I’ve set myself a goal for the next year to become more proficient at Photoshop. I use a variety of editing tools now, most of which are slider-based. You move a slider and watch what happens on the screen. The sliders in most applications are laid out in a nice orderly fashion, and you can literally move from top to bottom and achieve a well-edited well-presented image.
Photoshop is not remotely like that. It’s like making pizza with every ingredient possible available to you in small containers on the kitchen counter. There is some semblance of order (Camera Raw, basic exposure adjustments, image cleanup) but once past this, the choices become ridiculously complex, with the opportunity to create whole new “flavours” of pizza by taking previously used flavours and combining them in whole new ways. No cookbooks, just imagination and an ability to reason how things might go together.
Add to that the challenge of learning something new as an older adult. We don’t absorb information the same way as we did as a child. We don’t necessarily retain it even when learned. Memory declines in uneven ways too – with muscle memory and the memory of physically doing things changing at rates different from the memory of reciting things or recollection. So I’m not only setting a goal but trying to find the best method to accomplish it.
All my life, I’ve learned in two ways – by doing then repeating, and by supplementing repetition with understanding why something works the way it does. If I can explain why something works, I can often explain to make it work, which then makes it easier for me to execute it when I need to.
Today the options for learning are endless – we can learn live by signing up for classes, we can learn online by listening, watching or reading, we can even download materials and follow along and replicate what is being shown to us. Apprentices back in the day would watch the master work and then repeat, repeat, repeat, hopefully picking up all the details along the way. Now we can repeat, but also stop the tape, rewind and go through it again.
And yet little of this seems to help with Photoshop. Photoshop is goal oriented. You need to decide what you want to accomplish, then line up the set of tasks that will get you to that goal. And there always seem to be five ways at least to accomplish the goal. Most of the videos online speak only to a small element of any possible goal – blurring a background, replacing a background, changing one colour, removing a distraction, correcting an angle, straightening or cropping, and on and on. It’s not like making a old fashioned horseshoe from a slab of metal – ignoring that I don’t even know what metal that would be – but it seems to me the steps in making a horseshoe would be the same, over and over again. Not so with image editing. And not so in Photoshop.
So what to do instead? Some YouTube channels and online courses take a different tack – pardon the ongoing horse analogies. They offer small projects with which you can follow along, taking an image from start to finish. I watched one recently on adding sunlight to a scene – accounting for both the light rays penetrating the trees and the splotches of light and dark on the forest floor below. In that particular project, at least 1/2 dozen tools and filters were used. I think that’s the right way to learn such a complex application – by using it to do actual projects and having to make choices from among the myriad of tools in the toolbox.
That said, there are basics that to me are requirements before ever tackling a Photoshop project. Understanding the workspace, the difference between destructive and non-destructive editing, the concept of layers and when to use them, filters vs. adjustment layers vs. blend modes. Brushes and masks and why white sometimes doesn’t mean white and black doesn’t mean black. Colour theory and the difference between colour and tonality or luminance. Histograms and clipping. And on and on and on.
I think I’ve definitely got the basics. So my task is to move seamlessly to projects. But then there’s the challenge of needing to know why and the challenge of learning as an older adult. Why is Gaussian blur appropriate for some but not all blur tasks? Why use a filter vs. an adjustment layer? Why apply opacity to a layer rather than a brush? It’s ironic really – young kids ask why all the time. The more I learn, the more I ask why. And I’m old, not young.
I think I’ve found the right training for me – a couple of online learning platforms that share the same philosophy – project based learning with fairly detailed explanations along the way. I can stop, start, rewind, restart as needed. Hopefully I can do a project a week. Maybe more. I’ll do a post on the platforms and my progress in a couple months. I’ll let you know how it’s going.
If you have found a perfect method for learning Photoshop, let me know what it is. I’d love to hear your story.