Skip to main content

photo & video

Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Lesson 3 of 36

Best Practices in Photoshop

Dave Cross

Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Dave Cross

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

3. Best Practices in Photoshop

Lesson Info

Best Practices in Photoshop

One of the things that we need to get in the habit. I talk a lot about best practices and good habits in Photoshop. And one of them is something that I refer to as the checklist. Which means, very often I see people who are starting out in Photoshop, and they're like, okay, I'm gonna do something in Photoshop, and they just kind of jump in and do it. And about halfway through they're like, what happened? And their tool isn't operating the way they expected or something. So, this will continue to make better sense throughout the class as we talk about various functions, such as layers and other things. But for example, with tools. Let's just talk about tools for a second. So if I choose some tool like, the brush tool, like I have right now. To me, as soon as I have chosen the tool, the very next thing I always do is look up at the options bar. And the options bar is what sets how your tool is gonna work. And this is one of many things in Photoshop that has a long memory. Meaning, if I l...

ast used the brush tool four weeks ago, it will still have those same settings I had four weeks ago. Which might have made perfect sense at that time, but today it might not. Because there are functions in Photoshop where you can completely change the operation of a tool by changing different settings so that it works well in the environment you're in. But then in a different photograph, it might not look like it's working at all. So, one of the things that I find happens to people all the time when they're first starting out is they're trying to do something, and they're like, why isn't that working? Or my favorite is when people say why won't Photoshop let me do that? It's like, yes, because Photoshop has a mind that says I'm not gonna let you do that. And that never happens. It's some setting. So, if we look here at my options bar, you can see for the brush tool, I have different settings for how big a brush do I want. What this thing called mode, opacity-- All these different settings. Well, Photoshop remembers the last setting you used. And whenever you change your setting, that becomes your new default. So when I talked before how sometimes a tool might default to 50% whatever the setting is, like exposure, and you decide is 20 is better for you, as soon as you change it to 20, from then on, it'll be 20, until you change it again. But that also means the downside to that is if you're clicked on a tool that you haven't used in a while, it will still remember those settings from the last time, which might not be appropriate at all now in the situation you're in. So that's why in my mind I'm always thinking checklist. Meaning, let me just do a quick check to make sure this tool is set correctly before I use it. And I actually started doing that as an instructor because years ago, as I went to show something, I didn't want it to not work. So I'd be kind of subconsciously going Okay (mumbles). Looking over here (mumbles). Yeah, looks good. And then I demonstrate it. And I realized one day, I should just do that all the time. Because that just makes it easier. Instead of what happens to most people. I'll just do something with, so you can see. I do something with my brush, and I go, whoa, why'd that happen? So they end up using this undo command to go back, and then they go looking, trying to figure out why it didn't work. To me, I would do that first. Instead of just jumping in and use the tool and then kind of go, whoa, that's weird. Check first. So that's part of the checklist, is to get in the habit of activate a tool, look at the options bar. I do that without exception. Unless I know that I just used that tool five minutes ago, and I still want it set the same way. And I gotta be honest. There are times where I might forget to do that, and I'll use a tool and go, no, I forgot. And I'll go back, but at least I know that's what's happening, is there's some setting up there. The concept of this checklist is going to ever be changing. It's going change on the circumstance you're, what you're trying to do in Photoshop, the photograph you have, etcetera. We're gonna talk more about layers in a bit. Layers is one of the core functions Layers are? One of the core-- Using layers is really important, (audience laughing) however you'd say that grammatically. Because it's like the best way to do everything. So, as we'll talk about, I would never paint directly on the background photo. I would add a layer first. So in my mind, that's part of my checklist. Should I work directly on the background layer? Probably hardly ever, if ever. So therefore, that's some-- Oh, did I add a layer yet? Not yet, I better do that. So, I find that by going through this ever-changing checklist, it means you spend less time undoing and more getting it right the first time. And the more you use with different tools, you'll start to realize, okay, for this tool, this setting makes sense in a lot of circumstance, but I need to be prepared to change that. There may be other settings where you don't change hardly ever. Because for that particular tool, that's just a good number. There are other tools that hardly have any options bar settings. So you'll start to recognize those when you use those particular tools. You don't really need to worry so much. But, at least to begin with, that's one of the habits that I would suggest we get into is checking. Like, click on a tool, check up here. Do I have enough layers? Am I doing-- It's not as just simple as saying the word checklist. There is that checklist will ever change depending on the circumstance you're in. And the more complex your document is, with multiple layers and different things happening, there's more things to check. But at least if I can plant that seed in your head of remember to check things. And I know at first you'll be like what things? Well, here's the other, by the way, answer to every question in Photoshop, is "it depends." When people say, well, how would you do this? It depends. It really does. So that checklist will depend on the circumstance. How many layers you have, how big the photo is, what you're trying to do, or what you're trying to darken, lighten. I'm not suggesting it's going be some magical solution to everything, but at least it's a good work habit to get into of remembering to check things. Check setting, check position of where you're at. Things like that. Okay. The other thing that I think is a really important kind of best practice work habit thing is to almost think backwards. Think of the end result. So, for example, you going back-- We said before, when someone says, just cut that person out. What they really mean is cover them up with other pixels so it looks like they were never there. So if that's the end result I'm trying to get to, I might think with that in mind and start doing things back at step one that's going to eventually lead me to that. And the reason I mention that is because there are some techniques in Photoshop where when you do the first couple of steps in the process, your reaction might be, that looks even worse than it did before. Because we're not finished yet. We need to think ahead. Eventually, we'll do a couple more steps and-- Okay, now I understand where we're going. So that's particularly important if you're following along some tutorial you see somewhere. And they say, do this, now do this, now do this. And you're doing it, and you're like halfway through, you're going, I don't know, that looks really bad. I mean, it might just be a bad tutorial. If it's not, it's probably because then in the next step you go, oh, okay, when you inverse this or do that-- So be prepared for that that sometimes that's kind of the approach you need to take. Now, I'm going show you an example of what I mean by that. And