Viewing Photoshop’s Parts and Processes

In many respects, Photoshop CS3 is just another computer program - you launch the program, open files, save files, and quit the program quite normally. Many common functions have common keyboard shortcuts. You enlarge, shrink, minimize, and close windows as you do in other programs.

Reviewing basic computer operations

Photoshop-specific aspects of working with floating palettes, menus and submenus, and tools from the Options bar, but we want to take just a little time to review some fundamental computer concepts.

Launching Photoshop

You can launch Photoshop (start the program) by double-clicking an image file or through the Applications folder (Mac) or the Start menu (Windows). Mac users can drag the Photoshop program icon (the actual program itself) to the Dock to make it available for one-click startup. You can find the file named Adobe Photoshop CS3 inside the Adobe Photoshop CS3 folder, inside the main Applications folder.

Never open an image into Photoshop from removable media (CD, DVD, your digital camera or its Flash card, Zip disks, jump drives, and the like) or from a network drive. Always copy the file to a local hard drive, open from that drive, save back to the drive, and then copy the file to its next destination. You can open from internal hard drives or external hard drives, but to avoid the risk of losing your work (or the entire image file) because of a problem reading from or writing to removable media always copy to a local hard drive.

Working with images

Within Photoshop, you work with individual image files. Each image is recorded on the hard drive in a specific file format. Photoshop opens just about any image consisting of pixels as well as some file formats that do not. Remember that to change a file’s format, you open the file in Photoshop and use the Save As command to create a new file. And, although theoretically not always necessary on the Mac, I suggest that you always include the file extension at the end of the filename. If Photoshop won’t open an image, it might be in a file format that Photoshop can’t read. It cannot, for example, open an Excel spreadsheet or a Microsoft Word DOC file because those aren’t image formats — and Photoshop is, as you know, an image-editing program. If you have a brand-new digital camera and Photoshop won’t open its Raw images, check for an update to the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in at

You will find installation instructions for the update there. (Make sure to read and follow the installation instructions exactly.)

Saving your files

You must use the Save or Save As command to preserve changes to your images. And after you save and close an image, those changes are irreversible. When working with an important image, consider these three tips:

Work on a copy of the image file. Unless you’re working with a digital photo in the Raw format, make a copy of your image file as a backup before changing it in Photoshop. The backup ensures that should something go horribly wrong, you can start over. (You never actually change a Raw photo — Photoshop can’t rewrite the original file — so you’re always, in effect, working on a copy.)

Open as a Smart Object. Rather than choosing File => Open, make it a habit to choose File => Open As Smart Object. When working with Smart Objects, you can scale or transform multiple times without continually degrading the image quality, and you can work with Smart Filters, too!

Save your work as PSD, too. Especially if your image has layers, save it in Photoshop’s PSD file format (complete with all the layers) before using Save As to create a final copy in another format. If you don’t save a copy with layers, going back to make one little change can cost hours of work.

If you attempt to close an image or quit Photoshop without saving your work first, you get a gentle reminder asking whether you want to save, close without saving, or cancel the close/quit.

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are customizable in Photoshop, but some of the basic shortcuts are the same as those you use in other programs. You open, copy, paste, save, close, and quit just as you do in Microsoft Word, your e-mail program, and just about any other software. We suggest that you keep these shortcuts unchanged, even if you do some other shortcut customization.

Photoshop’s incredible selective Undo

Here’s one major difference between Photoshop and other programs. Almost all programs have some form of Undo, enabling you to reverse the most recent command or action (or mistake). Like many programs, Photoshop uses the Ctrl+Z shortcut for Undo/Redo and the Ctrl+ Alt+Z shortcut for Step Backward, which allows you to undo a series of steps (but remember that you can change those shortcuts). Photoshop also has, however, a couple of great features that let you partially undo.

Painting to undo with the History Brush

You can use Photoshop’s History Brush to partially undo just about any filter, adjustment, or tool by painting. You select the History Brush, choose a history state (a stage in the image development) to which you want to revert, and then paint over areas of the image that you want to change back to the earlier state.

You can undo as far back in the editing process as you want, with a couple of limitations: The History palette (where you select the state to which you want to revert) holds only a limited number of history states. In the Photoshop Preferences => General pane, you can specify how many states you want Photoshop to remember (to a maximum of 1,000). Keep in mind that storing lots of history states takes up computer memory that you might need for processing filters and adjustments. That can slow things down. The default of 20 history states is good for most projects, but when using painting tools or other procedures that involve lots of repetitive steps (such as touching up with the Dodge, Burn, or Clone Stamp tools), a larger number (perhaps as high as 60) is generally a better idea.

The second limitation is pixel dimensions. If you make changes to the image’s actual size (in pixels) with the Crop tool or the Image Size or Canvas Size commands, you cannot revert to prior steps with the History Brush. You can choose as a source any history state that comes after the image’s pixel dimensions change but none that come before.

