9 Tips for Working Smarter in Photoshop

Photoshop has been with us for over 25 years. We understand just how powerful and feature rich the application is but it is very likely that most users only end up being familiar with about a tenth of all its available components.

This article will show you a number of features that we use daily and that we really want to share with you. These little insider tips and tweaks will help you to quickly develop your skills and understanding of Adobe’s amazing layer-based image editing software.

1. Pen Tool Aid

First up is an aid to drawing with the Pen Tool. With your image open, go to your toolbar and select the Pen Tool (P). In the top Tool Options panel, click on the small settings icon and a panel will open with the Rubber band option. Make sure it is checked. Normally, you cannot see where the path of the pen will be placed but now, as you draw with the Pen Tool, it will show you a preview of where the path will go.

2. Cloning On Curves

Here’s a handy tip to bear in mind when you are using the Clone Stamp Tool. When you’re cloning an area and you come to a tricky curved edge and you need to match the angle of curvature as you go around it, what do you do? Go to Window > Clone Source and change the value of the Rotate The Clone Source angle. This lets you rotate your initial sample. You can keep changing the angle and clone some more until you’ve worked your way around the curve.

3. Flattened Composite

PSD files can get pretty big as you build up the number of layers and adjustments within the document. For example, one base image of about 16 megapixels, with additional layers soon builds up the file size. If you just want a quick look at your PSD files, you can go to File > Open and when you browse to your file, hold the Shift + Alt keys and click on Open. This will open a flattened composite of the image instead much more quickly.

4. Position Anchor Points

When you are using the Pen Tool, it is usually a case of selecting the tool from the toolbar and then clicking on your image to place an anchor point, then go on and drop a new anchor point, and so on. A handy little tip to bear in mind is to hold the spacebar and whichever current anchor point is active, you’ll be able to drag it to a new position. When you let go of the spacebar, the point will be set in that position.

5. Skin Tones Only

There may be times when you want to make colour adjustments just to the skin tones of people in the shot. There is a useful way of trying to detect skin tones to help you make a selection of only those tones. Got to Select > Colour Range and in the Colour Range dialog panel under Select, click on Skin Tones. If you also check the Detect Faces button, it will make a more refined selection of just the skin tone in the shot.

6. Dragging Shadows

Normally, when you want to add a drop shadow to your image, you activate the Layer Style panel and input values in the Drop Shadow section. When the Layer Style panel is open, click on the drop shadow itself and use your mouse to move it exactly where you want it. You’ll still have to input a value for Blur but it is useful for more accurate placement of the shadow.

7. Where Am I?

There are going to be situations when you are zoomed into your photo and using a high degree of magnification. To get an idea of where you are in the image or if you quickly want to move to another spot, there is a useful tip. If you press and hold the H key, your cursor will change to a hand icon. If you left-click it will temporarily zoom out to show the entire picture. You can navigate to a new place and when you let go of the mouse, it will zoom in again.

8. Accurate Brush Tool

By default, whenever you are using your Brush Tool, you have a brush tip cursor that shows you an approximation of the brush you are using. If you want finer control, you can press Caps Lock to convert the brush tip to a crosshair. Alternatively, you can go to Photoshop CC > Preferences > Cursors and choose Show Crosshair In Brush Tip. This means the cursor will always be present whilst you paint with the Brush Tool.

9. View Single Layer

If you’re working with multiple layers, it can often be helpful to view just one layer on its own. There is an easy method to avoid the tiresome process of clicking on the eye symbol and hiding each layer separately. You can just click on the eye symbol of the layer you want to isolate, while holding down the Alt key. This will automatically hide all the other layers. Click on it again to make all layers visible once more.


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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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