don't worry, we're going go through all of these things later on. It's going set the stage for an example of this. So, as you could see with this photograph, it would, in my mind, it would make perfect sense to have a whole series of little white boxes going across the top of this photograph, because why wouldn't you in a photograph of a mountain climber? So, okay. So, here's an example. In my mind, I'm thinking, I wanna end up with a series of squares evenly spread out across this document. Now I could do this in various ways. I could just take this and make a copy of it, and copy it 10 times. All on one flat layer, which means if the spacing is off, I have to undo and start again. And do that like 14 times until I get it right. Or think, I need to end up with this. So if I go in with this approach that's initially probably going look more complex, but it gives me more options. And again, don't worry if some of this-- We're just sort of, to understand the overall premise. We'll go through things like this a little bit later on. So, for example, there's a command called free transform. But I'm using in a way that allows me to make a copy. And I'm not gonna tell you all the steps for now. I just wanna show you the idea. So I do my copies, and I realize it's not really spread out as far as it was. Now, if I'd done this the, what I would call, less efficient way, so they all ended up on one layer, I'd have to delete and start all over again. And keep doing that until I somehow figured out the math to do it right. But by doing it the way I've done it, each of the boxes is on a separate layer. So now I could take advantage of functions in Photoshop like this where I could say well, I want the last box to be over here. And then take all of these boxes, and let Photoshop do the math for me. Oops, not that one. This one. Where now we see it's redistributed all of them for me. So now I've ended up with result that I want. So in the long run, it was quicker even though at first, it seemed like kind of a long way to get there. In the end, net result is more efficient. So as I've mentioned before, there is always multiple ways to do something in Photoshop. I'm always looking for the way it's going to give me the most opportunity, to be flexible, change my mind, reorient things. Make sure it's nice and accurate as opposed to, It didn't work. Let me undo and try it again. Which is what I used to do years ago, because I didn't now there was any other way to do it. And I realized, I spent half my time in Photoshop going, no, undo, undo, undo, undo. Let me try that again. I mean, that's okay if you're getting paid by the hour, do it that way. No, don't. Do it a more efficient way and still charge as if it took you a lot of time because they are charging for your skill and talent, not for the fact it actually took you three hours to do it. So, that's just an example of that thought process of end up with working backwards. I knew I want to end up with a series of these boxes evenly spread out. But instead of me trying to sit there with a calculator and going, well if the photo is seven inches across, then each box should be approximately. I'm not good at math. I would not be succeeding in that at all. I would do that and I'd still be wrong. So this way I'm letting Photoshop do the heavy lifting and saying, well you do it. You have these options, but of course the key to that is knowing that these options exist, and that it's a good approach to take. So that's, in this discussion of best practices, good work habits, that's kind of an example of what we want to do, is make sure that we're setting ourselves up for success. Throughout this course you will find that you're going to spend an awful lot of time looking right there at the layers panel because to me layers is the foundation of everything. If you're not using layers, you're working too hard. And you're also like one of those daredevils that doesn't have a safety net down below. And if you fall, oops, you're gone. So to me this, we'll spend quite a bit of time talking about layers. So that's going to be another one of our best practices kind of work habits is take as much advantage of this as we can. So let's, now that I have some layers, again we're going to talk a lot more about how we use layers and how they work, what they are. All that kind of stuff. But for now, just by the fact that I've added these extra layers means my checklist has just changed or got expanded because now, it's not just tap on the letter B and check the settings for the paintbrush tool, it's also, where do I want to paint? Do I want to paint on one of these layers? Do I wan to add a different layer? So now, if there is another thing to check. And because I have, the brush tool, I should have also mentioned I also want to check. Well, what color of paint do I want to use? Do I want the paint to be semi-see through? So each operation, again I'm not suggesting just by thinking of the word checklist, everything will be easy. But it's easier because you start getting in the habit of saying "well before I just start grabbing my brush and painting somewhere let me think this through." What's going to give me the most control? What's going to give me the most options? What's going to be easiest? What's going to be most accurate? We're going to talk a lot throughout this course about working non-destructively including in the next segment. But the whole idea of working non-destructively to me is to make your life easier. A lot of other people talk about, in case you wan to change your mind. Now, that's just one small part of it as we'll see. So, anything you cn do to make your life easier and be more efficient. That's what it's all about. As we go through, I want to kind of set you up for this to make you realize that, they'll be lots of times where you might be thinking, he hasn't touched those tools at all. Correct. Because they're not as necessary. So let's talk about that a little bit. Just so you kind of have some understanding of where we're headed. So as I mentioned, some classes, some books I've seen, they go through and say now let's go to this tool, and again, I kind of get it because people are curious but, I have an online group that I work with weekly, and sometimes people ask questions and my response is don't worry about it. But I wan to know what it does. Seriously, don't worry about it. I understand you wan to know. But, I could tell you. But that would be like saying. I'm going to tell you how to toast bread over a campfire. Or you could put it in the toaster. You know, I mean. Yeah, you could do it that way. Some of the tools in Photoshop are like that. They're like the old fashioned. The little thing that you lean a piece of bread, and put it on your campfire. Where now there is a super cool toaster that does it. Way better and does patterns of designs on it. That doesn't happen at all. But, that's kind of what we're talking about here. Why we don't need to worry about every single tool. Dave, we're getting a couple of questions about what versions of Photoshop, this class applies to. This is a Creative Cloud class, specifically, but somebody asked about Elements and older versions. Okay, well. A lot of the concepts that are like best practices and stuff I would say it could apply to almost any version of Photoshop. When we talk about tools and functions in particular, the majority of them are probably specific to any of the Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop. So anything that started with CC. But honestly, I'm still using the same techniques that I used in Photoshop 5, Not CS5. But 5 back in whatever day that was, because it worked then and it works now. If someone has an older version of Photoshop, much of what we're talking about will be applicable. And then they'll be certain ones where they'll go, Oh I don't have that tool. So they'll be some exceptions. I would say for people use Photoshop Elements, probably less so because, similar principles in terms of these things like checklist and best practices, but not as much as far as the tools and functions.

