Learning Photoshop


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For more than a year, Photoshop was the bane of my photographic world. I wanted to learn it, but each time I tried, I came away feeling frazzled, inept, and not too bright. I just wanted to master the basics. Perhaps I could learn to remove small distractions from an image or brighten a dark spot. For example, I took a picture of a couple with their dog, and an upturned chair in the background made it appear as if the dog had horns.

Picture before PhotoshopPicture before Photoshop
Many of my friends could use this program, so I began with optimism. First, I took a class. The instructor cheerfully zipped though his list of topics, while I watched, listened, took notes, and tried to follow the steps on my laptop. That didn’t work, though, because while I took notes, I missed details, and while I was trying to find a tool or command, he was often moving on the next topic. I finished the class but recognized that I needed to find another way to learn the program.

Next, I tried following a tutorial on a DVD. This was somewhat better, because I could always pause the DVD and review the instruction. However, this was also frustrating for several reasons. One, I was still watching, listening, taking notes, and trying to execute the steps. But now the instructor was rattling off both PC and Mac shortcuts as he taught. Hearing this avalanche of words sometimes made it hard to catch the ones I wanted. In addition, I was now also wrestling with the tutorial itself–pausing it, backing up, and repeating a sequence several times to catch a particular series of steps.

I was not having fun.

Luckily, I am stubborn, so I tried again. The third time is the charm, they say, and this proved to be true. I bought a book from Adobe called “Classroom in a Book.” All the instruction was provided in the text, which meant that I did not need to take notes. Because I was reading, I could pause at any time without fear that the instruction would proceed without me. Furthermore, the text was exceptionally clear, and the images, provided on a CD, included two versions, one showing the end result of the instruction and one showing the photo before any work had been done.

I had found my path into Photoshop. Within a few hours, I could do most of the tasks that I wanted to learn. I could even remove the distracting chair legs from the photo of my friends. I am still making my way through the book, and I am enjoying every minute of it.

Picture After PhotoshopNow, I am a bookish person, so the lessons in a book suited me. They might not suit you. The reason I described my early failures is to point out that one person’s learning style is not another’s. Some people listen well. I don’t. Some people want to jump right in and start messing with a program. I don’t. Some people really want the human contact as they learn. I don’t. What I wanted was a nice clear book, but I just didn’t realize it at first.

So this article is really meant as a brief pep talk to anyone who has even been discouraged while trying to learn Photoshop or any other complex program. Do not give up. Realize that there are many paths to learning; one person’s direct route may not be yours. Today, you can learn techniques by taking a class, by watching a DVD, by reading magazine articles and books, by renting videos, or by having a friend show you. The trick is to find the method that suits your style. Once you have found it, you will not only learn but you will also enjoy the process.

Elizabeth West

I'm a person who loves both words and images. A writer by profession, I'm a passionate photographer in my free time. I do not see the arts as a competitive activity, since no two people would ever create the same work even if they had the same subject. I welcome comments and suggestions from all.
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