The secret to using Adobe Photoshop to a proficient level

Anyone who has ever used Adobe Photoshop will tell you that there is a lot to learn in order to perform even simple tasks. You would be forgiven for admitting that you felt a little bewildered by the large array of menus, floating palettes and tools on offer.

I have been using Adobe Photoshop on a professional basis for the past 10 years and have seen it continuously grow. I currently lecture at a local University in this very subject and still find that during each and every lesson I find something new within this excellent photographic tool.

My students, daunted by the overwhelming size of the application, often ask ‘Where do you start?’

This article is intended to answer that very question. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a veteran, I believe that the approach outline here will benefit your further learning.

1. To begin with

Don’t be afraid, it won’t explode! Explore Photoshop. Feel free to open up an image and run through each menu, clicking on menu items and buttons or slide bars and submitters…EXPERIMENT!

Of course, it would be wise to ensure that the image that you are using has a back-up elsewhere before you start your little expedition.

What is the worst thing that could happen? The only element I could imagine that may go astray is the odd floating palette here and there. If this happens, you can recall any palette by locating it under the ‘Window’ menu. So just relax, sit down and have a thorough play-around with your image.

2. Photoshop Navigation

In order to become proficient and effective in Adobe Photoshop, you must be comfortable with navigating around an image. A few tricks of the trade should come in handy here.

There is nothing worst than trying to move from one area of an image to another using the default ‘Zoom tool’ and ‘Hand tool’. Using these two toolbar ‘criminals’ will massively slow you down!

EXPERIMENT 1: Try it out for yourself for yourself…

  1. Open up an image.
  2. Start your stop watch.
  3. Use the Zoom tool to increase the zoom factor to about 200%.
  4. Now, using the Brush tool, draw a line from the left hand side of your image across to the right.
  5. Use the Hand tool to reveal the next part of the canvas.
  6. Stop your stop watch! How long did it take?

You’ll find it both a slow method and a challenge to keep focused on the task, i.e. pick up brush – paint, pick up hand tool – move, pick up brush – paint, etc.

EXPERIMENT 2: Now try this:

  1. a. Open up an image.
  2. b. Start your stop watch.
  3. c. Use Ctrl + to increase the zoom factor to about 200%.
  4. d. Now, using the Brush tool (press B), draw a line from the left hand side of your image across to the right
  5. e. Hold down the space-bar and left click and drag to reveal the next part of the canvas.
  6. f. Stop your stop watch! How long did it take?

Firstly, Experiment 2 will only take a fraction of the time to get the same results as found in Experiment 1. Secondly, I bet you barely had to think about it! You mind was allowed to wonder onto other things.

Holding down the space-bar toggles between the Hand tool and the currently selected tool. Take you thumb off the space bar and your back to Brush tool.

Keep on practising through the above exercise.

3. So what have we learnt from this?

Using quick-keys or shortcuts are simply the best way of operating within Adobe Photoshop. They will both increase the speed of your work-flow and free up valuable brain processing power. In fact, you’ll find that if you adopt the use of quick-keys, you will soon start to work on a reactionary and instinctive basis. Photoshop by reflex!

I rarely have to think about what I am doing while using Adobe Photoshop. That is, I don’t have to think about the technical runnings, just the creative objectives.

This is comparable to driving a car. I’m sure that any motorist reading this article will agree that while driving from A to B, you are not necessarily aware of all of the physical operations involved in controlling your car. You do it by reflex. Using Photoshop can be the same with practise

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