Many of us, from professional photographers to complete beginners, get the urge to try our hand at Photoshop. Whichever you are, you shouldn’t be intimated by the prospect of editing in Photoshop; it only takes a few steps to make your pictures look great.
Adobe Photoshop offers users endless possibilities to edit their photos and create graphics, which is why it’s become my personal go-to over the years. There are several ways to edit in Photoshop. Which ones you choose will depend on preference. We’ll cover a very basic method to edit a photo in the steps below.
How to use Photoshop
Step 1: Open your image in Photoshop
Open Adobe Photoshop and go to File in the menu at the top of your screen. Click on Open to view the file browser and select which picture you want to edit. I chose a picture that was taken by my five-year-old.
Below is a Photoshop window: Tools is on the left side of the screen, Options is at the top, and the Adjustments and Layers are on the right.
Photoshop works with layers, so when you make an adjustment like brightness and contrast, you add an adjustment layer on top of your picture. If you decide to delete that layer later on, the brightness and contrast adjustment will be deleted with it.
It’s important to keep the order of your layers in mind as well. If you’re editing a photo, that image should be the first layer. Anything below that image layer will not be visible unless you erase a portion of your image (by cutting, using the Eraser tool, or deleting it) to let what’s below it show through.
Step 2: Crop and straighten
Select the Crop tool. Then, think of the photo as a canvas. The first thing I do when I open a picture in Photoshop is adjust my canvas to the size and composition I need. Just click the corners of the crop frame and drag it to adjust the size. When you’re happy with the new framing, you can place your cursor just outside any edge of the Crop Tool’s bounding box until you see it turn into a bent, double-ended arrow. Clicking and holding will let you move the frame to rotate and straighten your image.
Image composition is something a photographer takes into account while taking a photo, but you also need to keep it in mind when cropping. This will ensure that that the elements you want to include aren’t cropped out and will also maintain good composition.
Straightening is key to a good photo. A good rule of thumb is to always use the horizon as a guide to straighten pictures. If you have a specific horizon line you’d like to use, you can click Straighten in the Options section. This will let you draw a line that the image will instantly rotate to. Not all photos need to be straight, though, and you can choose a tilted composition as an artistic liberty. Play around a bit to see what looks good to you.
When you’re happy with the cropping and rotation of the image, click the Check-mark in the Options bar, or hit Enter on your keyboard to apply the changes.
Step 3: Play with your levels
Select Levels under Adjustments to add a layer over your image, which will allow you to play with the levels and familiarize yourself with a histogram. Levels can be used to adjust exposure and make photos look brighter or darker.
Adjusting Levels will display the photo’s histogram, which is essentially a graph that represents the light levels of an image. A histogram’s left side symbolizes black and the right side symbolizes white. Adjusting the indicator arrows shown below can dramatically change the dark and light levels on the photo.
Both ends of the waves on a histogram should theoretically taper off evenly until flat; if a curve abruptly ends on one side, it’s an indicator that the picture may be over- or under-exposed. However, a great photo doesn’t need to have the curves tapered off in its histogram. If a picture was taken in the dark, the histogram may look more like the one on the left below, for example. It boils down to a histogram simply being a tool to see how light behaves in a photo.
There’s a lot more to reading a histogram, but this is a place to start for Photoshop beginners. Adjusting Levels is a more advanced way to edit a photo, but it helps beginners become familiar with a histogram.
Step 4: Adjust Color Balance
Under Adjustments, select Color Balance to add an adjustment layer that lets you alter the colors on the photo. The picture I chose has a red tinge, since my five-year-old doesn’t know how to adjust the white balance on a camera. I’ll be using a Color Balance layer to help it look like it would to the naked eye.
This isn’t always necessary, as many cameras automatically tailor the white balance when a photo is taken — especially smartphone cameras. But it’s a great tool to learn for the times when it will be needed.
Step 5: Remove any unwanted spots
This has been a very popular request in my time using Photoshop and doing photography. There are a few ways to remove spots, but one of the most straightforward ones uses the Spot Healing brush and the Clone Stamp tool.
The Spot Healing Brush Tool
The Spot Healing Brush is an automatic tool to remove marks and blemishes just by clicking on them. It removes outstanding marks, basing the correction on what is around the spot you choose. To use it, first select Spot Healing Brush Tool from the toolbar on the left.
Make sure the photo layer — not an adjustment layer like Levels or Color Balance — is selected on the right, and rasterize the layer if needed (right-click on the photo layer, select Rasterize Layer). Then just click on the blemishes that need to be removed on the photo.
The Clone Stamp Tool
The clone stamp tool is handy for larger marks that need removing, particularly on a smooth background. Make sure the photo layer is selected and rasterized, and select Clone Stamp Tool.
On your photo, find a spot you’d like to replace the blemish with. If it’s on a smooth area, I typically pick a place right next to the blemish to avoid issues with shadows and highlights. Then click on it while pressing Alt or Alt Opt, and this will clone the spot. Move the cursor to the blemish you want to remove and click to stamp it.
I removed some scuff marks on the picture above but kept the larger drip mark for the sake of simplicity. It adds character, if you ask me.
This is obviously a condensed introduction to a very vast program, but it will help you familiarize yourself with Photoshop tools and navigation. Hopefully this how-to guide will inspire you to discover other adjustments in Photoshop.