the Lasso tool, freehand outline around the object you want to remove. Hold down the left mouse button and make a rough outline, closing the loop at the end. Or double-click inside the outline to end the selection. You will see marching ants around your selection. If you have a tablet (lucky you), you can use your pen to do the same thing.

Expand selection dialog box

Expand selection dialog box

From the menu bar, Select > Modify > Expand. In the Expand Selection dialog box enter 2 for the amount of pixels to expand the selection and click OK. This is good practice; it can avoid a white line or mark in some situations. Notice the selection on your image gets slightly larger.

Fill dialog box

Fill dialog box

Now we are going to do Majik that is only available from Photoshop CC. From the menu bar, Edit > Fill. In the Fill dialog box, make sure Content Aware is selected from the Contents drop-down list. 

Check Color Adaptation and Blending Mode is Normal at 100%. Click OK.

A little spiny thing spins .... and then the ugly branch is GONE. When you done, go to the menu and Select > Deselect to get rid of the marching ants.

You might want to take the Clone Stamp tool and touch up a place or two but just a couple of clicks can remove twigs, trash and even people. 

Content Aware Fill is worth the $9.99 monthly fee. You can even Add Canvas to your image on one side and use Content Aware to fill in the sky or ground. Or learn to use Content Aware Move and Extend. And when you get really comfortable, make an Action so you can do it with just one click. 

Offending branch GONE. The History Panel shows what you have been doing. And you can delete any of those actions and try again. Just highlight and click the trash can at the bottom right of the panel.

Now. I used the Clone Stamp tool to touch up where the stick was removed (Select the tool and change brush size on the Options bar, then Alt-click to choose the source and click in new area to transfer). Here is a little video if you haven't used a Clone Stamp tool before.

Then I used the Spot Healing brush (it looks like a little band-aid) to take out flecks and blemishes. You can change the size and shape of any brush the same way you did with the Clone Stamp tool.  

Final glorious Clapper Rail

And here is the final image. I made a few more changes. Can you tell? And can you figure out how I made the edits? It is cropped it a little tighter without the stick at the bottom. I have an Action that saves a Photoshop document (.psd) as a .jpg at 1500 px on the long side (Image > Image Size) and applies 50% Smart Sharpening (Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpening) for posting on Facebook or here in my blog. If you want to save an image for printing… well, that is a whole ‘nother subject.

OK. Now, are you ready to try Photoshop? Some people are committed to Lightroom and that is fine - just do the ACR edits in Lightroom and follow the rest for Photoshop. But if you have no investment, then the Bridge-ACR-Photoshop work flow I describe might work for you. If you have or had a job using computers and software you understand file handling and maybe even have used some editing programs but if not, this is a foreign land. I have talked to a lot of people who admit having the program but just gave up after a few times in frustration.

Let me know in the comments below if this was helpful for you and what else gives you anxiety. I know Layers is a big subject and I am working on that. What else? I can’t help you much with skin tones or portraits but I know I can make birds look better.

Ordinary Birds at the Park

Ordinary Birds at the Park

Last Day Out in 2018

Last Day Out in 2018