How to Photoshop in San Francisco

Course: Photoshop, Module 1 and Module 2

Institution: LearnIT

Instructor: David Liebman

Location: San Francisco

I have a very powerful tool. No, it’s not my long, lustrous hair, but CS5. It kind of sounds like a weapon. Creative Suite 5 is Adobe’s latest version of Photoshop. I attended a class on Monday to learn how to brandish the sucker.

The classroom was fairly large with close to 30 folks in the room, each with a computer and students ranged from their 20s to 60s. We were also joined by three LearnIT Anywhere participants. These are students who take the course from their own homes and join by conference call and web ex.

Our instructor, David, was designer cool. He even wore a pageboy hat. Photoshop, he told us, is not a design tool, it’s really for photo editing and Illustrator is really the design tool. That clarification aside, he launched into how Photoshop works. Basically, Photoshop takes an image and turns it into pixels of different colors. In fact, in Photoshop when you change an image, all you are doing is changing the colors of the pixels – you never actually delete a pixel.

Next we learned how to hold a mouse correctly. Before you laugh, this is actually very important. Photoshop is probably the most physically demanding of software I’ve ever used. There’s a lot of clicking, holding and dragging of the mouse to get what you want. So it’s important that you grip the mouse with the heel of your palm resting on your desk. This helps cut down on repetitive motion injury and gives you greater control when you make “selections.”

Yes, in Photoshop, as in life, it all comes down to the quality of your selection. The term selection refers to grabbing and isolating the area of a photo on which you want to work. I won’t bore you with all the ways there are to make selections (there are lassos and magic wands, to name a few), but making selections is probably the most difficult part of learning how to effectively use Photoshop.

Fortunately, the style of the class was such that David would point out a tool, demonstrate how to use it and then give us plenty of time to try it ourselves with loads of sample photos. I had a seat in the back of the class near the door and from my vantage point I could see many of the other students’ screens. It was amazing to see just how differently everyone approached a task. I was also struck by all the genius ideas students had. For one exercise, we were asked to select two photos from the sample photos we’d been working with and blend them together. There weren’t two people who did the same thing. It was a great reminder of how much creativity lives in the world.

We then learned about “layers.” The software itself works much like how old photo shops did when they had to retouch or change a photo. Back then, if you wanted to say put a hat on someone’s head in the photo lab, you had to cut out a picture of a hat, paste it on clear plastic and then lay that plastic over the photo you were trying to change. The same process would apply if you wanted to add text to a photo. This concept of creating layers is duplicated in Photoshop. Layers allow you to manipulate different parts of an image without affecting the rest of the image.

The day ended with a short lesson in air brushing. Most people associate Photoshop with air brushed pictures. I learned how to air brush pictures of myself. I have to admit, it was a bit disturbing. I noticed for the first time, how much air brushing gives a flat affect to facial expressions. Though, I did find the actual coloring in of the dark circles under my eyes, very meditative.

I left class stuffed with information and a fabulous spicy tuna sandwich from a stand nearby, The Sentinel, our teacher's recommendation. One day of class really only scratches the surface. David advised that for every day you spend in class, you need three days of practicing after you leave class for the skills to really sink in. I’ve been practicing and am noticing that, not unlike my love life, my selections need work. But hey, the fun is in the practicing.