Invaluable Beginner Photoshop Tools

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Invaluable Beginner Photoshop Tools

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Computer Station Using Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular programs for editing and manipulating images. This powerful photo-editing software has a wide range of features that allow you to modify any aspect of your photo, and create professional-looking results. With Adobe Photoshop, there are tons of hidden tools that are designed with the user in mind, so let’s look at some simple techniques you can use that add a tremendous improvement to your images.

Getting Your Photos To and From Photoshop Using Lightroom

Lightroom is usually easier and faster to use, but there are some effects you can only create in Photoshop; thankfully, maneuvering between the two applications is easy. In Lightroom, right click on an image, then Edit in > Edit in Photoshop. If you are merging multiple photos like in focus staking, use Ctrl/Cmd + click to select multiple photos > right click on one photo > Edit In > Open As Layers In Photoshop.

Once you are done, close out of the image in Photoshop and click yes when it prompts you to save. This will save a new file and automatically add it to Lightroom next to the original image. Photoshop is known for its destructive edits, but when you edit this way, Lightroom preserves the original image.

Use The Discover Feature To Find Tools

Photoshop discover tool is the magnifying glass on the top right-hand corner

The most intimidating thing about processing photos in Photoshop is the sheer volume of tools and variations of tools; the tool you need may be hidden several layers deep and impossible to find if you don’t know where to look. Even if I could find a helpful guide when I was learning, it was hard to follow along and find the right tools until I found the discover tool. This feature is essential in helping beginners quickly find and learn where all the tools are located.

If at any point during this tutorial you can’t find the tool mentioned, click the magnifying glass on the top right-hand corner and search for the name of the tool. Not only can you select the tool from the discover results, but if you hover over the search result, a blue highlight will appear where the tool is located and describe the path to get there.

Learn Photoshop Basics With the Built In Tutorial

If you’re like me, Photoshop was so daunting I didn’t even try for the longest time. But, Adobe Photoshop includes built-in tutorials that familiarize beginners with the basics of the software. The tutorial is interactive, and covers a range of topics, including selecting and editing photos, changing colors, working with layers, and more. You can find the tutorial by going to Help > Photoshop Tutorials.

How To Photoshop A Picture

Focus Stacking

Photoshop focus stacking before example example show more of the image out of focus
Focus stacking after example shows more of the image in focus

When you’re taking close-up photos, it can be difficult to get a clear image with good focus throughout the subject. This is because the depth of field is tiny when you’re shooting close-up, so only a small part of the photo will be in focus. One way to overcome this is to use the focus stacking feature in Adobe Photoshop. This feature lets you combine multiple photos taken at different focal points, and merge them into a single photo that uses the focal points of each image to artificially create a greater depth of field.

  1. When shooting, take 3-5 photos at different focal points
  2. Select all layers
  3. Edit > Auto Align Layers and select auto in the new window
  4. Edit > Auto Blend Layers and select stack images
  5. Check seamless tones and colors
  6. Content Aware Fill sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. So check the box and if it doesn’t work, try it again without the content aware fill


One of the most important things you can do when editing photos is to sharpen them, which brings out the details in your photo, and it can also help to make your photo look more professional. There are a few different ways to sharpen photos in Adobe Photoshop:

The Unsharp Mask Tool

The Unsharp Mask tool is one of the most popular ways to sharpen photos in Photoshop. It’s simple to use, and it gives you a lot of control over how your photo is sharpened. To use it, select Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. This will open the Unsharp Mask dialog box, adjust the settings until you are satisfied with the sharpening.

The Smart Sharpen Filter

The Smart Sharpen filter is another popular way to sharpen photos in Photoshop. It’s a bit more complex than the Unsharp Mask tool, but it gives you more options for how your photo is sharpened. To use it, select Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. This will open the Smart Sharpen dialog box.

The High-Pass Filter

The High-Pass filter is a third way to sharpen photos in Photoshop. It’s not as popular as the Unsharp Mask tool or the Smart Sharpen filter and requires a few extra steps, but sometimes produces better results. To use it:

  1. Select Filter > Other > High Pass. This will open the High-Pass Filter dialog box
  2. Set the radius to something between 3 and 5 and click ok.
  3. On the new layer, select > image > adjustments > hue/saturation
  4. Set the saturation to -100 and click ok
  5. In the layers panel, select the drop down menu to the left of opacity and select overlay
  6. Set the opacity to 70% or to your liking

Remove Objects

Remove object before example shows objects that are removed using photoshop
Remove object example shows how Photoshop creates a seamless removal of objects

Adobe Photoshop includes a feature called Content-Aware Fill that can remove unwanted objects from photos. This feature uses artificial intelligence to analyze the surrounding area to fill in the space where the object was removed. This feature is simple to use, and it gives you a lot of control over how the object is removed.

