The darkroom has always been a place where manipulations to photos occur, and those manipulations range from the minor to the extreme. The general public are usually unaware of the lengths that photographers and retouchers can, and sometimes do, go when editing photos. In fact, most examples of substantial manipulation which the public are made aware of are bad; celebrities being “photoshoped” beyond recognition etc. I imagine it is this which gives Photoshop its bad reputation and cuases new photographers to shy away (that and it’s complexitiy). However, learning Photoshop is one of the most vital steps that any budding photographer can take.

Our cameras, lenses, lighting etcetera, are all tools we use to create our vision, and Photoshop is simply another tool. It is, however, one of the most powerful. If you’re new to Photoshop, this article will cover the first three things I would do. Learning Photoshop can seem daunting, as there’s a maze of menus and settings which can often appear overwhelming, but these three tips will help you begin your Photoshop journey.


where to find the adjustment menu from within the layers panel in photoshop

Tip 1 To Learning Photoshop

Your first step is to import an image. You can either do this from inside Photoshop, File>Open, or begin within your RAW editor (Lightroom, Capture One etc.) and then export the image to Photoshop. Once you have your first image inside Photoshop, you’ll probably think, “Damn, this looks confusing! What do I do now?” To that I’d advise you to start with Adjustment Layers. You can access them in the layers panel (image above), from Image> Adjustments, or by using the dedicated Adjustments panel (Image below). That’s the funny thing with Photoshop, it’s common for there to be two or even three ways to accomplish the same thing, possibly another reason for its complexity.

where to find the adjustment layers window in photoshop

Once you’ve found an area to add Adjustment Layers, add them all one by one and see what each does. There’s quite a few so spend some time here. Some will be confusing and some will be quite obvious, but just mess around and see what happens. Don’t worry, nothing you do will ruin your image. In fact, if you want to be doubly sure of that, I advise making a copy of whatever photo you’re working on.

The reason we start here is that the majority of Adjustment layers will simply open another dialogue (the Properties Panel), in which you’ll find sliders and control points which you can move. By adjusting those sliders and control points you’ll immediately see the effect on your images, AND it’s a very similar experience to working within something like Lightroom, hence is an easy first step.


the tools panel in photoshop. The 2nd place I advise people to go when learning photoshop

Once you’ve messed around with the Adjustment Layers for a little while I’d then turn to the Tools Panel. This is a little more complex but all we’re doing is familiarizing ourselves with the most common areas within Photoshop. Don’t worry if you can’t figure out what each tool does just try them all out and attmpet to get a feel for each. Photoshop is very complex but you don’t need to learn it all at once.

Tip 2 To Learning Photoshop

This is the most important part. Sadly, Photoshop is too complex for you to learn in a day or even a month. Really, the only way to learn Photoshop is to find good quality education and then attempt to implement what you learn. One of my favorite places to learn Photoshop has always been Phlearn, click here to check them out. They have loads of free lessons and I’d definitely advise starting there, however, once you’re committed to mastering Photoshop, I highly recommend purchasing a course. Whether that be from Phlearn or elsewhere, you need to make that investment. Yes, you can find plenty of free tutorials online, but attempting to learn exclusively from free tutorials would be difficult.

For a start the quality of education will vary and you’ll waste time learning bad techniques. Perhaps more importantly, your education will lack structure. I don’t know about you but I find the best education to be structured and progressive. You won’t get that jumping from random tutorial to random tutorial.

Aaron Nace of Phlearn. Instructor whom helps people learn photoshop

One of the things I love about Phlearn is they often provide you with the images they’re working on allowing you to follow along. Active learning rather than passive is something I find crucial to learning Photoshop. On the other hand, I also feel it’s important that you select a course which appeals to you. If you cannot see anything on the Phlearn site, have a look at any of the following (some being more complex than others); Creative Live, Vibrant Shot, Julia Kuzmenko Mckim. There are tons of other resources out there but they stick out in my mind for their quality.

Tip 3 To Learning Photoshop

Once you’ve completed your first paid tutorial or watched a few free ones, you’ll have a much better understanding of Photoshop. At this point, I’d encourage you to put what you’ve learned into practice. Challenge yourself with an in-depth project. You can use this as an opportunity to not only challenge your newly acquired Photoshop skills but to also challenge yourself as a photographer.

Unfortunately, I’m not particularly sentimental and deleted most of my early work. Goodness, what a shame I can’t show you some of my rubbish early photography! I would often do self-portraits as at the time I wanted to learn about retouching skin and had no model. I experimented with different lighting set ups and then dedicated as much time as was necessary (often many hours) to achieve the look I wanted in post. These days, I’m still challenging myself as a retoucher, which is why I added the photo below.

a L'oreal bottle surrounded by golden splashes. An example used to show how I push myself when learning photoshop
Photo by Square Mountain Photography

If you want to truly master Photoshop then you shouldn’t stop challenging yourself. There will come a point when you’ve watched a range of tutorials, created a breadth of work, and mastered much of what Photoshop has to offer. The tricky part is putting all those skills together. If you continually challenge yourself, your skills will continuously improve.

Bonus Tips & Summary

Use Actions as a means of keeping track of all the methods and techniques you learn. Discover something new? Create an action for it. I’ve done this for years and it’s resulted in a set of actions which I use all the time and has helped me to remember everything I’ve learnt.


I didn’t want to delve into the top menus of Photoshop as I think they can be a very confusing place. That said, it’s important to do two things right from the beginning. Firstly, make sure you’re working in the correct color space. I use Profoto RGB but you may find that SRGB is easier to begin with. Secondly, you need to set you Bit Depth. Depending on the strength of your computer and the types of images your working on, it will either be 8 or 16 Bit. 8 Bit will suit 90% of you but some may need the additional data that 16 Bit provides.

the new document panel in photoshop

To set both of those parameters, you can either do so when creating a new document inside Photoshop (see photo above), or you can usually set your preferences inside your RAW editor. However you chose to set these, make sure you do.

If you’re thinking about learning Photoshop, I hope you’ve found this article useful. There’s no doubt that it is a large, somewhat daunting, program but if you approach it in the correct way I strongly believe that anyone can become a Photoshop master.