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9 Photoshop skills every photographer should know

Editing is indispensable for today’s digital photography. There is a lot of great software on the market that can help you get the best out of your photos, yet Photoshop is probably the most popular and widely used. That’s why we made a list of 9 Photoshop skills no photographer should be a stranger to. Before you start editing though, you should always make sure you have the original files saved in a separate folder, just in case you accidentally make an unwanted save.

Here they are.

1. Brightness and contrast

This is the most elementary setting possible and you have no excuse for not knowing how to use it. The exposure should be correct straight out of the camera, but increasing or decreasing these two settings can massively contribute to the visual impact of your photos. Adjusting brightness and contrast will also allow you to correct exposure flaws, although keep in mind that these modifications, like many others are best done to a RAW file because it has plenty more information than a standard JPG.

2. Cropping

The crop tool comes in handy when you did something wrong while framing the photo. You either used a wider perspective than necessary or left something that affects the balance. Either way, cropping is a basic skill for any photographer, and back in the dark ages, before digital editing, people used to do it in a lab with an enlarger.

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Even if your photo looks good without cropping, you might still want to try tweaking it a bit because you never really know what frame looks better unless your try different variations.

3. Saturation

Use this to increase or decrease the color in your photos. Too much saturation will result in a plasticky, artificial look. It is also one of the multiple ways of converting a color image into a black and white one.

4. Clone/Stamp/Heal

Without doubt, it is one of the most useful set of tools for any photographer. These tools allow you to remove entire elements you don’t want in your photos, ranging from blemishes to houses. Highly recommended, although they should not be abused.

5. Using Layers

Once you learn how layers work, it’ll be like a door opening to a new and fascinating world full of editing possibilities. Basically, you can add different effects, but instead of doing so directly onto the image, you add one or more overlays. There are a lot of blending and transparency options and there is sure to be at least one combination that is right for every individual image. Also, editing with layers will prevent the image from sustaining too much damage during editing.

6. Sharpening

The sharpening tool from Photoshop works by increasing the edge contrast of an image, thus making small features stand out more. Now, it is a useful tool without doubt , however on top of my firm recommendation for shooting RAW, I’d like to mention that the sharpening that can be done on a RAW file, in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom or Capture One is better. It helps the details look better and it also does less damage. If you have no choice but to use the sharpening methods in Photoshop, I suggest you turn to the Unsharp Mask tool because it will let you specify in detail the exact amounts that you need.

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7. Curves & levels

There are basically more advanced modes of adjusting brightness and contrast. They are very useful when dealing with extremes such as all blacks and all whites. They are also very good methods for crossing colors between each other and achieving some pretty awesome effects.

8. Content aware fill

One of the recent blessings from Adobe is this tool that first came with, if I’m not mistaking, Photoshop CS5. It is so smart it made me feel dumb when I first used it. Removing an entire tree full of branches would have taken me hours if I had done it manually. By appointing the task to the content aware tool however, it was done in seconds. It only took a few minor, cleaning improvements afterward, but that’s really a small price to pay for what you’re getting from this amazing tool.

9. Color balance

This is another tool designed to work with existing colors. It is great when you want to work only on mid tones, or highlights for example. It helps you change or ad tones and it works especially well for making colors warmer. That’s probably a reason why many wedding photographers use it.

There you have it. These are only 9 out of many tools and possibilities you can explore with Photoshop. What’s important to remember is that it takes a certain amount of time and patience to become good at using them and what’s even more crucial is that you keep an open mind and have an appetite for experimenting.

Here are some great tutorials to help you learn Photoshop quicker:

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Image credit: goodluz / 123RF Stock Photo

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