Basics of Photoshop

The Photoshop Workspace

photoshop workspace
The Photoshop workspace. The toolbar is on the far left and the option menu is on the far right.

This is the Photoshop workspace. On the far left is the toolbar and on the far right is the options menu for formatting the objects you create with tools.

This tutorial will mostly cover image optimization (for print) and basic photograph manipulation like cropping and color correcting. Many of the more advanced tools Photoshop provides usually won't be used in layout design.

That said, most of the tools outside of the toolbar that will be covered in this tutorial are under the Image menu at the top of the screen.

Image Size

In print design, images should be of as high a resolution as possible. To check this, go to Image > Image Size. This will open a dialog window.

image size
The Image Size dialog box.

For magazine-quality printing, the resolution should be no less than 300 ppi (pixels per inch.) Screen resolution is 72 ppi, so even high-resolution images from the web must often be resized for magazine printing.

To change the resolution, input the desired ppi. Then uncheck and recheck the "Resample Image" option at the bottom of the dialog box. This will recalculate the document size according to the new resolution.

image size 2
The new document dimensions after resampling.

The new document dimensions are the maximum printing size at which the photograph will maintain its quality. Because of these constraints, it is important to have as large an original image as possible.

Basic Tools


Image cropping is the most basic of Photoshop manipulations. It effectively deletes a part of the image -- the canvas size actually decreases after cropping.

An image with a crop overlay. The tool selected is the crop tool.

To crop an image, select the crop tool from the toolbar. Click and drag to select the portion of the image you want to keep. Dragging the grid overlay and adjusting its size allows you to fine-tune your crop.

Click the checkmark at the top of the screen to perform the crop. Click Cmd + Z on a Mac or Ctrl + Z on a PC to undo and try again.

The crop tool can also be used to straighten a crooked photograph. Put your mouse outside of the overlay and click and drag to rotate the overlay. Once cropped, the image will straighten.

Burning and Dodging

burning and dodging
An example of very strong burning and dodging, before and after.
The tool selected is the dodge tool.

Burning and dodging are tools that were inspired by old-school darkroom photography. In the darkroom, to "burn in" and image was to make certain parts darker, and to "dodge" was to make parts lighter.

The icons for burning and dodging in Photoshop are inspired by their real-life counterparts -- a hand exposing part of a print for burning, and a circle on a stick (a "dodge tool") for dodging.

Burning is darkening selected parts of an image. To do so, select the burn tool from the tool bar. Select the percent exposure (basically, the strength) of the burn at the top of the window. Adjust the brush size using the left and right bracket keys ("[" and "]"), and fire away.

Dodging is essentially the same, except dodging lightens while burning darkens. Right click the burn tool in the toolbar to select the dodge tool.

Burn and dodge are go-to tools for photographers. Using both burning and dodging subtlely can increase the contrast in a photograph and make it more vivid. Be careful not to unintentionally overuse them, however.

Some common uses of the burn and dodge tools:

Photo Manipulation


The Levels dialog box.

Levels quantify the brightness and darkness in a photograph. The brightness and darkness are displayed on a graph (from dark to light.)

If a photograph's level graph shows high bars towards the left, the image is mostly dark. If it shows high bars towards the right, it is mostly bright.

If a photographs levels seem to come off of the end of the graph, there is a loss of detail in that spectrum of brightness known as "clipping." Clipping might be desirable for a very dark scene with a small bright portion or vice versa, but should generally be avoided.

Adjusting levels requires dragging the white and black points at the ends of the spectrum. Once whites and blacks are adjusted, the gray point can be moved to adjust midtones.

Color Balance

color balance
The Color Balance dialog box.

Color balance can be found under Image > Adjustments > Color Balance. It is used to color correct photographs that have an inaccurate tint to them.

Essentially, color balance is used to correct a miscalculation in the white balance setting in the camera or to correct the color cast of a film scan.

Click and drag the sliders to control the amount of tint in the photograph.

Black and White

black and white
The Black and White dialog box. The preset drop down is at the top.

To convert a photograph to black and white, go to Images > Adjustments > Black and White.

A common mistake: do NOT, as many people often do, change the mode to grayscale. This creates a loss in contrast and detail. Using the Black and White dialog box allows for a more precise and tonally-correct conversion to a black and white photograph.

There are plenty of useful presets in the Black and White dialog box that can often calculate the best percentages for you, but if all else fails, use the sliders to tweak the brightness of the colors listed.

Auto will convert the photograph to black and white automatically, as Photoshop sees fit. It's not a horrible option either.

The Bottom Line:

In magazine design, most projects will be done almost entirely in InDesign. Image optimization and any sort of illustration may be done in a different Adobe program, but the bulk of the work will be completed using InDesign.

Next: The Basics of InDesign