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11 Beginner Photoshop Tips for Photographers (With Easy-To-Follow Examples)

11 Beginner Photoshop Tips for Photographers (With Easy-To-Follow Examples)

Photography doesn’t always begin and end with your camera. Your ability to enhance or tweak certain elements of your work with digital tools opens up completely new possibilities for your portfolio.

Have you ever wondered how to create a signature color scheme to use across all of your photos? Maybe you’re considering branching out into different skillsets with typography or photo collages. Photoshop is one of the leading industry tools for photographers of all shapes and sizes – whether you’re seeking to become a professional or want to upgrade your new hobby, you don’t want to overlook this incredible asset.

Photoshop can be intimidating for beginners due to its thousands of tools and plugins. I have 11 beginner photoshop tips for photographers to help you edit confidently and quickly. While this article will focus on Photoshop for the PC – such as CC or Elements – much of this knowledge can be applied to other editing programs (albeit with slightly different names for the same tools).

I’ll also have visuals with short step-by-steps to help you connect the dots between your new skill and your next gorgeous photo.

Source Image: Pixabay

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Use Photoshop As a Tool, Not a Crutch
  3. Know the Difference Between Raster and Vector
  4. Know the Difference Between RGB and CMYK
  5. Learn the Power of Layers and Transparency
  6. Understand the Function of Different Layer Effects
  7. Start Practicing With the Quick Mask Tool
  8. Become Comfortable With the Basic Toolset
  9. Use the Clone Stamp to Copy Elements or Fix Mistakes
  10. Tweak Contrast Using the Curves Tool
  11. Embrace the Image Bar for Color Adjustments
  12. Study Photoshop Tutorials on a Video Platform
  13. Conclusion: You Don’t Need To Be A Photoshop Expert To Enhance And Edit Photography

a young photographer in a beige hood sitting on the ground at night and taking a photo using a tripod camera

Source Image: Pixabay

1. Use Photoshop As a Tool, Not a Crutch

Becoming a skilled Photoshop editor means appreciating the program as a tool, not a crutch. If you don’t know the differences between focal lengths or the importance of depth of field, Photoshop won’t magically do the work for you. 

My Photoshop tips for photographers cover the mental aspect as much as the technical aspect. Having the right headspace when using Photoshop will automatically put you in a position to use the program more effectively, such as: 

Dividing Your Effort Reasonably

The majority of putting together a powerful photograph is during the shooting phase. When you focus your effort reasonably, you’ll set better expectations for the final result (and save energy in the process).

I recommend putting most of your effort into the framing and shooting of your subject, then touch it up later. Using strong lighting, an appropriate focal length, and an eye for composition will already create a strong result. Over time you’ll develop the discretion on how much effort to put into each step of the artistic process. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, such as taking very simple photos to use as assets for more complex work. 

For example, let’s say you want to take a basic self-portrait to place on top of an original illustrated background. Taking a simple photo is a smart way to save your energy. After all, the detailed, time-consuming nature of the illustrated background will be more intensive. 

Treat Photoshop Like Any Other Tool

Photoshop may be a powerhouse of potential, but it’s still just one tool. Treating these Photoshop editing tips like any other gear in your photography kit – like a lens or a camera strap – ensures you approach the program wisely.

There’s a faulty mindset among some artists that digital programs do most or all the work. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A firm grasp on photography fundamentals is still the bulk of the final result and no amount of Photoshop will fill in the gap. 

With so many exceptional photos circulating online and in print, viewers will easily tell if you’re using the program as a crutch. 

Take Plenty of Time to Practice

At the end of the day, regular practice is the most reliable habit for using Photoshop effectively. Part of artistic growth is embracing the experimental sessions and little accidents that nurture your growing skill.

However, this practice will be a little easier once you get essential terminology out of the way.

an example of vector artwork showcasing yellow, green, and orange flowers and leaves on a brown background

Source Image: Pixabay

2. Know the Difference Between Raster and Vector 

Raster and vector may sound like the protagonists of a sci-fi film, but they’re actually different file types. Learning the differences between the two ensures you won’t have any weird surprises when it comes to photo editing or printing. 

