Life in the Box: Why Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is hard to learn. The icons aren’t self-explanatory. The layers and masking seem indecipherable at first. Why would anyone try to learn it? My reason for learning it is that it does things I’ve always wanted to do to make images look better.

In practical terms, the four things I do most in Photoshop (PS from here on) that I can’t do elsewhere are:

  1. Move pieces of the photo around with the “Clone Stamp” tool.
  2. “Paint” parts of the photo to improve contrast, colors, and details.
  3. Layer photos over each other to add textures and combine parts of photos with each other.
  4. Resize images for sharing in different ways.

PS also does a lot more—it is great with “automatic” color balancing and fixing scars on old photos. But there are a lot of simpler photo programs that can also do general fixing on an entire photo. So, I’ll just spend a moment or two talking about how I use PS for fixing parts of a photo. This isn’t intended as a tutorial; I just want to share some tools that I use a lot that might help someone decide whether or not to take the PS plunge.


The Stamp tool is like a rubber stamp that you can customize to cover over “trash” that you don’t want in your picture. Literally, you can clone pieces of a photo to stamp over other parts of the photo.

I wanted this shot of a bike rack and its shadow, but in order to get the angle I wanted on the subject, I had to include my own shadow and the parking lot behind it.

Bike Original

With PS’s clone stamp tool, I took little pieces of the sidewalk to cover my own shadow, and little pieces of the parking lot to cover all the cars and such in the background. It’s a much better image without all that stuff.

Bike Done


The paint brush, which you can size larger and smaller, and make paint as “heavy or light” (opaqueness) as you wish. You can use the brush to emphasize or de-emphasize anything. Generally, I use it for adjusting areas that are either too dark or too light. It comes in handy all the time. Here’s an example where I used brushes to darken the dark and whiten the white to make the ice cave more curvaceous.

Original colors

Turned Black and White

Painted whites whiter and blacks blacker


Layers are really fun to play with. I can spend hours with them. But one of the most basic ways photographers use layers is simply to add an artistic texture to a plain shot. You can buy artistic textures on many photography sites.

Flower original

Flower with textured overlay

When I’m playing in Photoshop, I often use at least 10 layers on up to 20 or more. Each layer is doing some different function like sharpening the focus, softening the backgrounds, enhancing just part of the color to make it draw the eye. Here’s a typical example.

I took the original photo at a workshop, and was mainly trying to get the sharpest photo possible, using the lens I had with me. It is a wide shot and has “garbage” around it, but I knew it was in focus.


First, I cropped it, which can be done in many photo programs, not just PS.  

First adjustment

Then, I started using the stamp tool, taking pieces of the background to cover the packing tape, and to make the bottom part of the candy cane fade off.

Second adjustment

Now I used the automatic corrections for brightening the shot. It was backlit, and I decided it needed more light in front.

Third adjustment Layer

Most photographers also like to “vignette” or turn the corners and sides a bit darker than the center of the shot. PS has a function for that, and I also played with a little texture which you’ll see as swipes of shadows.

This is my “finished” photo. I might decide I like an earlier version better, so if there’s any doubt, I save versions as jpg files and look at them the next day.


That brings up one more PS function that really comes in handy for me—resizing. I like to share my photos by email and also enter them in digital photo competitions in my local camera club. Each way I share calls for a different size of image.

Full Size for printing or just for saving: about 6000 pixels by 4000. This totally depends on your camera or other imaging tool, like a smart phone.

Camera Club dimensions: largest side 1920 pixels.

Emailing several photos to friends: largest side 1000 pixels.

Posting photos on blog: largest side 500 pixels.

The above sizes have been consistent for a few years, so will likely change soon. All I know is that PS can take a photo and make it any size you want.

As a final note, just about every digital photographer I know uses Photoshop. It’s been a crucial tool for the past three decades, and it keeps adding useful and imaginative features every year. I was using it back in my television days, learning just one function at a time. I soon decided that I needed a full, twelve-week class in it, not a simple tutorial. That was a good start, and I continue to take classes because it’s that complicated and useful—and continues to change.

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site.


Kathleen Clemons Textures

Kathleen Clemons Main Gallery (fabulous flower photography using some of her textures)

Belle Fleur textures

Clone Stamp Tool Tutorial in Photoshop

Tutorial for Resizing images in Photoshop

A little video of mine about how I’m using Photoshop and Topaz to polish photos.


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