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13 Key Elements to Mastering Photoshop – Part 2

posted by Matt Ward on Aug 18, 2009.

In this second of three posts, we look at four more elements of Photoshop that I feel you should know if you want to start mastering Photoshop. These include brushes, selections, channels and blending modes.

This is the second in a series outlining what I believe to be some of the most important elements than any Photoshop user needs to know if they want to begin mastering Photoshop. Part 1 of this series focused primarily on Layers and their related elements. Today, we will be looking at brushes, selections, channels and blending modes.

5. Brushes

I find that many people’s first introduction to Photoshop is also an introduction to brushes, and that in most cases the tool is used mostly like a rubber stamp. Now, there’s nothing wrong with using brushes like this – in fact many of the brushes out there are actually designed to be used in this way – but there is so much more to the brush tool, which you can access through the Brushes palette.

This incredible palette allows you to adjust virtually every property imaginable. You can rotate the brush, change its opacity and size, add texture, create incredible scatter effects, all of which can dramatically expand the usefulness of a particular brush. Learning to manipulate your brushes will allow you to make greater use of Photoshop, and it some cases will actually help you create killer effects more quickly than you might imagine.

6. Selections

Selections are pretty much they sound like. They basically involved selecting a group of pixels on a given layer – or in some cases several layers – and are usually blocked of from the rest of the document by a scrolling marquee (or dashed line). The important thing to know, though, is that pretty much anything you do to the layer will be done only to the selected pixels. Obviously, this is an incredibly useful, and this one reason why I feel that selections are so important. The other reason is that selections can genreally also be moved, resized and otherwise manipulated using the Move Tool.

There are a number of different ways of making selections. The simplest are the Marquee family of tools, which work with a simple click and drag functionality. The Lasso family and Magic Wand family also allow you to create selections. But making selections is not just limited to obvious tools. You can also create selections by Command-clicking (PC: Ctrl-clicking) on layers, Layer Masks, Vector Masks, Channels and other similar elements.

Obviously, each method works a bit differently, and getting to know all the different selection methods is important. That way, you can will know which method to use in a given circumstance.

7. Channels

Your channels contain the colour information for your currently visible layers. I know that probably doesn’t mean a lot, but think of it this way – if your working in standard RGB colour space, you are essentially working with three different colours – Red Green and Blue. Your document will contain one channel for each colour, representing the levels of red, green and blue that combine together to create the full colour spectrum of the image.

There are entire books and training DVDs about using channels, so there is certainly quite a bit to know. Still, they are one of the main building blocks of any Photoshop document and can be used to create selections and masks, or to make various colour or tonal adjustments.

The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that channels are not at all the same as layers. When I first started working with Photoshop, they did seem rather similar. However, they have dramatically different and separate functions and should not be confused.

8. Blending Modes

Blending modes directly effect the way that pixels interact with each other. Normally, the pixel on one layer will simply take presedence over the pixel(s) on the layer(s) beneath it. The different blending modes change this interaction. For instance, in multiply mode, the value of the top pixel is added to the value of the pixel beneath it.

As of Photoshop CS4, there are 24 different blending modes (including normal), so there’s a lot that you can do with these. Doing a bit of research to learn about how each blending mode basically works is helpful, but I find that it’s difficult to really know exactly what will happen until I try them out in a given situation. This is especially true since some of the blending modes tend to produce very similar effects. The best thing to do is just to experiment with a few different modes and see each reacts with the pixels beneath.

If you want to use Photoshop to create stunning Photo manipulations or dramatic lighting effects, learning your way around the blending modes is an absolute must. Fortunetly, a lot of the ways that you use them tend to be non-destuctive, allowing you to play, modify and learn as you go.

So there you have a basic overview of brushes, selections, channels and blending modes. Add knowledge of these elements onto the knowledge of layers, adjustment layers, layer masks and layer styles, and you should be well on your way to mastering many of the key elements of Photoshop.

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About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Jun 16, 2010

clippingimages says:

These are some real handy post indeed…thanks for sharing …

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