Raster is Great for Web Viewing, Small Prints, and Hobbyists

A raster file is composed of millions of little pixels to create a larger image. Many artists – professionals and hobbyists – use this file type for uploading photos to the web or creating small, physical prints.

Most notably, raster has an image expansion limit – the amount of pixels determine how big or how small you can upload an image without losing quality. Have you ever tried to expand an image, then cringed when it became blurry and unreadable? This is the raster limitation in action.

For example, a raster .jpeg of just 300 pixels will look fuzzy for anything other than a small avatar if you try to expand it. To contrast, a raster .jpeg of 10,000 pixels will look crisper and clearer in a variety of sizes.

DPI (or dots per inch) is a similar term used for printing, referring to how many ink drops a printer uses to create an image. If you want to use raster to print, you’ll need a high DPI count. Depending on the power of your computer, you can create crisp prints between 400 to 800 DPI. However, 300 DPI can still work for smaller prints such as postcards or business cards. 

Vector is Ideal for Budding Designers or Very Large Prints

Vector uses several mathematical formulas to help you create an image that can be shrunken or expanded without loss in quality. While you’ll need Adobe Illustrator to do vector, this file type is still useful if you want to branch out.

Artists today use vector art for graphic design, logos, or photomanipulation. Since there’s no loss in quality when expanding or shrinking, vector is incredibly versatile for the budding professional. The learning curve is rather steep, so consider waiting until you get the hang of Photoshop first.

Following hot on the heels of file types, my next beginner tip involves image modes.

Source Image: Pixabay

3. Know the Difference Between RGB and CMYK

Just like raster and vector, RGB and CMYK are two terms that will help immensely with using Photoshop. These two modes are vital for uploading or printing photography accurately.

RGB for Web Uploads and Occasional Printing

RGB is an acronym for Red, Green, and Blue. This mode is the go-to for uploading to the web as well as reproducing for television. 

While an RGB image may look bright and colorful online, it won’t always translate well to printing. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though. I’ve occasionally printed with RGB and received solid results, though you’ll have to do some editing in your printer program to get it accurate to the digital version.

If you want to save yourself the trouble of long editing sessions before printing, switch to CMYK.

CMYK for the Majority of Printing

CMYK is short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (or Black). Programmers directly designed this mode to suit the color ranges printers use, so it’s more accurate than RGB. 

Photoshop allows you to switch between RGB and CMYK under the Image tab. Just select Mode to bounce between RGB and CMYK when needed. Photoshop’s color selector also automatically tells you which colors aren’t ideal for printing. 

Once you’re comfortable picking and choosing between the best modes or file types, it’s time to get into your toolset.

Source Image: Pixabay

4. Learn the Power of Layers and Transparency

Photo editing is a delicate balance of organizing, trimming, or enhancing different parts of your photo. Layers – including transparent layers – allow you to multitask on multiple elements without overcommitting. For this article I’ll use the stock photo of the above woman in a sweater to illustrate all the ways you can edit in Photoshop.

To start things off, let’s say you want to change the background of the above portrait. You like the pose, but think a different type of scenery would bring the whole thing together. The problem is…you don’t know which kind of scenery you want to use. Instead of tediously editing in new scenery, just create a transparent background layer.

Every time you open up a new document in Photoshop, your project will already come with a background layer – take a look below at the bottom (viewer’s) righthand corner for the new project I started.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

While you can technically use the background layer for any purpose, it’s designed to help you add or edit backgrounds. This flexibility gives you wiggle room to make mistakes or try a million background combinations without affecting the portrait. If you tried to put the background on the same layer as the portrait, you’d have a huge mess already.

Photoshop permanently locks your background layer when starting a new project, but it’s an easy barrier to get around. Right click on the locked background layer, create a Duplicate Layer, and you’ll now have a Background layer you can edit.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

You’ll notice the background layer is also white. You can put anything you want in a transparent layer, which you create by hitting the shortcut SHIFT+CTRL+N. You can also make a new layer with the drop down menu under the tab Layer. Unlike the background layers which automatically become locked, new layers are always transparent unless you select another mode.

