I love Photoshop. There is no other tool that has the capacity to transform your images. From simple edits to detailed composites, Photoshop can do it all. But that means there’s one heck of a learning curve. If you’ve tried learning Photoshop before, you may have become frustrated with it, but don’t give up yet. There are so many tools with Photoshop, but you don’t need to learn them all, just focus on a few key features that will help you get the best out of the software, without spending hours in front of your computer. Ready – Let’s go!


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Tool 1 – Camera RAW

OK, so camera RAW is not actually part of Photoshop, it’s a plugin that comes with the software. So why am I telling you this if it’s not part of Photoshop? Because it’s amazingly powerful and pretty simple to use.It’s great for making basic adjustments to light, colour and contrast and it’s noise reduction tool is much better than the one in Photoshop.

How to Use Camera RAW If you shoot in RAW, Camera RAW will automatically open up when you open the image in Photoshop. If not, you can access it by going to filters on the menu at the top of Photoshop and clicking Camera Raw Filter.

Once you open Camera Raw, you can change the brightness, contrast and colour simply by moving the sliders

Once you’re done with your edits, click OK to go back to Photoshop.

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Tool 2 – Layers

Layers can be tricky to get the hang of, but it’s worth taking the time to learn. The brilliant thing about layers is they allow you to edit your images non-destructively, which means it’s easy to go back and change or undo the edits you do. This is great when you are learning, because you don’t need to worry about making mistakes.

How to Use Layers in Photoshop  This is the layers panel.  If you can’t see it, go to Windows on the Menu bar and check layers.

You’ll see a tiny version of your image in the layers panel, this is the background layer. We don’t do any editing on this layer, instead, add layers on top of the image. That way if you want to change anything, you can do so without affecting the original image.

To add an adjustment layer, click on the half circle at the bottom of the layers panel and select the adjustment you want.

You’ll see that the adjustment opens as a new layer on top of your image.

You can also make copies of the background layer by right-clicking on the background layer and selecting duplicate layer.

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Tool 3 – Layer Masks and brushes

Another great thing about layers is that they allow you to make selective adjustments to your images. In this image I have reduced the brightness to recover the detail int he sky, but it has made the little girl too dark. I can use layer masks and brushes to remove this layer from her. Layer masks are shown by the white square next to the layer. 

When the square is completely white, it means the adjustment layer is visible on all of the image. If you want to remove the adjustment layer from any part of the image, you simply paint on the layer mask with black, and the black parts will not be visible.

How to Use Layer Masks in Photoshop

To paint on your layer mask, you’ll need to use a brush. Go to the toolbar on the left of Photoshop and choose the icon that looks like a paintbrush.

You’ll then need to adjust your brush settings. The settings can be found below the menu at the top of Photoshop.

Click on the circle and change the brush size to an appropriate size, and reduce the hardness to around 10%. In most cases it’s best to use a soft brush so that the edge of the adjustment is not too harsh. Set your brush opacity to around 50%. When using a brush in Photoshop, think about it like painting a wall. You add the paint in thin layers and built up the effect gradually, rather than apply one thick layer. That’s why we set the opacity of the brush to 50%, rather than 100%.

Now choose the colour for your brush, with layer masks, white shows the adjustment, and black hides it, so we want a black brush. (You can only use black, white and grey with layer masks, not colours). The current colour is shown at the bottom of the toolbar on the left. You want the foreground colour, that’s the square in the front. If it’s not already black, click on the square and select black. 

When you’ve chosen your brush settings, click on the layer mask – that’s the white square on the layer. Then brush the image where you want to hide the adjustment. If you want to see where you are painting, press backspace on your keyboard and anything that is black on the layer mask will show in red.

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Tool 4 – Removing Objects Photoshop has some amazing tools for removing unwanted objects. From little blemishes on skin, to removing larger objects, you can do it all. The easiest tool to get started with is the Spot Healing Brush Tool. It’s the one on the toolbar that looks like a plaster/ band aid with a circle next to it. 

This tool works best when removing small objects such as blemishes or objects in the distance. Make the brush bigger than the object that you want to remove, make sure the whole of the object is covered by the brush. If you don’t see a circle when you use your brush, try making your brush bigger and make sure caps lock is turned off.

The simply click, and Photoshop will replace the item.


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Tool 5 – Actions You’ve probably heard of actions before, and maybe you’re wondering why I’ve left them until last. But I think you’ll get the most out of actions when you know the basics of Photoshop. Actions are pre-loaded sets of adjustments that you can run on your images simply by pressing play. They save time and they help you learn new editing styles. Some actions come ready loaded in Photoshop, and you can get more online. You can purchase them, or sometimes you can find them for free.

This is the actions panel. If you can’t find it, go to Window – Actions in the top menu.

To play an action, firstly, if you have more than one layer, flatter your image, as some actions don’t work otherwise. To do this, right click on your background layer and select Flatten Image.


Once you have flattened your image, click on the action that you want to run and press play.

Once you have run your action, you can use layer masks and adjust the opacity of the layers just like you can with ordinary layers


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