  1. Use an object selection tool. I prefer the Polygon Lasso tool, so I can trace around the edges of the object, but you can use any of the object selection or lasso tools.
  2. Click Edit > Content Aware Fill
  3. This will bring up a new window. The green represents the area it is trying to replicate to remove the unwanted object.
  4. Auto usually does a pretty good job, if not use custom.
  5. Use the brush tool to add or remove from reference areas (the area highlighted in green) around the object until it creates a clean removal.
  6. Click ok
  7. Repeat for each unwanted object. If you selected a new layer as the output settings in the previous object removals, then be sure to switch back to the original layer before completing another object removal.

Sky replacement

Sky replacement before example shows landscape photography with a uninteresting sky
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park after using sky replacement tool in photoshop to create a more interesting sky

Sky replacement is a feature that lets you replace the sky in a photo with another sky. You can use the stock images in Photoshop or import your own. This can also be a great way to use HDR bracket exposure and merge the properly exposed sky with the properly exposed subject.

  1. Edit>Sky Replacement
  2. Select a sky from the drop sky drop down menu. Click the + button at the bottom of the menu to add your own.
  3. Use the temperature setting to match the color of your image or use the match color feature.

How To Create A Lens flare

Lens flares are caused by light reflecting off of the surfaces of the lens elements in a camera. It used to be considered bad to have a lens flare, but these days they are more wildly accepted as a creative touch that adds visual interest to a photo.

The Lens Flare filter allows you to create the effect during post processing. To use it:

  1. Click the + icon in the layers panel to create a new layer
  2. Edit > Fill > Black
  3. Select Filter > Render > Lens Flare. This will open the Lens Flare dialog box.
  4. Place the flare where you want it. If you have trouble placing the lens flare, crate the flare on the original image and then undo your work.  It will save your options from before so you can create the lens flare on the new layer without having to guess the correct location.
  5. Choose the lens type and brightness, then click ok
  6. Select the drop down menu to the left of opacity in the layers panel, and choose screen.
  7. Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and adjust the hue to match the original image

How to Photoshop a Picture Into Another Picture

Crescent Moon used as one layer of a photo composite
Image 1 - Before
Tree Silhouette in the used a second layer in a composite
Image 2 - Before
Oversized moon rising over the sunset and trees created by combining multiple photos in photoshop
Combined Image - After

Combining multiple photos into one is called a composite. Focus staking and HDR images are a type of composite, but they may also combine parts of multiple images that couldn’t be captured in a single image. Cameras aren’t always capable of capturing a scene as our eyes see it and composites are a way to help photographer recreate a scene as they saw it. A good example of this may be astrophotography, where you capture the night sky and landscape in separate images and combine them in Photoshop to recreate the scene you saw with your eyes.

You can get really creative with composites and the more creative you get, the more complicated they will get. I suggest starting with something simple and build off the basics.

Combining objects from a similar scene

In this example, the moon was not showing up in the pictures the way I had seen it in person, so I took a picture of the moon individually, intending to combine the images later.

  1. Open images as layers in Photoshop
  2. Optional: select one of the images, then select Image > Adjustments > Match Color
  3. Use the object selection tool to select the object from the second image
  4. Double click on the object to select it, the Ctrl/Cmd + C to copy it
  5. Hit Ctrl/Cmd + V to paste it into a new layer
  6. Use the move tool to move and adjust the size of the new object
  7. If you want to get a little more technical and creative, use the transform options in edit menu

Combining the Same Scene at Multiple Exposures

  1. When shooting, use bracket exposure to take pictures at different exposures
  2. Open images as layers in Photoshop
  3. Select all the layers > Edit Auto Align Layers
  4. Use the eraser tool to remove the unwanted part from the top layer

Panning Motion Blur

Panning motion blur before example shows the background still in focus
Panning motion blur after example shows a horizontal blur after using motion blur in photoshop

Panning is an interesting creative technique where the photographer uses a slow shutter speed while following a moving subject. If the done correctly, the subject will be in focus and the background will have a horizontal motion blur. It is a difficult technique to master in camera, but Photoshop has made it easy to create the effect in post processing.

  1. Use the object selection tool to auto select the subject
  2. Copy the selected object then click on the layers panel and hit Ctlr/Cmd + P to paste the object into a new layer
  3. Use the Content Aware Fill to remove the object from the original layer
  4. Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. This will open the Motion Blur dialog box. Set the Angle to 0 and the Distance to your desired taste, then click ok.

Photoshop is a powerful tool for photographers, but it can be intimidating to learn how to use. In this blog post, we’ve outlined some basic tips that should help you get started with Photoshop and improve your photos. We hope you have fun trying out these techniques and getting better results from your photography!

Author Bio

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Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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