The transparent layer has nothing on it, not even color – the checkerboard background is a neat visual shorthand to let you know you’re working on an ‘empty’ layer.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

Transparent layers are incredibly useful when you want to edit or adjust specific elements – like an object or a background – and have it separated from the rest of the photo. The checkerboard background shows only what you’re able to edit so you’re not confused.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

See the checkerboard? You can now put anything there and it won’t affect the model. Slap in a color, a texture, or another photo and you’ll get…

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop with pink backdrop

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

…voila! You now have a pink backdrop, but you can change it to something else with just the click of a button.

Layers can do much more, too. For each layer you create with its own element, any special effect you add will only apply to that layer. I’ll explore layer effects – also known as blending modes – in the next section.

Layers also allow you to save specific elements for later and turn them into assets – these are photo parts you can repurpose for other projects. I love to save my assets in a separate folder to use for photo collages or photobashing purposes.

a photographer editing a video and photography in their studio

Source Image: Pixabay

5. Understand the Function of Different Blending Modes

Now that you know how to use layers and why they’re important, you now have access to blending modes. These special layer effects drastically broaden your artistic vocabulary.

Have you ever looked at a photo and wondered if you could make an area brighter or darker? How about making the colors look richer to match the rest of your portfolio’s style? Blending modes only require the click of a button to completely change your photo. 

To get an idea on how layers interact with each other, use the mental image of placing transparent sheets of colorful paper over each other. If you put a sheet of transparent red paper over a sheet of transparent blue paper, the color would be purple. Photoshop layers work much the same way.

While there are over a dozen different blending modes available to you, the ones I recommend you start out experimenting with are:

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop with pink backdrop using multiply

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

Multiply for Darkening or Burnishing

The Multiply layer in Photoshop is useful for darkening areas of your work. For this example, I used the same rosy shade of pink I used earlier – the Multiply layer automatically made everything a little more dim and subdued.

Multiply is helpful when you want to create a burnished, old-fashioned look to your work. It can also be useful for shading specific areas, such as darkening the background or surrounding elements around your subject.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop with pink backdrop with overlay

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

Overlay to Enrichen Color or Add a Glow

One of my absolute favorite layer effects in Photoshop is Overlay. This wonderful effect allows you to brighten up your photo, enrichen colors, or even create a lovely glow.

Overlay works by brightening up already light colors and darkening already darker colors, creating a bold contrast that breathes new life into dull photos. The exact effect depends on the colors you choose in your Overlay layer and whatever layer is beneath it. For example, if you want a bright glow, you’ll need to use a bright color for your Overlay layer on a photo that already has bright areas.

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop with pink backdrop with soft light

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

Soft Light to Make Everything Hazy

If Overlay saturates the colors a little too much for your liking, try the Soft Light mode. This blending mode will lightens up photos, but with a more subtle result.

Many smartphones have filters that use a Soft Light effect, a testament to its popularity.

When you want to learn how to apply these different effects or modes strategically, you need to learn how to select and mask. 

a screencap of a photo of a girl in a sweater during an editing session in photoshop with pink backdrop with photoshop mask

Source Image: Pixabay (with edit)

6. Practice With the Quick Selection and Quick Mask Tool 

Have you ever looked at a photo and thought it would be perfect if you removed one annoying little part? Whether it’s a speck of dust or the corner of a table jutting in, selection tools allow you to easily remove specific elements.

Much of photo editing involves removing or rearranging focal points, backgrounds, or minor details. The flickering outline in the above photo example is what the selection tool looks like, letting you know which part of the photo you can edit now. 

Selection tools are quite user-friendly, allowing you to do the following:

Move Specific Elements at Will

Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool lets you cover any area with just a few clicks, automatically creating a selection to let you move around desired elements. 

If you want a chair a little further to the right? Use the selection tool, CTRL+T, then shift it over with your mouse. Since this act will automatically expose the transparent layer beneath it, where you can manually fill in the area.

Resize Different Elements

If you want to make something larger or smaller, the Selection Tool will let you do just that. After selecting an element of the photo, click on one of the white squares in the corner and resize at will. 

Delete What You Don’t Want

The Quick Selection tool is also handy when you need to delete parts of your photo quickly. While you can use the manual eraser for this part, you can save a little time using this trick. 

