When Adobe Photoshop changed to a subscription-based system that runs just £8.57/$9.99 a month, it allowed even more photographers to access its powerful image editing tools.
However, it’s precisely because this photo editing software is so powerful that many users often make simple mistakes that be as benign as just wasting your time to the harsher outcome of actually spoiling an image.
This tutorial explains those common Photoshop errors we all experience and offers advice on how you can avoid them.
Common Photoshop errors: Excessive retouching
The process of retouching or ‘airbrushing’ is a rather delicate process that’s often overdone. Retouching things like blemishes or wrinkles is typically welcomed by most portrait subjects, to a certain degree. You wouldn’t want to insult your subject by excessive retouching.
Once you start the retouching process, avoid going too far by continually looking back at the original image to see just how much you’ve done.
Revisit the image with fresh eyes by looking away occasionally and being as judicious as you can when you look back. You want to make sure the retouched image retains the same natural feel as the original.
Some texture in the skin tone is necessary to prevent it from looking artificial, so avoid heavy decreases in Clarity and extreme skin smoothing.
One useful technique is to perform your retouching on a separate layer with reduced opacity so you can see the original image and texture. You can do this selectively with a layer mask.
Common Photoshop errors: Clipped highlights and/or shadows
Setting the white and black points post-capture and fine-tuning the contrast a bit is beneficial to many images. Be sure not to set the white and black points too close to the mid point, however, as this can result in a significant loss of detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
Use the Levels control when setting these points and uncover any areas that will be clipped by holding down the alt key.
Common Photoshop errors: Dodgy composites
We’ve all seen consequences of this mistake on the Internet with models appearing to have warped postures or extra hands or legs.
These are on the more extreme end, with less obvious composite mistakes being more along the lines of chaotic shadows and highlights when the image is composed of elements that weren’t shot in the same lighting.
To avoid mistakes like these, always be sure to reference your original image and create natural, realistic compositions. When you’re combining elements make sure the lighting, colour and white balance look natural together, and don’t cut a person out of an image unless you can remove their entire body.
Common Photoshop errors: Over manipulating curves
When it comes to adjusting the brightness of tones, Photoshop’s Curves control is your strongest tool. You can drag the curve up to brighten specific tones or pull it down to darken them, but you must be careful when doing so because tonal gradation can easily be lost, resulting in large uniform areas in the image. You don’t want any part of your curve to be flat or almost flat.
Common Photoshop errors: Over-saturated colours
Sometimes photographers want to give their images a little more punch and go overboard with the saturation control as a result. If they’re looking to enhance one colour in particular they would probably achieve better results with the Vibrance control as it focuses solely on colours with low saturation.
The Hue/Saturation control is another way to adjust specific colours. With any of these methods, however, you’ll want to be wary of going too far with your adjustments.
Always look back at your original image to determine how much you’ve really changed it.
Common Photoshop errors: Over-sharpening
The majority of digital images will need to be sharpened to look their best, but in general it’s better to be conservative with your sharpening than to run the risk of going overboard.
When you sharpen an image you increase its micro contrast which in turn boosts the contrast along the edges in the image.
Excessive sharpening will reveal artefacts in smooth areas with even tone as well as augment small changes in brightness. It can also cause objects in the image to form halos. All of these results of over-sharpening produce images that don’t look natural.
Subtlety is key when it comes to sharpening, and it helps to view the image at 100% in addition to the size at which you plan to use it.
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Common Photoshop errors: Poor use of the Clone tool
Dust marks and other unwanted objects in your image are no match for Photoshop’s Clone tool. While it is a fairly highly-developed control, you do have to be conscious of what you’re doing or your image could suffer for it.
Perhaps the biggest mistake photographers make when using the clone tool is to repeatedly use the same source are to make their repairs. Doing so will result in recurring patterns or duplicate elements in the image.
When making repairs with the clone tool, you can avoid these patterns and copies by regularly holding down the Alt key to choose a new source area.
Common Photoshop errors: Not using shortcuts
While the menu bar does provide direct access to all of Photoshop’s tools and controls, you can make your edits much quicker if you use keyboard shortcuts.
To discover the shortcut for a particular function, simply click on the menu bar and hover over the options to and the drop-down lists will be revealed.
For instance, if you hover over Edit you’ll see that Control/Command Z is the shortcut to undoing your last action. You’ll find shortcuts to many of the essential controls, including Levels and Curves, by hovering over Image>Adjustments.
It will take you a little while at first to learn them all, but soon you’ll find yourself working much faster at your edits.
Common Photoshop errors: Forgetting to save
Fewer things are as maddening as putting in hours of work on an image only to have your computer crash or the power go out, leaving you to start from scratch.
This problem is easily avoided by simply saving your work frequently so you don’t have to go back to the very beginning.
Common Photoshop errors: Making permanent (destructive) edits
Any edits you make when using CameraRaw are inherently non-destructive, meaning you can revert back to your original file at any point in the process without any loss.
You do have to choose to make non-destructive edits in Photoshop itself, however. There are many ways to accomplish this, with the easiest being to work on a duplicate image instead. You can also make a duplicate layer, leaving the original background layer intact.
As long as you save the file in a format that preserves, you can apply your adjustments as Adjustment Layers. These can be changed or removed at anytime, and you can use editable Layer Masks to selectively apply them.