Photoshop tutorial – the basics


Simple ways to improve your images in Photoshop (a tutorial)

Often, what you see during the shoot with your eyes and what you get when you look at your images is not the same thing. But it’s OK! Photoshop is capable of making a slightly imperfect photo into an awesome image. Of course, your aim is to take the best possible photo and get it right “in camera” and Photoshop can’t magically make a masterpiece out of a badly shot image.

Step-by-step basic edits

What I did:

Note: the screen shots used in this tutorial are from Photoshop CC. If you have an older version the tools and panels may look a little different.

1. General clean up: Duplicate the Background Layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).  Use the Spot Healing Brush tool, Clone Stamp tool etc to get rid of any blemishes etc.

levels-photoshop2. Fix the overall tone using Levels: When it comes to editing images in Photoshop, the first thing to do is fix any overall tonal problems in the image. Levels does a great job of this.

If you have Photoshop CS6 or CC a simple click on the Auto button is usually a really great start and often all that you need. If the image still needs work you can drag the sliders on either end of the histogram to  correct the highlights and shadows. To brighten the midtones (skin tones etc) drag the Midtone slider (the middle one) a little to the left.

If you have an older version of Photoshop or want a much more detailed tutorial on using Levels pop on over to

saturation-photoshop3. Increase saturation (colour intensity): Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer. From the submenu, choose Hue/Saturation. In the New Layer dialog box, name the layer (if you want), leave the other options at their defaults, and click OK.

You can also just click the Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Hue/Saturation from the drop-down panel that appears.

Drag the Saturation slider to the right until the colour looks intense enough. Beware of over-saturation!


eye-pop-photoshop4. Make the eyes pop: Choose Layer > New > Layer and click OK. You can also just click the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Change the Layer Style at the top of the Layer Panel to Overlay. Select your Brush tool, foreground colour white and brush opacity 30% and paint over the eyes. If the effect is too strong reduce the opacity of the layer. You can also use this to whiten teeth.


smooth skin photoshop5. OPTIONAL: VERY slight skin softening: You don’t have to soften skin all the time – especially on children. So, my suggestion is, unless the skin needs evening out, you can skip this step. This image did not need it.

Flatten your image using the Layer drop down menu on the  top right of the Layers Panel. Duplicate the Layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).

Choose Filter > Noise > Median and set the Radius to 48 pixels. Add a Layer Mask and fill with black by Alt clicking on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel

Select your Brush tool, foreground colour white and brush opacity of 30% and paint over the areas of skin that need softening/evening out. If the effect is too strong reduce the opacity of the layer. DO NOT overdo this effect! The aim is for natural (not plastic looking) skin.

smart-sharpen-photoshop6. Sharpen just a little: Flatten your layers. Create a duplicate layer.

Choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. Set the Preset to Default and the Remove to Lens Blur.

These settings usually do a good job but if you feel the image is over-sharpened you can reduce the opacity of the layer.

7. Crop the image: The Crop tool shows a visual “rule of thirds” guide. Using this guide will usually result in a nicely balanced and visually pleasing image. When cropping, place important elements (like your child’s eyes) where the lines intersect – NOT at the centre of the frame.

8. Add a slight vignette to the edges: Vignettes are a simple yet subtle way to guide the eye through a shot and focus the viewers attention on the main subject of the image. There are many different ways to add a vignette to your photo. Check out this post for 4 great techniques.  I use the first one.



There are many ways to do most things in Photoshop. I find the workflow in this photoshop tutorial works pretty well for me most of the time. However each image is different and everyone’s style is different. Play around, experiment and find the style that suits you and then adapt that style to your images to make them sing.


I'm a professional child photographer who loves to share my passion for photography. I am located in the beautiful Sydney, Australia and provide practical and inspirational photography workshops and online tips and tricks for anyone who want to take simply stunning photos of their kids. Come find me on Google+

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