9 Essential Photoshop Beginner Tips & Tricks

We have a number of tips for improving your Photoshop workflow. There are many tools, techniques and features that you may not have uncovered yet, so we thought we’d share a number of them with you here. They range from improving your spot healing, colour matching and unearthing a couple of hidden Easter eggs.

1. Black and White Colour Control

With the adjustment layer and a particular blend mode, you actually have another quick, non-destructive method for controlling the colour in your photographs, such as this colourful fish.

Click on the Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer icon. Click on Black & White. An adjustment layer, called ‘Black & White 1’, will be added above your main image. Choose Luminosity from the menu. The image should revert back to colour. Make sure the Layer Thumbnail is active.

The ‘Black & White 1’ properties panel displays a series of colour sliders. Moving these sliders will affect the brightness of any colour within their tonal range. If you move the Red slider left and the Yellow slider right, you can make the mottled pattern on the fish much stronger.

If you push the Green slider all the way to the left, you can make the plants behind the fish disappear altogether. It’s a great method for non-destructive editing.

2. Clone Stamp Control

We have an image of a dog in this example. We can use the Clone Stamp tool to create more versions of the dog and control how the cloned copy is placed.

Create a new layer called ‘clone’ and select the Clone Stamp tool from the toolbar. Make sure that Sample is set to Current & Below. This will clone from the Background layer onto the new layer. Set a size for your Clone Stamp tool and press Alt and click over the centre of the dog to set this as your clone source.

Before stamping it into place, if you hold the Shift + Alt keys and then press either the < (less than) or > (greater than) keys, you can rotate the cloned source. You can also scale the cloned pixels. If you hold Shift + Alt and then press either: [ (left bracket) or ] (right bracket), you can scale the source pixels.

If you want to clear the Clone Source settings, open the Clone Source panel, click on the small menu icon in the top right of the panel and choose Reset Transform from the list that appears. Your Clone Stamp tool will be reset to its default state.

3. Colour Matching

When you cut out one subject and combine it with another background, you may notice that the colours don’t appear to match. We have a great method for matching your image elements together.

An image of a girl has been cut out and placed on a layer above a forest scene. We need to alter her warmer colours to match her cooler environment. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer above the girl. In the ‘Curves 1’ Properties panel, click the Clip To Layer button so any adjustment only affects the girl, not the forest.

Ensure that the ‘Curves 1’ thumbnail is active. Click the Curves properties menu icon in the top right of the panel and choose Auto Options. Make sure the Find Dark & Light button is checked and Snap Neutral Midtones is not checked. Click the Shadows target colour picker and then choose the darkest colour from the forest image and click OK. Then click Highlights and choose one of the lightest tones.

Click OK to continue and click No to Target Colours As Defaults? If your portrait image is a bit dark, you can now click and drag the Curves control points. Now if you compare, the resulting image better matches the background.

4. Any Colour from Anywhere

Let us say we are preparing an image that requires a coloured background. The subject of the image has been removed from its original background and you need to place a colour behind it to complete the document.

Add a Solid Color Adjustment Layer. When you do, the Color Picker (Solid Color) will open. Drag it so it sits beneath the subject. Now your subject should be sat on a default black background. Double-click the Colour Fill 1 thumbnail (not the mask) and the Colour Picker will appear again.

Hover your cursor over any part of the Photoshop workspace and then left-click and hold. Wherever your cursor is, the colour directly beneath it will become the new background colour. Alternatively, while the Colour Picker is active, resize the Photoshop window and then open another window beside it.

With the Color Picker active, hover your cursor over the contents of the other window to sample even more colours.

5. Create Specular Highlights

We have an example of a sleek sports car. It could do with a few extra highlights to enhance the metallic look.

Create a new layer above your base image and place a white brush mark where you would like a brighter specular highlight to appear. Open up the Layer Style panel. Choose Linear Light as the blend mode. Then uncheck the Transparency Shapes Layer button.

You will notice that the white brush mark now makes the pixels underneath it much brighter and more vivid. Shape the white brush mark a little if needed. Since it is on its own layer, the highlight can be moved, scaled and rotated. Add a few more layers with white brush marks and use them at different sizes and shapes to add more highlights to the bodywork and the glass.

6. Transparency from Blend

Take Blend Modes even further with handy tips on adding transparency to the blend you’ve created. We have a peeling paint texture that we would like to blend into some text.

However, we only want to use the darker cracks in the paint. We’ve added some large bold coloured text. Click and drag the peeling paint layer so it is above the text.

Double-click the paint layer and open the Layer Style panel. In the Blend If section, you can slide the This Layer white tab to the left and you will see the lightest parts of the image start to disappear. Convert the paint texture layer to a Smart Object, right-click it and choose Select Pixels to make a selection of the dark cracks only.

You can scale the transparent cracks to better fit your text. Now add a Clipping Mask, so it only covers the text to really make those cracks stand out on your text.

7. Precise Lens Flare Placement

Go to: Window > Info. You will see it displays both the X and Y co-ordinates of your cursor. With the Info panel visible, zoom in to your photo and place the cursor over the exact point you want your flare to appear. Make a note of the X and Y co-ordinates. Go to Filter > render > Lens Flare. Hold the Alt key and click on the preview image to open Precise Flare Center. Enter the X and Y values you made a note of from your Info panel.

The flare will be moved to the precise position you placed your cursor originally. Now you can adjust your Brightness and Lens Type and then press OK to commit the flare to the ‘flare’ layer.

8. Improve Your Spot Healing

Retouching skin effectively can be a challenge. Here is a way of ensuring better results.

Start by creating a new layer above the main image and make it active. Choose the Spot Healing Tool from the toolbar and make sure the Sample All Layers box is checked. This means pixel data from the main image will still be incorporated on the new layer.

As you start brushing over any blemishes the results often look mottled. Go to the options menu and choose Lighten from the Mode panel. The Lighten Mode targets the darker pixels of the blemish, not any lighter pixels.

You can now continue to target the darker blemish pixels. If you view the ‘retouch’ layer on its own, you can see that you have cloned new pixel data on this layer, preserving the original image.

9. Bananas, Coffee and Toast

This is not going to revolutionise your workflow, but with a little luck, these Easter eggs, hidden in Photoshop, might make you and your work colleagues smile.

If you go to Photoshop CC > Preferences > Interface, you can change the Color Theme under the Appearance section by clicking on one of the four colour chips. If you hold the Shift + Alt keys and then click on one of the colour chips, you won’t change the Color Theme effects, but the colour chips themselves are replaced by pieces of toast. Choose your preferred toast colour to alter your workspace brightness.

Press Shift + Cmd and then click on a piece of toast, it will change to cups of coffee instead. You can hold Shift + Alt again and click on the colour chips to change it back to the original grey.

On the toolbar are three small dots representing the Edit Toolbar function. Click and hold and the small fly-out menu will appear. Open the edit panel. Hold the Shift key and click Done and where the three dots were before, a banana will appear.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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