The Quick Selection tool crosses over well with the Quick Mask tool. While masking tools also select an area, they have a different function – applying layer effects or drawing within the selected area. 

If Quick Selection was the peanut butter, Quick Mask would be the jelly. Both of these tools work incredibly well to do simple or complex edits with just a few clicks.

Draw or Fill Within a Selected Area

Do you want to draw or paint a specific part of your photo, but not constantly erase anything that falls outside the designated area? After applying a Quick Selection, simply hit the Q shortcut to apply a Quick Mask. 

Fill, draw, erase – everything you do will apply only within that area. Basically, this tool saves you time by preventing you from scribbling outside the lines. When you’re done, just hit Q again to cancel the mask selection.

Apply Specific Effects to a Certain Part of the Photo

Do you want to apply an Overlay layer to one part of the photo, but a Multiply layer to another part? Masking allows you to selectively apply effects so you can edit to the finest detail.

If this is all sounding a little complex, don’t worry. Selecting, masking, and layering all become second nature after a little practice. Once you get the rest of the basic toolset under your belt, you’ll wonder how you ever snapped photos without them!

Source Image: Pixabay

7. Become Comfortable With the Basic Toolset 

Photoshop may be a complex program, but you can edit quite a bit with the basic toolset. In fact, this toolset often mimics common art equipment such as brushes or spray paint. 

The following tools are indispensable to photographers regardless of skill level or niche:

Sharpen to Increase Detail

Are a few areas of your photo out of focus? The Sharpen tool is exactly what it says on the tin – sharpening up the detail by making the edges of any given subject more crisp.

Keep in mind the Sharpen tool is still no substitute for a well-lit and high-resolution photo. If you sharpen an area too much, you’ll accidentally create angular, pixelated edges. You can lower the Sharpen tool’s strength percentage to keep the effect subtle, not excessive.

Blur to Reduce Detail

If you have the opposite problem and want to reduce detail, use the Blur tool instead. Just like the Sharpen tool, you can change the strength percentage to adjust the final result.

Smudge to Create Effects or Move Elements Around

The Smudge tool can be a touch tricky to start with, yet it’s highly intuitive once you get the hang of it. Just like pushing around paint with your fingertip or a brush, the Smudge tool will smear around an area in your photo.

This tool can create fun effects like water ripples or wrinkles. You can also use it to very lightly push an element around in your photo without using the Quick Selection tool. 

Dodge and Burn to Highlight or Darken Areas

You’re now familiar with different layer effects to darken or brighten your photo, but how about applying these effects with a brush? The Dodge and Burn tool gives you a finer level of detail.

Dodge drastically brightens an area, while Burn will darken or create a burnished effect.

I’ve covered quite a few tools to let you adjust, move, or enhance certain areas. When you have an area you’re completely satisfied with and want to duplicate, you’ll need the Clone Stamp.

a woman checking a few spots of acne in the mirror

Source Image: Pixabay

8. Use the Clone Stamp to Copy Elements or Fix Mistakes 

What if you have a perfectly good photo and want to duplicate it, not edit it? Another fantastic basic tool for the beginner photo editor is the clone stamp tool. 

This handy feature allows photographers to easily do the following tasks:

Create New Assets to Use Later

Have you thought of making collages out of your photos? If you have elements you want to keep and reuse, the Clone Stamp can let you copy and paste different parts of your photo at will.

You can also create new assets through the Quick Selection tool by selecting, copying, and pasting onto a new layer. There are many methods of achieving the same result in Photoshop, so you’ll soon figure out what works best for you.

Fill Out a Space Without Redrawing

One of the most popular uses of the Clone Stamp is to fill in a blank space after moving an object. If you don’t feel comfortable filling in an area manually with a brush, you can just clone whatever is next to it and paste it in. 

Add Minor Touch Ups or Fix Small Errors Quickly

Have you ever taken a portrait you liked, only to do a double-take at a zit you didn’t notice before? The Clone Stamp tool makes it easy to add minor touch-ups quickly.

