Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Photoshop - it's a love hate relationship!

Photoshop - 10 Photoshop tools I love and 10 things I despise! 

As far as photo editing and digital painting goes Photoshop is the digital Swiss army knife, the work horse of pixel pushing, the digital ninja of the creative world! Without Photoshop, I dare say my life would definitely have taken a very different path! As a matte painter and concept artist, I use Photoshop every day in my work to bring my ideas to life. Needless to say though, when you spend so much time with one thing, you develop quite a relationship!

A quick disclaimer; some of the points outlined below may not reflect current features at the time of reading this given Photoshop is changing every year. And in some cases, I just might not be aware of existing features; if you see something below that you feel isn't correct, feel free to let me know!! and I would love to hear your own Photoshop favorites, wishlists and villains! Comment below!

 10 awesome Photoshop tools and features! 

  1. Blend if

    This one is hidden away and not one that everyone is immediately familiar with. However since discovering this myself I now find myself using this tool at least once every 15 minutes while using Photoshop, especially to  create nice textural effects. The effect allows you to reveal or hide areas of a layer based on the light or dark areas using a slider that controls the threshold. You can fine tune this by holding down ALT and splitting the markers, allowing you to create a range. All sounds pretty complex, but is simple in practice. This can be found by right clicking on a layer in the layer panel and selecting Blending Options. Inside the blending options locate Blend if at the bottom, center. Next experiment with the sliders, noting the results in the document. As noted above, hold down ALT to break the slider handles.
  2. Match color

    If this little bad boy had a ninja name, it would be The Chameleon! For the longest time I never used the Match color tool (image > adjustment), in part due to many failed attempts at using it in the past and feeling it was a cheat that could never really provide acceptable results. However that changed when a friend and mentor alerted me to a very simple, and obvious point that until then never occurred to me; with the target layer selected, control click the thumbnail inside the layer to select the active pixels, then switch to the reference layer that you wish to color match too and right-click, and Cut this to a new layer; rename it to something like; "reference color layer" open up the Match color tool and select the referencing document and the referencing layer, which in the example above was, "reference color layer", then click ok to confirm. 95% of the times the target layer will match the reference layer quite accurately. The point that I quite realised previously was to ensure both the target layer and the referencing layer shared the same pixel area in the document. Previously I was taking small crops and trying to match them to another layer that was completely different shape and in different position, and subsequently achieving very undesired results.
  3. Auto backup

    Winner of my sweetest new feature badge! imagine my delight one day at work when after a few hours of painting, and forgetting to save (bad me) Photoshop decides to nuke itself! You know the feeling right? like your soul just leaked all over the floor into a depressing puddle of pitty! but wait, wait! behold, Photoshop reveals a new special power, unknown to me at the time; CS6 came with auto backup! Yay! So this is always a good tool to ensure it turned on in preferences.
  4. Reset settings

    A handy little feature that often slips by people. If, when you have a box open with various settings, you can hold down alt to reveal a secret reset button, that temporerilly replaces the cancel button! Great for those times when you make a bunch of adjustments and you need to reset the settings, but don't want to close and reopen the box. For example; open the image size box, change a few settings, then hold down Alt and see the little guy reveal himself where the cancel button is located! Nice touch Adobe!
  5. New Window (document instancing!)

    This is a great little feature that creates an instance of the document you're currently working on. As you paint in one, it updates in the other. This is useful for many different reasons by where you need to view your document from a different perspective. For example, if you're using two monitors, one might not accurately reproduce the colors of the final output, where you might have a second monitor that does. In this example you can have the images visible on both devices. Another example might be that you wish to view your document at a different scale, for example when painting a landscape, its a good idea to be able to see the image at a thumbnail scale to ensure the composition and values are working correctly.

    To access this feature, go to; Window - Arrange - New Window for *document name*
  6. Copy and Paste from Web

    Another simple trick that often goes unnoticed is the ability to right-click, and copy an image from a web browser, and paste directly into a Photoshop document. Or once, you've copied the image, simply open a new document in Photoshop, and you will notice the image size is set to the size of the image you're copying.

  7. Using Channels to make a selection when all else fails.

    Channels are extremely useful in many different ways, especially when it comes to isolating a an object that is otherwise not so easy with the Lasso and Marquee tools. I find this method very useful for selecting clouds and trees. Using such an image, go into the channels and find the channel that presents the most contrast, usually the blue channel. Right click on the channel and Duplicate. Then select the new duplicated channel below. Using the curves or levels tool you can increase the contrast to create a black and white representation of the object you're trying to select. Once you're duplicate channel is looking good, simply Ctrl click the channel to make the selection, then click the RGB at the top of the channel stack, then go to the layers panel and make a mask from the layer you're trying to select from. The mask is the third icon from the left at the bottom of the layer panel. This will produce a mask based on the selection you made. You may need to invert the mask. If so, simply select the new mask in the layer panel, ensuring you single click the mask itself, then go to Image - Adjustments - Invert.
  8. Tab and Screen modes

    The tab key is great for hiding all the panels when you need to see more of the document area. Just hit tab to hide, and tab again to reveal. In combination with that you can also hit the F key. Hitting F will cycle through the different screen modes. One of them will make the document fill the screen area. Hitting F will continue to cycle through the different screen modes. Three in total.
  9. Right click on the document border option

    If you right click on the title area of the document border (top of the document) you will reveal a few handy options. I always go here for the Image size and Duplicate document options. I do wish there was an option to customize this menu. Its a nice location for a custom menu.
  10. Automate!

