Rough Notes: Photoshop Basics Class

Note: I don’t have photoshop on my machine (yet) so I couldn’t verify all of my notes. As usual the typical disclaimers apply to this information.


I had the opportunity to go to a Photoshop basics course. The class was taught by Robert Williams from

Photoshop is one of the few programs which I’ve struggled in getting the ‘mental model’ of the program. This is yet another attempt to focus on the some core principles of usage.


  • !bp = best practice
  • !pt = pro-tip in terms of photography
  • Mac keyboard control keys:
    • OPT = the alt/option key
    • CMD = command key (aka the clover key)
    • CTRL = control key

The Notes

Book for class (not used during class but given as a reference)

“Photoshop CS 6” – Visual Quickstart Guide
by Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas

I flipped through it and it has lots of visuals (which I suppose is not surprising considering it’s a visual quickstart). I can’t tell whether it would help with the mental model understanding of the software.

Mental model

  • Related tool buttons are purposefully next to each other
  • Your best friends that make you play Photoshop like a piano:
    • Zoom tool via OPT key and mouse scroll-wheel
    • Hand tool via spacebar and mouse movement

Crucial Tools and Techniques

  • Zoom in/out shortcuts:
    • allows you to zoom in/out wherever mouse pointer is at
    • You should use OPT key and scroll wheel of mouse (for touch pad it will be swipe)
    • Keyboard shortcut: CMD +/- to zoom in/out
  • Hand tool shortcut
    • allows you to move around any part of your image
    • use space bar and mouse to quickly switch to move around the
  • Use the square brackets ( [ or ] ) to increase/decrease brush head on whatever tool that has such a head

  • Saving content

    • Get in habit of using CMD-s all of the time because there’s no auto-save (unlike In-Design for example)
    • File names and SEO:
      • Files with dashes are better because search engines will read content in terms file names and remove dashes and use the words for SEO (good name example: Monarch-Butterfly-ADJ.psd)
      • Underscores are not good word separators because they are removed and all words are squashed together into one word by search spiders
  • work in layers: save original; helps preserve stages – otherwise you’re dealing with permanent changes
    • !bp: Always look to the right and check what layer you are on before doing any work
    • Each layer is its own thing (not an additive mask though you could choose to do that); think of layers as panes of glass so you could scrape the top piece of glass so you could see the layers underneath it
    • Drag background layer to post-it note icon at bottom to create a new layer (???todo: check on photoshop???)
    • !bp habit: make sure you’re in the correct layer; layer you want to adjust is highlighted
    • !bp: Name your layers. Once you start having lots of layers it gets very confusing very quickly. To rename a layer just slowly click twice with left mouse button on the name of the layer. Lots of layers will get out of hand without naming
    • To make all other layers disappear so you can focus on one:
      • Get ready to click on the eyeball of layer you want
      • Press OPT key and then click on eyeball with mouse
    • Another way to figure out a particular layer is to use the move tool to distinguish (so you can name it)
  • History:
    • Records 15 steps
    • New timeline begins when you select at a particular point and start working on a layer


  • Marquee
    • Can only affect stuff inside
    • Selection menu has to do with marquee tools
    • Quick-selection tool
      • OPT key: de-select (so you’re highlighting areas you want to de-select)
      • Dynamic menu at the top: can increase/decrease of brush (i.e. circle); shortcut: [ or ]
    • When you do a complex selection make sure to save it via:
      Selection > Save Selection (to save all that effort); this is stored in the PSD file
    • Getting the non-selected space: Select > Inverse (now the background of the butterfly is used); so as a !bp select the smaller/easier thing and then use inverse to get the thing that you want (if applicable)
  • Color play with selection:
    • Image > Adjustments >
      • hue/saturation: allows you to play with colors of the selection
      • Levels: histogram (right arrow – what’s considered white; leftmost arrow what’s considered black; mid-arrow: mid-range)
      • The Histogram can help with FAST adjustment of photos in terms of light color, medium colors and darks; this helps sharpen things
      • Always work on the leftmost arrow first, then the right most, and then adjust the center arrow by eye (typically making the picture more high contrast for print)
    • Filter > play with these
      • !pt: Recommended blur that pro photographers use: Filter > Blur > Gaussian (0-3)
      • less is more with adjustments
  • Rulers:
    • Very useful for creating guidelines
    • CMD-R to access, or View > Rulers
    • To change default ruler type (i.e. inches versus pixels):
      Photoshop > Preferences > Rulers

    • Guidelines / guides:

      • left click inside ruler and drag out to create a guide
      • Another way: View > New guide: you can specify exact pixels
      • Hide guides via menu or CMD-;
  • Edit menu >
    • Transform > Scale (hold shift from corners to scale rather than distort)
      • When you’re in bounding box you need to hit return key to come out of it (otherwise – everything is grayed out)
      • For web you can scale without pixelation but not good for print
  • Image menu >
    • Canvas Size: to change size of image
  • Move tool: allows you to move layer around (very common use – shortcut is letter v)

  • Rectangle tool

    • Click on the layer to get selection of colors and eye dropper (!pt: select another color from image rather than some color from swatch in order to make it cohesive); this is in reference to putting a rectangle to put lettering on
  • Type tool:
    • the ‘T’ icon on toolbar
    • notice dynamic menu at the top
  • Masking an Image (!pt)
    • Great technique to show-through a particular shape
    • Make a box that will hold the image; anything outside of it will be invisible
    • Place your intended image above image mask
    • Use: Layer > Clipping mask
    • You can move image separately from object underneath (this allows you to easily re-crop)
    • This is nice non-permenanet change for the image you are dealing with

Odds and Ends

  • Note that for an image like logo instead of loading the jpeg/png and copy/paste you could do: File > Place but this creates a smart object which is very different than an image; see book for more info

  • If you see a “maximize compatibility”, then hit OK.

  • !pt: the more subtle the transition; the bigger the brush head that you want

  • actions: helps you process photos (aka batch processing in bridge); see book

  • !bp: separate photos into their own layers so you can have finer control for things like lightning; also makes it easier to manipulate the elements of a composite

  • Not photoshop related (besides the huge psd files that it creates) but to transfer big files the instructor recommended:

  • For web images – use the File > Save for web: you can control size of file for jpeg/png via quality option

  • Suggested resources: instructor heartily recommended courses

  • Use the / key to lock a layer (though it seems to do a ‘partial’ lock and there is no obvious way to do a readonly type of lock; the instructor indicated that has a great explanation of layer locks)

Updates to this post


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