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Photoshop | The importance of learning Photoshop best practices

If you are interested in this topic, take a look at our University of Cape Town (CFMS) Photoshop course.

Adobe Photoshop requires no real introduction. You may never have used the program, but you’ve certainly heard of it and you know what it can do.

However, many people don’t realise that there’s far more to it than smoothing out the wrinkles of Cosmo’s cover girl. While Photoshop is useful as an editing tool for the modelling industry, it has also proved a fundamental weapon in the arsenal of marketers, advertisers, graphic designers, photographers, newspaper and magazine editors, animators and live-action filmmakers, publishers, web designers, events planners, educators, and many others besides.

Whether or not your profession is listed above, learning the best practices of Photoshop can only help you in today’s world. Here are some basics to get you started.


Selecting is one of the most basic and fundamental tools available to you. Knowing the different ways to make selections, and what to do with them once made is crucial to using this program effectively.

There are many different selecting tools. The Lasso tools allow you to place “anchors” around the section of the image you are trying to select; the Magic Wand tool selects areas based on colour, so that you might select all the yellow areas of an image; while the Quick Mask Mode allows you to “paint” over the area you want to select, allowing for a more precise selection. Quick Mask Mode also lets you apply effects in different measure. If you paint with white, no effect will be seen; with grey, the effect will be applied translucently; and with black, the effect will be absolute.

Learning how to correctly use the selecting tools should be the first thing you do on approaching Photoshop, as they will always be useful, no matter what you are using Photoshop for, and if inexpertly employed, you will end up with some shoddy images.

Layering allows you to stack different images on top of each other so that they form one single image. On top of this, you can edit and manipulate each layer separately, so the edits you make apply only to that layer, rather than the whole image, which means that you can apply various different effects to create an exciting collage, or manipulate the layers so that the final image can pass as a single capture.

Layer masks
Once you’ve mastered layering, you can move onto layer masks, which are a very useful tool to get to grips with. If you want to combine images, it is layer masks that will ensure the final product is seamless. That is, if you know how to use them correctly. With layer masks, you can make part of one layer appear to actually belong to the background layer.

If you are in film or animation production, a professional photographer or a designer, learning to use layers and layer masks will be vital to producing worthy images, and is the best way to put out a professional product.

The last thing you want is to get caught out for an inelegant Photoshop attempt. There are whole sites dedicated to Photoshop mistakes. Don’t join the ranks of the clumsy Photoshoppers. Good Photoshop skills can be a real asset to you in your career, so learn how to do it right.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license. 

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