As per the example above, just select the skin next to the zit, then paste it over the offending bump. This tool lets you create seamless edits that only a very trained eye would be able to detect (and sometimes not even then).

a high contrast photo of a woman with long brown hair sitting down in a forest

Source Image: Pixabay

9. Tweak Contrast Using the Curves Tool

While the curves tool appears intimidating due to its graph-like appearance, it’s a simple way of adjusting contrast. Contrast is a term referring to the balance of light and dark elements in your photo.

Without good contrast, the human eye will have a hard time distinguishing between elements in your picture. If everything is too bright, your photo will look glaring and unpleasant. If everything is too dark, you won’t be able to make out much detail. 

If you want even simpler contrast tools, you can also use Auto Contrast to see what the program recommends for your photo. This tool is helpful for quick touch-ups, but it’s not always accurate to your vision, so use it wisely.

As you get comfortable tweaking contrast, you can also start adjusting color.

a woman tossing her hair back to fling her pink hair against a white background

Source Image: Pixabay

10. Embrace the Image Bar for Color Adjustments 

Strengthening your ability to understand color will help you take vibrant and visually balanced photos. Photoshop provides many tools for enhancing your color manually or providing quick fixes. 

The Adjustments in the Image Bar comes with handy tools such as:


This color correction feature lets you change the color of any element in your photo as well as the intensity. As you experiment with the sliders, Photoshop will simultaneously provide an image preview so you don’t have to go back and forth.

Color Balance

When you want a fine level of control, the Color Balance tool is your best bet. This tool allows you to adjust color across three vital categories – Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows.

With enough practice, you can learn how to color grade and create a visual signature for your portfolio.

Auto Color 

Similar to Auto Contrast, Auto Color will automatically adjust your photo’s color to be more legible. This means brightening muddy areas or adding a little extra saturation. 

Following on the heels of Auto Color is…

Auto Tone

While Auto Color looks at your color selection more broadly, Auto Tone gets more subtle by tweaking your highlights, midtones, and shadows. Basically, Auto Color is to the Hue/Saturation feature that Auto Tone is to the Color Balance feature – a quick way of touching up your photo.

Building up the muscle memory of enhancing photos on the fly comes with practice and a second (or third) opinion.

a woman with reddish hair sitting down with a laptop and studying with a video

Source Image: Pixabay

11. Study Photoshop Tutorials on a Video Platform 

While teaching yourself is part of becoming an artist, there’s no shame in asking for help. As the saying goes? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Beginner-friendly Photoshop tutorials are readily available on the following platforms, ready to answer common questions or give you inspiration for new projects.

YouTube Offers Free Access to Thousands of Photoshop Tutorials

You’re likely no stranger to the wealth of knowledge YouTube contains. Take a few minutes to type in a few Photoshop queries into the search engine and you’ll receive a deluge of tutorials.

An easy way to narrow down your search is by the result you’re aiming for. If you want to touch up portraits to look clean and sophisticated, type in ‘photoshop portrait help’ or ‘photoshop portrait touch ups’. 

Some great Photoshop-focused channels you can start with are:

SkillShare Provides Dedicated Study Resources

If you study better with a classroom-like structure, consider signing up for SkillShare. This online educational platform provides you access to professionals and hobbyists who create self-help videos or entire courses. 

Depending on whether you’re billed monthly or annually, you can pay between $8.25 per month or $15 per month.

You may be just starting out, but you’ll be amazed by how much you’re already able to do at the end of this guide.

a woman with long blonde hair and a white dress next to a white horse surrounded by shrubbery

Source Image: Pixabay

Conclusion: The Beginner Skillset Is Prime For Enhancing And Editing Photography

Getting your feet wet in Photoshop doesn’t have to be a painful and confusing process. When you get basic terminology and the starter toolset under your belt, you’ll already be able to achieve a plethora of beautiful results.

Understanding terminology such as RGB, CMYK, raster, and vector will already open your eyes on how to upload or print your work. Layers and blending modes allow you to divide and conquer your photo’s complexity to see your vision through to completion. Photoshop’s basic toolset is so versatile it’s still used by intermediate and advanced photo editors. 

At the end of the day, no video or guide will be a substitute for practice. Snap a few photos, then spend some time experimenting with the program. You’ll learn something new every time you open it up.

Need more beginner-focused photography guides, tips, and tutorials? Check out the following posts below: