• Facebook
  • Instagram

© 2021 Austin James Jackson LLC. All Rights Reserved.

  • Austin James Jackson

How To Get Started In Photoshop

Landscape photographers need to be using Photoshop to edit their images in order to truly gain full control of their photos. Photoshop allows you to fix all of the shortcomings of a digital camera. If you shoot in RAW (which you should be!!), you know how dull and lifeless a RAW file is when it comes out of the camera. RAW files are designed to be dull in order to allow you to use post processing software to push and pull on the pixels of your image in order to create your final image.

After spending a few years working closely with some students of mine, I've realized that the hardest thing for photographers in Photoshop is just getting started. Photoshop is a giant program, made for all types of photographers, designers, and videographers. You are given hundreds of tools, but you have a hard time deciding what to use or how to use it. This blog post is dedicated to helping you get started in Photoshop!


I always recommend opening photos directly from Lightroom into Photoshop. If you are just editing a single exposure, apply basic edits in Lightroom, and then open the photo as a smart object in Photoshop (Photo > Edit In > Open as Smart Object in Photoshop). This allows you to go back and change edits you’ve made in Lightroom as you work on your photo in Photoshop. I always recommend editing non-destructively, especially for photographers who are new to editing in Photoshop. You can go back and change the edits on your photo simply by clicking on the camera raw filter at any point in time while you are editing.

photoshop smart object camera raw filter
Double clicking the smart object layer brings up the same settings you applied in Lightroom. These adjustments are all the same, and are even laid out in the same menu format as they are in Lightroom.

If you are editing or combining multiple exposures, such as for a focus stack, I recommend choosing the option to open the photos as layers in Photoshop. Don’t do anything to edit the photo before you do this, other than applying a profile correction if you so choose. Once in Photoshop, combine the photos to achieve the desired effect, and then go to Layer > Smart Object > Convert to Smart Object. Then, you can use the camera raw filter to apply the same edits you would have in Lightroom.

Understanding Layer Masks

Once your photo is open and ready to go, I recommend that you first learn how to first use layer masks. Layer masking confuses many Photoshop users, but the concept is actually quite simple once you get the hang of it. A layer mask simply allows you to block part of a layer from showing through. You can apply a layer mask to any layer/adjustment that you make by clicking the layer mask button, which is the third from the left, and it looks like a rectangle with a circle cut out of it. For example, if I used the Brightness adjustment to brighten the sky in my image, but I didn't want to effect the foreground, I could paint black on the foreground while selecting the layer mask to mask out this part of the adjustment.

Using a layer mask to hide the bottom part of my Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer from the photo.

Once you understand layer masks, the possibilities are endless. Layer masks are what makes Photoshop such a powerful tool.

Basic Adjustments

Once you think you’ve got the hang of how basic layer masking works, you’re ready to move on to some of the adjustments in Photoshop. I recommend using the basic adjustment layers on the bottom menu bar first. Some of my favorite adjustments are curves, hue/saturation, and color balance. These adjustments can be found on the bottom right side of the screen under the half shaded circle.


The curves adjustment essentially allows you to edit the brightness values of your image using points on a curve. Using multiple points, you can target certain ranges in your image to effect darker or lighter pixels in your image. I love using this adjustment to add a touch of contrast in my image by using a simple “s-curve”. This will slightly increase the brightness of the brightest pixels, and slightly decrease the brightness of the darkest pixels. This is just one of the ways to do a basic contrast adjustment, but have more control over the adjustment than just by using a simple contrast slider.

curves adjustment s-curve
Using a simple curves adjustment to add contrast. Once you open a curves layer, you'll notice that the graph will pop up on the top right (by default). In this example, I've set two points and clicked and dragged to create a basic s-curve.


The Hue/Saturation adjustment is great for adjusting colors in your scene. When you open a Hue/Saturation adjustment, you'll see a few different sliders pop up. This works similarly to the HSL sliders in Lightroom, but with much more control (and the ability to use a layer mask to further refine). Generally, I use this adjustment to target a specific color in the scene, so I'll click on the place that says "Master" and change it to the color I'd like to adjust. Now, you can change the Hue, Saturation, or Lightness of the particular color. There is many more advanced ways you can make a more specific selection or color change within this Hue/Saturation adjustment, but for now, play with these sliders.

Color Balance

The Color Balance adjustment is my favorite way to balance the temperatures in an image. Using the white balance and tint sliders in Lightroom will get me close to the correct temperature for an image, but the color balance tool is where I really nail the colors down. When you open a color balance layer, you'll get the option to target midtones, highlights, or shadows. One of my favorite things to do with this is to slightly warm up the highlights, and slightly cool down the shadows. The midtones selection is a great way to adjust the image as a whole, if it needs small adjustments. Be careful with these sliders though, as just a couple of points goes a long way.

photoshop color balance
Changing the targeted tone in a color balance selection.

Photoshop is so much more powerful than what is offered by just understanding layer masks and basic adjustment layers, but this is a great way to get started in the program. I find that once most photographers get started, they'll slowly start to figure out other aspects of the program. Understanding these things will give you a great foundation to build on in years to come.

If you want to become a Photoshop Master in just a few short hours, make sure to grab my Photoshop Masterclass Course. The Beginner Course will teach you the skills in this blog post in video form, and in much more detail. You'll also learn how to do things like spot heal and sharpen your image, as well as some of the other plugins and adjustments I like to use. On top of that, you'll get tons of tips and tricks to make using Photoshop even easier.

If you already understand these concepts and are ready to dive deep, pick up the second half of my Photoshop Masterclass Course. The Advanced Course is designed for the Photographer that already understands basic Photoshop skills, but wants to learn the tools, tips, and tricks that I use to create compelling images.

Thanks so much for checking out this week's blog post!