Photoshop is just one of those programs that, once learned, is hard to do without, but perhaps a bit harder to get started. Without question there are huge advantages to be had through the structured rigor of some kind of Photoshop curriculum (check CreativeLive), but getting through such syllabus can often be overload, and as it turns out, there are probably a set of key tips that could not only have you using Photoshop more fully, but significantly faster and more accurately. This series is dedicated to help just that. You can find Part One here, and here are a few favorite Photoshop pieces worth your time:
Get A Tablet
As photographers, most of us will live within similar Photoshop environments and do similar things, repeatedly. Given this repetitive and similar nature of it all, slight tweaks in behavior and optimizations of the tools at your disposal are enough to create a significant difference in efficiency. One primary way to immediately open up Photoshop in ways you can’t imagine without experience, is to use a pen tablet.
If you’re going to do any amount or retouching in Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One or Affinity Photo, just get one. In fact, it’s an injustice to the software and yourself to pay for the software and not have a tablet. I rarely push anyone to buy anything, but get one; Buy a used one, buy a cheap one, steal one from your neighbor, panhandle …just get one.
And please understand that the investment needn’t be large, as the base models will suffice. I generally advocate getting a small Wacom Intuos with touch capacity, which will run you around $79. Yes, if you can get it get the Intuos Pro small, but it’s 3 times the price of the non-pro and you don’t NEED it. You can see a review of the Intuos Pen & Touch here, and the Intuos Pro here.
I’ve spoken before about the immense amount of power and importance that’s been afforded the Alt/Opt key for Lightroom, and happy to say that within Photoshop it wields much authority also. In Lightroom it’s almost as is if any panel and tool and function has a duplicate function once the Alt/Opt key is depressed, and while it’s not quite so obvious is Photoshop, it’s there.
One of the most critical and oft-used times it’s used is when reverting a tool or a dialogue box back to the original settings. If you’re opened up a new Levels, Curves or whatever layer and made some changes, only to discover you really don’t like what you’ve done, simply hold the Alt/Opt key and you’ll notice the ‘Cancel’ button will turn into a ‘Reset’, and once clicked, all changes you’ve made will essentially undo, and base settings will once again be present. The real power of Photoshop is in the layers so you’ll use them a lot and this can be great!
You can also use the Alt/Opt tool to see what’s on a particular layer. Say you’ve got a document with 10 layers and you want to see what is on a single one, hold the Alt/Opt button down and click the ‘eye’ and only that layer will be visible. Click it again and the others will show up again. It beats deselecting and selecting each layer individually.
Make A Dedicated Pen-Tool Button For ‘Undo’
This is as simple as it sounds. If you’re using a pen tablet like a Wacom Intuos, learning how to optimally set it up for your retouching needs is key, and one suggestion is to set one of the buttons on the pen to function as ‘undo’. When you’re dodging and burning this is going to come in handy to no end, and in fact when doing anything else.
To do it, just go into your settings and under the pen tool assign the function – not much to it, but you won’t want to go without it.
Rotate For Accuracy
Possibly the most poignant thing anyone told me during any kind of formal art education came in AP art when my teacher instructed me to draw what was there, versus what I thought should be there. It’s subtle, but profound.
When drawing, say a head and face, we have an idea of what a head and face looks like; we know the general placement of eyes, and ears, and so on, until you realize you don’t. Most people won’t have analyzed a head enough to truly know proportions and relative distance of features etcetera, so what we end up with is off. The tip was to turn the object we were drawing upside down and draw that. What occurred is we disassociated what was there as a face, and simply as lines and shapes, and seeing it that way rids your mind of false assumptions.
Consequently, you learn that rotating paper allows you to see things differently and to move your hand in a more natural way, and this is how rotating an image in Photoshop is good. If you’re dodging and burning especially, rotate the canvas so you can make the brushstrokes more natural. It’s particularly helpful when retouching people. Simply do it by pressing ‘R’ which will select the Rotate tool and you can turn it as you like. And no need to struggle to set it straight again, simply go to the top left and click the button that says ‘Reset View’ and you’ll be set.