How do I go about learning photoshop?
April 13, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I go about learning photoshop?

I've always had photoshop on my computer and have played around with it to a certain extent using the different filters, making random texts for websites, etc. Nothing serious or very professional.

Only recently have I had the interest in picking up and actually learning how to use photoshop. I'd like to learn things like photo enhancing and creating fun pictures as a hobby.

I know there are millions of tutorials online and I have gone through a lot and learned plenty. I guess what my question is where do I begin to actually learning the most important features that professionals use daily? Also if there's a community that has weekly photoshop contest and explanations would be great to spark my creativity. Sometimes I feel like I just don't know where to begin or what I want my photo to be.
posted by telsa to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 92 users marked this as a favorite
I legitimately think the You Suck at Photoshop series is a great way to learn about the many tools Photoshop offers in an entertaining way for beginners.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite] is inexpensive and covers the basics very well. Highly, highly recommended.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'll second for this kind of thing, and they seem to offer a good range of free Photoshop tutorials.

You kind of have to learn this program by trying things out and playing around. I use it professionally on a daily basis, and I sometimes feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what it's capable of. If you're doing a lot of photo work, learning about layers, masks, and all the image adjustment options will be most useful for you. If you do a lot of graphic stuff (you mention text for websites), then you might want to look into Illustrator, which is way better for that type of thing.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 3:00 PM on April 13, 2010

Photoshop is a big, deep piece of software. There are many ways to go about learning it. Here are some suggestions. Use one, or some, or all of these approaches:

- Get a book. There are tons of them out there. Go to your local bookstore and thumb through the selection until you find one that seems to suit you, and gives you the sort of information that you are looking for.

- Online tutorials. Sounds like you've done some of these. Periodically look around for good ones, and do them.

- Watch some videos. Check out the Gnomon Workshop, as well as the Massive Black website. Maybe this isn't the sort of work you want to do with Photoshop; maybe you want to do more photo retouching or something else. Look around.

- Work in the proximity of others. When you are sitting in the same room with a bunch of other people who are also working in Photoshop, you will inevitably swap tips and techniques with them. This is an amazingly effective way of learning. The easiest way to do this is to take a Photoshop class. The advantage to a class is not necessarily the instructor. You may sign up for a class and find that you know more than the instructor does. (Although you might just as easily find a fantastic instructor.) Working in the proximity of others is invaluable.

- Above all, you must WORK WITH THE SOFTWARE CONSISTENTLY. Don't expect to tinker with it once a month and gain skills. Work on specific projects, but also tinker around without any specific goal once in a while. Try to work with Photoshop at least 3 times a week. Over time, you'll improve.

- Realize that you will never know everything there is to know about the software. It has taken me a long time but I have finally resigned myself to this fact.
posted by cleverevans at 3:02 PM on April 13, 2010

The two biggest things to learn:

1) Learn how to use image masks and work non destructively (no eraser tool).
2) Learn how to use blending modes and which ones do what.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:12 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

You need a reason to know how to do these things. Projects. Make CD covers. Party spoofs. Invites and favors for friends. Funny cards. Whatever. But just tooling around...boring and meaningless and I've never learned any program this way. Find something to do and have fun!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:29 PM on April 13, 2010

Worth1000 is full of contests, tutorials, discussion forums and more. Sometimes their contests end up with painful compositions, but you can find people who frequently make really well-crafted compositions.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2010

Well it sounds like you already did stuff at least kind of like this, but I learned Photoshop (and HTML) by creating my own websites. I thought of how I'd want something to look, and then I learned how to make that. I've made mix CDs for friends and designed the cover art for them - of course that was before mp3s.

You could also join Fark and participate in their Photoshop threads. I haven't read that site in a while, but the Photoshop threads often made me bust out laughing, and some of the work was really good.. and really bad.
posted by wondermouse at 4:04 PM on April 13, 2010

Cross-fertilization post! All of the Photoshop Typography tutorials you will ever need posted to the blue today.
posted by zadcat at 4:10 PM on April 13, 2010

My suggestion is a strategy more than it is a resource.

I learned photoshop by taking on little projects. At first I just wanted to mess with the colors in photos, then I wanted to make a collage or a poster, then I wanted to put my body on a different landscape (Mars?). My favorite was a self-portrait where I completely changed the way my face looks.

As time went on I moved on to developing linkable graphics for websites, animated gifs, some more abstract projects.

I would learn by looking up information directly relevant to what I wanted to do using resources like those above.
posted by jander03 at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2010

ditto on the projects suggestion. For me, having someone around who already knew how to use photoshop (at least better than I did) helped me pick it up pretty quickly. Don't know if you're in a working/learning environment w/helpful photoshop experts on hand, but if you have a graphic designer friend or something...
posted by Griffinlb at 5:03 PM on April 13, 2010

Psdtuts has been amazing for me.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 5:05 PM on April 13, 2010

Agreed with everyone else, do little projects.

Do the tutorials, watch the vids, look all around, but make party invites, posters, photo corrections, forum signatures, or anything else you can think of to do.

In the fuzzy past I made a ton of stuff for friends, as I always work better having a project and or gift for someone. Doing just the tutorials is sometimes very abstract.

If you see something cool online, try to recreate it.

Try to find a friend that you trust that can be brutally honest with you. "Oh that's cool" doesn't help. Creative criticism helped me a lot more than any nice comment from someone.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by PlutoniumX at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2010

Following is my list of the essential-photoshop tools and skills. It will take you a while to learn all of them, but once you have them down, you will be an expert. Photoshop is complex enough that I recommend you learn it from multiple sources. Each source will reinforce what you've learned previously. So get a book, watch some videos, take a class if you can and, of course, play in the program. I highly recommend the Total Training videos ( would be my second choice.

- The Curves Tool and The Levels Tool.
You can skip most other color-adjustment tools. You can even skip Levels if you want, because Curves is the power-adjustment tool that does what all the other tools do combined. But Levels is quicker for some operations.

- Learn Channels. There's a rare, out-of-print book called "Photoshop Channel Chops." It's legendary. I don't know why no publisher has every brought it back into print. If you can get it via inter-library loan or something, you won't be disappointed.

- Learn Lab Color. That's really just more channels stuff, but I'm giving it its own bullet point, because many people just learn RGB and CMYK channels. But if you want to be a color guru, you'll learn Lab, because it gives you the ultimate flexibility when working with color.

- Learn Selections. Photoshop has tons of selection tools. Learn to use them all. Each one comes in handy in a particular situation.

- Learn the Bezier Pen Tool. It's not only good for drawing. It's also one of the most powerful selection tools. Along with this tool, learn everything you can about Paths in general.

- Learn everything you can about Layers. Adding them, removing them, grouping them, using layer masks, adding layer effects, using layer blend modes, etc.

- Learn Blend Modes. I mentioned them above. But they deserve their own bullet point.

- Learn Brushes. Photoshop allows you to customize brushes to an insane degree. Even if you're a photographer rather than an illustrator, learn brushes. They aren't just used for drawing. There are brushes that blur, brushes that desaturate, etc.

- Learn Sharpening.

- Learn the Camera Raw dialogue.

- Learn Photoshop Preferences.

- Learn the Type Tool.

- Learn the Shape Tools.

- Learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can. They're all listed under help.

Most things I haven't listed here -- and there are many -- are of secondary concern. Learn them if you need to, but learn the above stuff first. Don't get sidetracked by filters. They are fun, but they're not all that important to most professional work, compared to the core skills I've listed above.

I know the list is daunting. Don't try to learn it all at once. Each item on the list is useful by itself. So if you just, say, learn Curves, you can already do some amazing things.
posted by grumblebee at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

Back when I took the certification test (Photoshop 5), I found Studio Techniques to be one of the more comprehensive books that actually explained what all the modes and sliders did. While recipe-style tutorials are a handy way to build up your toolkit, it's better to have a more solid foundation in how the program works.
posted by Wossname at 5:43 PM on April 13, 2010

I'm a photographer and I do retouching professionally.

grumblebee's list is pretty good. The recipe style tutorials really don't teach you much. You need to learn the more general tools and just keep using them to solve actual problems, not how to make a fake looking waterdrop in 87 steps. There are a million ways to do anything in PS, each way has it's own drawbacks and benefits. The things I use, at the bare minimum on every image, is masks, adjustment layers, and channels. If you understand how those things work you can do almost anything. Lab color, the various selection tools and methods, the pen tool, blend modes are what I would move on to after that.

Curves is the most powerful tool, you can do almost anything with it.

As far as actual pixel manipulation there's Liquify, clone stamp, various patch and heal brushes, and I have found I use the Content Aware Scale a surprising amount.

I barely touch the Filters menu, most of that stuff is novelties they've accumulated over the years. The only ones I use on a regular basis are Lens Distortion, Gaussian Blur, and High Pass which are all pretty general purpose.

Really it just takes lots of practice and experimenting on images. Don't just fuck around, have a goal in mind when you start working on something. There is no magic button or set of steps that makes an image "better" which is what people always ask me, you just choose the right tool for what you need to accomplish.
posted by bradbane at 6:07 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh and I can't stress this enough: learn the shortcut keys.
posted by bradbane at 6:07 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

One book that hasn't been mentioned yet: Adobe's own classroom in a book. Get it for whichever version of photoshop you have, and it's good to "fill in the gaps" in your knowledge. It comes with a basic cheat sheet (for the keys) and references for all the layer effects.

Sure, you can just dive right into the advanced tuts for specific effects, but you should go through ONE basic course once.
posted by Sallysings at 6:57 PM on April 13, 2010

I did this last year. I knew the basics but had to teach Photoshop (as part of a visual art course) and act like I knew what the hell I was doing. Based on advice I read here I figured out what I needed to learn and picked up Deke McClelland's Photoshop CS4 One on One and did the whole book. That gave me a good foundation, even though some of the exercises are a bit cheezy. Then I looked through and did some of the free tutorials. I decided which other tutorials I wanted to do at and poked around until I found a code for a 14 day free trial. (One up now for a 7 day trial, don't know how long it will last). I'd consider paying for a subscription if I had more time (and I might do it once I'm free for the summer and have more time.)

Then I designed a series of assignments for my students and did them myself. When I ran into a problem I went hunting for help online (the number of tutorials available for free is staggering). I also bought the Quickstart Guide. Early on I watched a fair number of the "I Suck at Photoshop" videos mentioned above (though I quickly grew tired of the storyline).

A lot of Photoshop relates to fine art in general - colour, line, composition, brushes, layering - these are all things I teach in my more traditional painting classes too, so don't forget about that! Photoshop is just amazing and working with it is fun, fun, fun.
posted by Cuke at 7:31 PM on April 14, 2010

No one has mentioned Katrin Eismann? Her books are a version or two behind, but still very good.
posted by sageleaf at 4:03 PM on April 17, 2010

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