Class Description

Join Dave Cross in this beginner friendly class starting at the very basics with Adobe® Photoshop® CC. You’ll learn how to begin navigating the software and what the best practices and work habits are to approach different projects.

Dave will cover:

  • Working non destructively on your files
  • How to resize, crop, and straighten images
  • Using layers with basic layer examples
  • Adding text, color, and painting to images
  • How to retouch and adjust images using selections and masks
  • Learn how to use the tools you need to create the image you want. Dave will demonstrate using sample workflows that take you through projects from start to finish.

Don't have Adobe Photoshop yet? Get it now so you can follow along with the course!

Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CC 2017

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Adobe Stock Contributor

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Quick Notes Guide

Landscape Image for Practice Edit

Senior Portrait Missing Element for Practice Edit

Senior Portrait With Element for Practice Edit

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I really like Dave's methodical teaching style. Step by step works best for my learning processes. He also has a lovely voice to listen to during his classes, that is important if you have to listen to someone talk for any length of time. I also like the "dance" he does by explaining what he is going to do, then does it, and then comes back to explaining the choices he made and why. Very, very easy to follow him in his straight forward explanations. He increased my understanding of so many tools I use and so many I have never used. Wow! Photoshop with Dave took away a lot of "fear"! (Wish I had a "happy face" to place here!) I bought this class today because I don't think I can get along without it!

Jim Bellomo

I was so lucky to get to attend this class in person here in Seattle. I have been a fan of Dave's for years and own a number of his courses from Creative Live. When this class was announced I almost decided to skip it since it was listed as a "beginners" class but decided that it "might" be worth it. One of the reasons I wanted to take it was that I am self-taught. I had started with Photoshop 5 (not CS5 but 5) about 15 years ago (at least). I figured it I took this class I might learn a little something that would help me in my work. Well, two days later I have 18 pages of handwritten notes, a whole new way to work and it has already paid off in a huge way in my daily workflow. I bill out my hours at around $100 an hour as a graphic designer and marketing person. That means in the two days that I spent 10 hours a day taking the class and commuting to it, it cost me about $2000 in working time. But it didn't. I can guarantee that I am way ahead on this one. I l learned so much. The real world things I learned will pay off for a very long time. Within one day after the class I had already started changing my workflow to be more non-destructive and faster. Dave is an awesome teacher and I can't say enough good things about this class. Even if you think you know Photoshop, you don't. I teach it in my small world but I learned so much.


A writer and an old person (over 60), I rarely use neat exaggerations like "great" or "fantastic," and never say "awesome" in the currently fashionable manner. However, I would call this class both great and excellently planned. Cross is well-spoken and a consummate teacher with a rarely non-irritating voice. It is information packed, clearly presented, well-organized, and extremely helpful. I wish I could afford his others.