The 8 Basic Things Every Photographer Should Know How to do in Photoshop


Despite the name, Photoshop was created more for graphic designers, not photographers, but photographers looking to airbrush their digital files quickly adopted it as their go-to piece of software.  By the time v7 came out, specific tools, plugins and actions were being created for photographers and Photoshop could handle the RAW, or unprocessed files from digital cameras.

Anyone who's opened up Photoshop knows it's not exactly a straight forward application – it does take some knowledge to be proficient in it and productive.  All that aside, here's a few tips that all photographers should know how to do in Photoshop.

Properly prepare images to display on the web. Showing off your work is half the fun of shooting and the Internet is a great way to let millions see it.  Properly preparing the images to load fast and show the optimal quality is something most photographers never bothered to learn though.  After all edits are done and you've saved the edited version (not over-written the unedited version), change the DPI to 72 and the long side of the image to nothing over 1000 pixels.  Then select File > Save for Web & Devices… that will bring up an applet window.  Select JPG, tick the Progressive box, and then tick the 2-up tab, which shows the original on the left and optimized on the right.  Adjust the quality on the slider scale to somewhere between 60-80.

Your goal is to get the file size to be 100kb or under with no loss in quality.  Doing so will ensure the photos will load fast on your website and reduce bandwidth, but they will also attach to emails faster and lessen the chances that someone can print an acceptable quality piece from your image.  I use 700 pixels on the long side because that's what fits in my website and most color images are between 55 and 100kb.

Crop to specific size. Most all DSLR cameras shoot in the 2:3's standard, same as 35mm film cameras, however some follow the 4:3rds standards.  Not a big deal until you need to make prints.  Making an 8×10 from any Canon or Nikon DSLR mean losing 2″ of the image, or 20%.  If your lab doesn't make 8×12's (the proper proportion for a 2:3rds camera) you are far better off preparing the image instead of them choosing what gets cut off.  Same principal applies if you are simply cropping out unwanted content from the photo.  Select the crop tool and then in the top menu set your height and width in inches if you're making prints.  Leave the DPI box empty.  When you draw a box around your image it will stay at the proper proportion.

Create an adjustment layer. One of the most common mistakes new Photoshop users make is adjusting the original.  Creating an adjustment layer makes going back to the original or comparing the changes made painless.  A simple right click in the layers panel can create the adjustment layer for you.

Remove red-eye. Starting with CS2 of Photoshop they included a red-eye tool and it's only become better with newer versions.  Choose the tool from the tools panel and either click the affected eye or draw a small box around the red section and watch the red instantly disappear.

Remove skin blemishes. There are easily a dozen different ways to remove skin blemishes and zits, but the healing brush is one of the fastest and most effective.  There are two versions, spot healing and healing.  Spot healing requires you to simply click and drag over the affected area and it uses surrounding pixels to define and clone the area.  The spot healing tool isn't foolproof though and often gets confused towards the edge of an image or around the hair line.  If you get undesirable results, use the healing tool, which requires you to select the area you want to clone.

Note that the clone tool itself is a totally different tool which does 100% exact cloning from one point to another point on a photo, the healing brushes blend and usually have a much more natural look.

Sharpen an image. No matter if you are a RAW shooter or JPG shooter, almost all digital files will benefit from some amount of sharpening.  One of the easiest ways is to utilize the Unsharp Mask tool from the filters (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask).  There are three sliders that give you control and explaining how they work and why is a whole article on it's own, however there is a pretty good baseline I've been using for years.

  • Amount: 500%
  • Radius: 0.2
  • Threshold: 0

There are also some great plugins and actions like the Nik Smarter Sharpner and the OnOne suite of tools for Photoshop that take some of the guess work out of sharpening.

Create an action. Sure, there are thousands of ready made actions, free and premium paid ones, but creating your own can help boost your post processing power measurably.  An action is simply a set of commands in Photoshop that you have recorded to do repetitive tasks.  Creating them is as simple as clicking the record button and then the stop button when you're done.

One of the biggest time savers for me is a simple action that does a File > Save, which may seem like a pretty basic task, but when I open up 10-20 images to do blemish removal on, I don't want to be bothered to go to File > Save for each and every one.  Actions can be run two different ways, one by one utilizing the Play button on the actions pallet or in a batch, which is how I run the File > Save command.  Running a batch will allow you to run the same action on every file you have open in Photoshop or by selecting a source directory and a destination directory, helpful so you don't over-write your originals.  To run an action in Batch mode, click File > Automate > Batch and select the action you want to run and the parameters needed.

Learn to love shortcuts! Being efficient in Photoshop means keeping your hands moving at all times.  The mouse, or track pad for laptop users can be the biggest time waster when post processing.  Everyone uses shortcuts differently so it's tough to say which are the best for any one person, so take a look at what you commonly do and in the menu system is the shortcut for you.  To become a Photoshop keyboard shortcut ninja, download Trevor Morris's Keyboard Shortcuts, available for every version of Photoshop back to v5 and Bridge.

old typewriter keys

Photo by misocrazy

Photoshop, like your camera and other gear is a tool at the end of the day, a tool which has many uses.  Becoming efficient with Photoshop means spending less time in front of a computer and more time shooting!

Note: All screen shots are taken showing Photoshop CS4 on Windows, depending on your operating system and version of Photoshop your menus may vary in appearance slightly.

About Author

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

While I agree that Creating Actions is something every photographer should learn in Photoshop, I’m hesitant to call that “basic”.

I remember back in 2003 how long it took me to learn how to create actions and I’d been using Photoshop for a couple years by then.

The value of learning how to create your most often used actions and adjust them as needed saves a photographer a tremendous amount of time and energy that could be used elsewhere…like behind the camera! Essential…yes. Easy…that would depend.

Not bad, but setting DPI to 72 is irrelevant to web-display. The only thing that matters is actual pixel dimensions.

1000px at 72 DPI will display the same as 1000px at 300 DPI on the web. The file size will also be the same.

Good tips but I’ve never heard I’d anyone using sharpening at 500 but I will happily reserve judgement until I’ve given these settings a try.

I currently use 100, 1.5 and 2-5 respectively

I believe sharpening should be subtle and essentially invisible to the viewer.

I’m glad to say I agree with everything else! 🙂


Yes, it’s PPI, not DPI and as Jim Poor mentioned, that number is irrelevant. Also back when I used PS for web JPGs, that USM setting was my favorite. I sampled various settings on copy layers until I came up with that combination too. I’d tell people and they thought I was crazy, until they tried it. After that I used Pixel Genius/PhotoKit Sharpener. Now I use Lightroom 3 and I’ve improved my workflow greatly.

You’d think you know it all until you read this article. No matter how much you know, it’s very helpful to go over the helpful tips and put a checkmark on each of them. I need to work on Photoshop actions…

Thank you for sharing!

That level of sharpening will look terrrible in print. And a zero threshold will sharpen any noise ir grain present too – generally not a good plan. I’m also not sure Photoshop was created for graphic designers. It’s always been a photo editing tool, accompanied by Freehand and Pagemaker, then Quark, now Illustrator and InDesign.
And isn’t command-s a pretty good built in shortcut for save?

I agree with all of these except the red eye tool. It might just be me though, but it NEVER works right for me. It takes all the color out, and makes the eye look terrible.

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