    Save the best until last! Automate, which can be found in File - Automate, has some really great time saving options. I find myself using Photo Merge and Contact Sheet all the time. There's also the Batch Automate tool that can play through a series of repetitive tasks; for example try color correcting and resizing 100 photos by hand, with Batch, you record it once with actions, and then just go into the Batch options, select a folder, select the action you recorded, hit play and sit back and let Photoshop do all the work! Awesome!
10 things I despise about Photoshop

Sorry Photoshop, I love you dearly, but you are not without flaws! Though truth be told, I could only come up with six flaws!

  1. Curve box limitation!

    I can't resize the curves box! I really like to get in there and tweak those curves!
  2. Thou shall not sample colors from beneath!

    I can't take color samples from layers beneath the top most layer. Ok, this is a BIG one!! I frequently have a need to A) have a bunch of adjustment layers at the top of the layer stack and B) have a need to frequently color pick and paint beneath those adjustment layers. The clone brush tool has an option to clone current and below the layer, I wish there was an option to do this with the color picker too! To be able to select from the current and below layer only.
  3. Value picker doesn't appear with curve adjustment layer

    When using the curves found in Image - Adjustments, you can hover your cursor over the document and a picker will appear that lets you select a value, this in turn is reflected in the curve box, by showing a small circle on the curve line itself. Now try and do this with an layer adjustment curve! This option isn't available.
  4. No shortcut for rotating the brush. 

    When painting, i frequently have a need to rotate the angle of the brush to a specific angle. A number of painting programs have the ability to rotate by holding down a key such as R, allowing the brush to be rotated to the desired angle. Photoshop however, requires you to go to the Brush editor panel and rotate the brush there.
  5. Color Mixing palette

    I know some people out there will point out Painter as an option, but it would be nice if Photoshop had a panel where you could mix colors, in the same way you can with traditional painting. Painter has one! Come on Photoshop!
  6. Tool options bar goes beneath documents.

    There's many times when you have multiple documents open, that they conceal the Tool options bar, at the top of the Photoshop interface. It would be nice if the documents went underneath this.

10 features I wish Photoshop had!

  1. Pin to top of stack

    The ability to draw on one document, and pin another document over the top without it switching beneath in z order. The clear example here, would be to allow you to have reference images above the active working document.

  2. Mesh sub divisions

    The ability to sub divide the Warp Transform tool. Mari has a great mesh tool that serves as an excellent example of how this should work. Basically I want the options to increase and decrease the mesh subdivisions. It would also be sweet if you could preserve the changes made at different divisions, in a similar way to how zbrush works with mesh subdivisons.

  3. More rebust cell animation tools

    It would be great to expand upon the existing tineline features in Photoshop to create a workspace for traditional style animation. There's a few plugins available for Photoshop that do just this, but would be nice to have this as a native feature in Photoshop. For example more advance onion skinning features and easier manageability of frames etc

  4. Node based

    I feel there's definitely many workflows that involve Photoshop that could benefit from having a node based editing system. Especially with Illustrator, Indesign and After Effects.

  5. Custom Menu

    I would love to be able to craft my own little menu of most commonly used tools and features. I believe there may be a way to do this; if so, then perhaps a more clear and simple way to construct such a menu please Adobe?

  6. The palette dock at the top right of the interface.

    Many Photoshops ago, there was a Photoshop feature that allowed you to dock the tool panels into the top right. I preferred this option over the existing option where they're all docked to the right side. I also feel The panels should always pin over the documents. Its very frustrating moving all my documents around to find a panel, which on average amounts to 20-30 documents open. Perhaps a shortcut that brings them all to the top, like Tab and P. There may already be a preference that allows you to do this, I should take a look!

  7. PSD thumbnail previews

    This might be a Windows issue, more so than Photoshop. In all the time I've used Photoshop, I've never been able to preview a PSD thumbnail when in the open file box. It simply shows a blue document graphic with the  .PSD letters. I understand Bridge is a solution to this, but sometimes, it would be nice to be able to see them in the File - Open box.

  8. Layer management enhancements

    It would be nice if there were more options related to layer panel management. A few examples; I wish there were more color tag options (right click left side of layer in layer panel) Such as the ability to be able to define any color. It would be useful to have a divider layer; a layer that perhaps has no thumbnail, just an area for a title. Adding to this, it would be nice to also have a note layer; a layer that again has no thumbnail, but allows you to add a text box / notes into the layer/layer panel.

  9. Fit to Frame

    With the hand tool selected, you can right click and present a menu that allows you to fit to screen. I wish there was an option in the same location that would fit the document to the document frame; ie, shows 100% of the image, but doesn't resize the document frame.

  10. 3d Warehouse integration

    Would be nice to have 3d Warehouse integrated into Photoshop in the same way that it is integrated into Sketchup. Adding to this, I hope Adobe continue to develop the 3d tools in Photoshop, and improve the viewport speed. I would also like to see the ability to have NPR options to allow for quick generation of line art renders, toon renders, cell shaded renders etc. I think having an option that just creates an outline render would be great in itself, similar to Toon / Outline render found in Vray / 3dS Max.


  1. Perhaps, even the developers of Photoshop do not know all the features of Photoshop. What to say about its modest users who are often alone, at random, the master editor. And it often happens that many designers after several years of work in Photoshop continue to make discoveries for themselves as modest ticks in settings... some of them get lost in the tabs of the filter layer or effect. my favourite photoshop hdr tools

  2. I myself initially began his career by painting a picture in oils, but soon realized that all my pictures can be converted into a number. It was then that I discovered Photoshop, 5 years I worked in graphic design exclusively through Adobe creative package, so I very well understand you and agree with you. Excellent article, my friend!
    Richard Brown virtual data room review