Here’s one example of using the History Brush as a creative tool. You open a copy of a photograph in Photoshop. You edit as necessary. You use the Black and White adjustment on the image to make it appear to be grayscale. In the History palette, you click in the left column next to the step immediately prior to Black and White to designate that as the source state, the appearance of the image to which you want to revert. You select the History Brush and paint over specific areas of the image to return them to the original (color) appearance. There you have it — a grayscale image with areas of color, compliments of the History Brush.

Painting to undo with the History Brush.

Reducing to undo with the Fade command

Immediately after applying a filter or adjustment or using most of Photoshop’s tools, you can choose Edit => Fade and change the opacity or blending mode with which the previous step was performed. You might, for example, apply a sharpening filter and then choose Edit => Fade Unsharp Mask to change the blending mode from Normal to Luminosity. (Sharpening only the luminosity of your image, whether with this technique or in the Lab color mode, prevents unwanted color shifts along edges in your images. You might apply the Motion Blur filter and then choose Edit => Fade Motion Blur (yes, the name of the command actually changes for you) to reduce the opacity of the blur to 75%. That gives you the appearance of a backand-forth motion while leaving the subject more readily recognizable.

Compare the original blur with a reduction using the Fade command.

Installing Photoshop: Need to know

If you haven’t yet installed Photoshop CS3 (or the Adobe Creative Suite), here are a few points to keep in mind:

Install only into the default location. Photoshop is a resource-intensive program. Installing it into the default location ([harddrive] => Applications on a Mac and C:\Program Files for Windows) ensures that it has access to the operating system and hardware as necessary. Installing into any other location or attempting to run Photoshop across a network can lead to frustrating problems and loss of work in progress.

Disable all spyware and antivirus software before installing. Antivirus software can intercept certain installation procedures, deeming them to be hazardous to your computer’s health. That can lead to malfunctions, crashes, lost work, frustration, and what we like to call Computer Flying Across Room Syndrome. If you use antivirus software (and if you use Windows, you’d better!), turn it off before installing any program, especially one as complex as Photoshop. You might find the antivirus program’s icon in the Windows taskbar; or you might need to go to the Start menu, use All Programs to locate the antivirus software, and disable it. On Mac, check the Dock. And don’t forget to restart your antivirus software afterward! If you already installed Photoshop and antivirus software was running at the time, we urge you to uninstall and reinstall. (Reinsert the Photoshop CS3 CD and launch the installer to use the built-in uninstall feature.)

If you use autobackup software, shut it down, too. Never run autobackup software when installing software. Like antivirus software, it can also lead to problems by interfering with the installer.

Connect to the Internet and activate right away. It’s best to run the Photoshop installer while your computer is connected to the Internet. That enables Photoshop’s activation process to happen right away, making sure you can get started as soon as the installer finishes.

If you have third-party plug-ins, install them elsewhere.Third-party plug-ins — those filters and other Photoshop add-ons that you buy from companies other than Adobe — can be installed into a folder outside the Photoshop folder. You can then make an alias (Mac) or shortcut (Windows) to that folder and drag the alias/shortcut to Photoshop’s Plug-Ins folder. (If you have a multibutton mouse, right-click the folder to create an alias/shortcut; Control+click if you’re still using a one-button mouse.) Why install outside the Photoshop folder? Should you ever need to (gasp!) reinstall Photoshop, you won’t need to reinstall all your third-party plug-ins. Just create a new alias/shortcut and move it into Photoshop’s new Plug-Ins folder.

Check for plug-in updates. Go to the manufacturer’s Web site for each of your third-party plug-ins and check for updates. This is especially important if you’re using an Intel-based Mac. Unless the plug-ins have been updated (“Universal”), they won’t run. There’s a workaround, however. In the Finder, go to [harddrive] => Applications => Adobe Photoshop CS3. Right-click or Control+click on the program icon and choose Get Info. In the Get Info window, select the option Open Using Rosetta. Photoshop will run more slowly, but you’ll have your unupdated third-party plug-ins available. When the plug-ins are finally updated (or you decide speed is more important), reopen Get Info and deselect the Open using Rosetta check box.

If you have lots of plug-ins, create sets. Plug-ins require RAM (computer memory that Photoshop uses to process your editing commands). If you have lots of plug-ins, consider dividing them into groups according to how and when you use them. Sort (or install) them into separate folders. (Hint: Plug-ins that you use in many situations can be installed into multiple folders.) When you need to load a specific set, do so through the Photoshop Preferences => Plug-Ins pane by designating a second plug-ins folder and relaunching Photoshop.

If you love fonts, use a font-management utility. If you have hundreds of fonts (over the years, I’ve somehow managed to collect upward of 4,000 fonts), use a font-management utility to create sets of fonts according to style and activate only those sets that you need at any given time. Too many active fonts can choke the Photoshop type engine, slowing performance. The Mac OS has Font Book built right in, or you can use the excellent Suitcase Fusion from Extensis ( Extensis also offers Suitcase for Windows.


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