Getting started with photoshop

A Beginner’s Guide to Photoshop

Zoe Butters Photoshop Tutorials 1 Comment

There are beginner’s guide to Photoshop all over the web, however these can be convoluted and confusing. In this blog we aim to make it that little bit more user friendly and easy to understand for the complete beginner.

Learning Photoshop requires patience and time. A first glance at the extensive program offers no surprise when intimidation creeps in. Here, I will aim to show you a few simple tools and teach you the skeletal basis of the program for touching up photos.

It is important to note Photoshop has many uses; 3D design, basic video editing and time-lapsing, poster or brochure design and more. Therefore, adapt your knowledge to appropriate working practices when learning Photoshop.

The Tools Panel

Let’s jump straight in.

You’ll find everything you will need in the Tools Panel. This runs vertically along the left hand side of the window. In the top right hand corner of the Tools Panel, a small arrow can be found – click on this to expand the tools panel and view all hidden tools. This can also be achieved by simply long left clicking on a tool to reveal the hidden associated tools.

Adobe Photoshop Tools Palette

Start by hovering over each of the tools to reveal each name.

The tools panel is similar across the board in Adobe products; by learning these tools you’ll be able to transfer your knowledge to programs such as InDesign and Illustrator.

Annotated Screenshot


The image above highlights the specific areas to concentrate on (the screenshot displays the working space of Mac OS; however, the interface for Windows users are similar). The Panels on the right hand side of the window contains a tab named Layers.

These are essential in Photoshop, so therefore grasping the use of layers is important when learning.

When opening an image in Photoshop, a layer will appear named Background.

This is your working Layer.

When working on the image, you will need to duplicate this layer. This will create an identical copy. You can refer back to this layer after editing to preview the original image.

There are a few ways to duplicate a selected layer. On the Menu Tab click on Layer, the second option shows duplicate layer. The second method is by right clicking on the layer itself and choosing duplicate layer, or by using a keyboard command, Command J for Mac users or Control J for Windows users.

Background Layer Screenshot background copy layer

Now you will notice the second layer named Background Copy.

This is now your working layer.

The eye symbol hides the layer when clicked, when you have edited on the copied layer, use the eye symbol to hide the copy and this will give you the ability to compare the changes made to your image.

Zoom Tool

First, lets take a look at the Zoom Tool. Click on the magnifying glass symbol located at the bottom of the tools panel. The cursor will now change to the magnifying glass symbol with a plus sign located in the centre. Simply click on the image, the tool will zoom in a specific amount of percentage. By holding down ALT you can now click on the image and zoom outwards.

On the options bar, tick the box named Scrubby Zoom. This allows you to hold and drag the zoom left to zoom out and right to zoom in.

If you’re a Mac user or use a Multi-Touch mouse, you can zoom in and out by using zoom gestures on the mouse pad.

 Selection Tools

There are a few ways of selecting part of an image. Lets take a look at the Magic Wand Tool. This is located near the top of the tools panel. You may need to expand the tool panel or long click the quick selection tool to access the magic wand tool.

On the Options Bar, click the Add to Selection symbol, you can hover over the symbols to reveal the name.

Using the selection tool

Next, click on the part of the image you wish to select. The magic wand tool evaluates the colour difference of pixels in the part of the image you are selecting.

This tool now allows you to edit inside of that selection and will not affect any other part of the image.

Dotted lines appear to notify you of your selection. On the options panel, a box named Tolerance can be seen, adjust this number for the amount of colour pixels being selected, use higher numbers for more colour, and lower numbers for less.

For the swans’ beak shown in the image, the tolerance of the wand is set at 32. This allows the darker orange to be selected at first click. By clicking again I can select slightly more colour within the beak.

Selecting the beak

If you want to deselect any areas, refer back to the options bar and select Subtract from Selection then simply click on the area you do not wish to be selected.

Now you have selected part of the image, you can use tools such as colour balance, adjustment levels, contrast and exposure to edit the selection. These tools are found in panels or the menu bar at the top of the window.

Quick Selection Tool

This tool is the primary tool in the tools panel. Unlike the Magic Wand Tool, this tool works by selecting the edges of an object within an image, ideal for larger areas of an image.

Brush over the part of the image you wish to select and the tool will find the edges to stick to. As previously shown, use the options bar to select the Add to Selection or Subtract from Selection tool.

Lasso Tool

The lasso tool is a freehand selection tool located near the top of the tools panel. Simply draw around the edge of the object you wish to select. This tool requires precision and a steady hand.

Magnetic Lasso Tool

 Sticks to the edges therefore require a little less precision. Located underneath the Lasso Tool.

Marquee Tools

These tools consist of Rectangular, Elliptical, Single Row and Single Column.

The rectangular and Elliptical tools draw the shape of the selection; the single row and column tools select particular pixels either in a row or a column.

Brush Tool

I have decided to make the beak slightly smoother and brighter. Making sure the beak remains selected, choose the Brush Tool located approximately half way down the tools panel.

In the options bar select the opacity to around 40%, flow to 50% and click the small arrow on the brush preset box located in the top left hand corner of the window, set the brush hardness to 0.

Click the colour swatch at the bottom of the tools panel, a colour picker box appears. Hover over the image with your cursor keeping the box open, the cursor symbol changes to an Eyedropper Tool. Click on a colour in the image you wish to replicate. Click OK.

A quicker method of selecting the Eyedropper Tool is simply pressing ALT when the Brush Tool is selected.

Begin to brush over the area. You will notice a small change of colour to the area. Use the eye symbol on the layer to switch from the new edit to the original and notice the difference. This also enables you to keep track and not make any drastic changes.


 This also works on portraits for slight airbrushing. In the options bar, press the airbrush symbol located near the end of the options bar. Keep the flow to 50% and follow the previous steps.

Image 6Comparing image with brush tool and no brush tool

Transform Tool

To place an image on the page, position it to the desired place and press the return key. Whoops, you didn’t mean to place it there. Don’t worry, simply press Command T (Mac OS users) Control T (Windows users) and a bounding box will appear. You can now resize, rotate and position the image. The transform tool can also be located in Edit in the menu bar.

Whilst the transform tool is still selected and the bounding box is visible, right click within the box to bring up a dropdown menu. Here you can warp the image, change perspective, distort etc. At the bottom of the list there is an option to flip the image as to face it to the left or right. This tool can come in extremely handy.

The Menu Bar

The menu bar contains the main editing and filing components used in Photoshop. You can sharpen up images using the Unsharp Mask Tool in Filters. The Image menu contains colour enhancements, controlling shadows and highlights, tweaking exposure and contrast as well as saturation and Levels and Curves.

First, lets open an image. To do this, simply click File – Open and choose the image. You can also open images by simply dragging them to the Photoshop window.

To open a blank document, simply click File – New. This will open a task box, you can select preset document sizes or choose your own. This then allows you to drag images into the document and arrange them on the page.

A whole host of options can be accessed, start by playing around with images in Photoshop and getting the hang of selection tools and layers, these tools are the messiahs of Photoshop.

Want more Photoshop tutorials, keep checking back – in fact bookmark our blog for further tips on all things tech and don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comment box below.

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Zoe is a BA Hons Photographer who has sailed the world as a cruise ship photographer, honing her skills on Adobe products and creating wonderful landscapes and urban artwork. She enjoys teaching Adobe tips and tricks to markITwrite readers who want to learn design and its principles and art.

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