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3 Really Important Things You Should Know About Editing Photos in Adobe Photoshop

3 Really Important Things You Should Know About Editing Photos in Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is the world’s most popular (and arguably) the most powerful image editing software out there. There is a good reason it’s the industry standard. When it comes to editing images it can do just about anything your imagination can come up with.

With great power comes great responsibility, and having said that, I would like to impart 3 important things that you need to remember if you want to get the most out of Adobe Photoshop, and it’s image editing capabilities.

1. Don’t Work Destructively

There are basically two ways you can edit a layer in Photoshop, statically, or dynamically.

Static edits are immediate and essentially irreversible or destructive changes to pixel based layers. Dynamic edits are safe, and widely adjustable changes that do not damage the pixels of any given layer.

Does dynamic sound like the better way of working? Well you are right, it is (at least I think so). Why do so many people (including professionals) use static edits so often? The real answer is I don’t know, but I guess it has either to do with lack of knowledge of this capability or laziness in their workflow.

Granted, dynamic edits require a tiny bit more time to set up.  I can honestly tell you the extra few seconds that it takes, is well worth the peace of mind of being able to go back and make changes without worrying about damaging pixels, losing information or having to rebuild something from scratch. Not to mention if you are working with other people, handing off a PSD (Layered Photoshop Document) with dynamic edits in place, will make their life easier too.

I plan on going into greater detail about this process in a series of screencasts, but here is a quick list of things you should be doing to start working “dynamically” within Adobe Photoshop.

Always use adjustment layers (example, levels, curves, Hue/Saturation) when possible - avoid making “adjustments” directly to any layer.

Use layer masks to erase areas of a layer (as one example) rather than using the eraser tool directly on a layer

Create shapes using the shape tool (these are vector objects and infinitely scalable so long as you do not rasterize them). Avoid using the marquee tool and fills to create shapes, as these are raster or pixel based and may not scale gracefully.

Use Smart Objects whenever you need to experiment with multiple changes (rotating or scaling for example) - additionally applying smart filters will give you amazing flexibility in editing these layers (this is more advance technique but is truly powerful). If you don’t know much about smart objects I highly recommend you do some research on the subject, using them will serve you well in the future.

2. Work From the Best Source Possible

This is one of the biggest culprits of poor images. If you are scanning an image in or taking photos with your digital camera, always use the best highest quality settings possible. For example, if you are taking photos with your camera you should always be shooting in “raw” format.

Yes, it takes more room on the memory card, but it affords you the greatest flexibility for editing and making adjustments to your photo. A raw image is your camera’s uncompressed, and unprocessed image file, and it’s loaded with way more information than the typical JPEG. Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Bridge ship with an amazing plugin called Camera Raw which gives you an unbelievable range of control over your raw images -  think of it as a digital darkroom. As a bonus, all changes in Camera Raw are non-destructive, which is very good. If you can’t shoot in Raw format (your camera does not allow it, for example) for whatever reason always use the highest quality setting possible.

3. Size Does Matter

It is far beyond the scope of this article to talk about image resolution and the finer points of up-sampling (increasing an image’s size) or downsampling (decreasing the size). Suffice it to say that in most cases unless you absolutely have to… don’t resize your image. When you increase or decrease the image dimensions of a pixel based image (like a photo for example) you make photoshop rewrite the pixels, and guess (interpolation) at what those pixels need to look like. Essentially it has to create pixels where there were none before.

Cropping an image is a bit different and is generally okay as it affects only the canvas size and not the image size (yes there is a subtle but important difference in that terminology). Be careful though, unless you tell Photoshop not to, your cropping will delete all the pixels you crop away from pixel based layer/image, and that’s destructive. TIP: with the crop tool selected make sure the “Delete cropped pixels” checkbox is unchecked (you will find this in the top contextual toolbar).


Adobe Photoshop is a very powerful piece of software and is often intimidating to beginners, but once you learn some basic things about how filters, adjustments, and changing the sizes of pixel based images and layers work, you will be able to get so much more out of it, as well as have far better looking end products.

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