I was recently sent an email from a reader asking, 'what is the easiest way to learn Adobe Photoshop?' I'm not a graphic designer, but through building websites, I taught myself Photoshop over a period of 3-4 years. My path was mostly haphazard, tedious and required considerable will power.
I realise now that it needn't have been so difficult. I could have learned much faster if I had followed a few tips which I will share with you in this article. It will not only make your approach more straightforward, but you will also learn faster and retain more.
The easiest way to learn Adobe Photoshop is to commit to a project for someone else, such as a school, company or a friend. Having a goal provides motivation for learning and a reason for persevering. During the process, use online resources like YouTube and Phlearn.com to help master the basics.
Why Start With A Project?
Will power and persistence are the biggest hurdles you will face in mastering Photoshop. Learning by taking on small projects for others is one way to overcome this. It forces you out of your comfort zone by committing yourself to a deadline. It also eliminates procrastination.
That said, don't be tempted to over-commit to a complicated piece of design work. Adobe Photoshop is a big, powerful application with many facets. It takes time to learn it fluently. Start small by offering to create a simple graphic or improve someone's photos. These 'micro-projects' are much more manageable and achievable.
Offering to create something in an application you are unfamiliar with sounds counter-intuitive perhaps even crazy, but it works. It is the most efficient and easiest way to learn.
Many people start out by studying an application as a whole entity before getting their hands dirty. This approach is both ineffective and wastes a tremendous amount of time. By starting with a micro project, you are forced to seek out the specific skills required to complete the task. This type of learning is much more efficient, and you are more likely to retain what you've learnt.
By working on projects, you immediately start to build up a portfolio of work, which will lead to more projects and potentially a job as a graphic designer.
Where I Went Wrong.
In my case, I started by watching videos, trying out the tools and doing a few exercises etc. However, without a focus or goal, it quickly became tiresome and arduous. That was a significant hurdle as I kept forgetting what I had learned previously. I was continually having to repeat the tutorials I had already completed. I became frustrated and lost interest. It took a considerable amount of will power to go back and continue studying.
It was at this point I decided to change my approach and take on projects. It supercharged my learning experience. What I had struggled to master in a month I learnt within a few days.
How To Find Good Micro-Projects.
There are people in all walks of life who could use design help. Anyone who runs a business is always in need of promotional work. You can also try a local school or a charitable institution. Just volunteer your services for free. Most people will be happy to take you up on your offer. Start off with a small project and make sure you agree to a deadline.
In case you do not find anyone (which is highly unlikely), you can also look for such projects online. Some places where you can discover projects are websites like Craigslist, Upwork and Fiver. Just ensure you are honest. Don't be tempted to sell yourself as anything more than a beginner.
There are numerous Photoshop forums online where you can enquire about free design work. You may even find a few mentors and possibly build a network. Alternatively, do a Google search for 'beginner Photoshop competitions'. You may even win a prize :).
Knowing Your Requirements.
To have this strategy work for you, you need to be clear on why you want to learn Adobe Photoshop. Are you hoping to become a graphic designer or simply improve the photos your website or Instagram pages?
The requirements for each are substantially different. Knowing a bit of Photoshop for specific tasks, such as removing the background of an image, is a lot easier than forging a career as a graphic designer. That said, there are plenty of work opportunities for both, and they can be equally profitable!
You do not become a graphic designer by only learning Photoshop. Graphic design is a vast subject and requires an understanding of the principles and various techniques of art and design. Your chosen career path will dictate other applications you'll need to learn.
The good news is that Photoshop is the perfect platform to start regardless of your ambitions because it is so widely used. Just be aware, if you are looking to become a graphics designer, you will have to commit to a much longer learning process.
Getting Started Learning Photoshop.
Step 1 - Installing the Application.
Having committed to a project, the first step you need to do is download and install Photoshop. You may have already done this.
Adobe Photoshop is only available on a subscription basis as part of Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of applications. You can pay either monthly or yearly.
While there is a discount for paying annually, it may be wiser to pay for an initial month. After completing your first project, you can then decide if you want to go for the annual plan. You can subscribe to range of Adobe's applications or just Photoshop. There is a significant discount for students.
Adobe offers a free trial for 7 days. This is a great way to familiarise yourself with the Photoshop workspace and the tools. The 7 day period will also help you get acquainted with the tools and figure out the various components and their uses. It's useful to have this covered off before you have to start paying.
Step 2 - Figuring Out The Basics.
At this stage, I would jump straight into a course to learn the basics. It will save confusion and time. There is an abundance of excellent tutorials on YouTube for free and reasonably priced structured online courses on platforms such as Udemy.
I recommend The Beginners Guide to Adobe Photoshop on YouTube.
This comprises of 33 sort videos, in which you follow the presenter in designing a book cover. The presenter starts by covering the workspace and menus and moves on from there.
Alternatively, you can try this other free tutorial on YouTube called The Four Hour Photoshop Crash Course
Both of these courses will teach you the basics, but if you prefer a more professional learning platform, there are several courses available on Udemy. I recommend Learn Adobe Photoshop From Scratch.
It included 8 hours of video tutorials and 32 downloadable files to follow along with the instructor. 84,000 students have taken the course, and it has a rating of 4.5 out of 5.
Level - Introductory
Cost - Check for details
Duration - Self Paced
If you complete some or all of these recommended courses, you will have acquired enough knowledge and confidence to start work on your own project. You'll have an understanding of the various tools used in Photoshop and their purpose. You'll be comfortable with Photoshop's idea of layering, and you'll be able to apply the tips and tricks you've learnt in your own project.
Photoshop can be fairly intuitive for people who are comfortable using computers. These tutorials that teach the fundamentals may seem overly easy to some, but the key is to be persistent and not to skip ahead. Guaranteed you'll miss something important and end up having to retrace your steps at a later date, which is both frustrating and wastes time.
Step 3 - Getting Answers To Specific Questions.
While free tutorials on YouTube are a great way to learn, it's unlikely you'll get a response if you have a question. The best resource for this is Adobe itself, which have a mini site dedicated just to Photoshop.
Here you'll find trouble-shooting guides, FAQs and a community forum, where you can post questions and get answers. Don't feel embarrassed to ask questions you might think are amateurish. This process of seeking out solutions is vital to learning. It is the fastest way to learn, and you're more likely to remember the answer.
YouTube can also be an excellent resource if you want a quick tip on a particular skill or technique, say 'merging layers'. These type of short, bite-sized videos are usually uploaded by experts and are ideal for improving your understanding.
If you find a helpful YouTube video, I recommend subscribing to the channel. They'll likely have other useful videos, and you'll receive updates when new videos are added.
Step 4 - Mastering More Advanced Techniques.
By this stage, you will be working through your project and have the confidence to start using more advanced Photoshop techniques. At this point, I recommend looking at Phlearn.com.
Phlearn has a paid subscription service, but also offer a treasure-trove of free tutorials. You'll also find their free tutorials on YouTube.
Aaron Nace, the founder of Phlearn, is a Photoshop genius. He is excellent at demonstrating complex tasks in an easy to follow manner. You'll learn advanced techniques that will take your designs and photos to another level.
By continuing this process of learning while working on projects, you'll soon have enough experience and examples of your work to consider charging. You can then decide whether you want to make a career out of your new skill or use it as a side income.
Step 5 - Becoming a Graphic Designer
For those interested in becoming a graphic designer, it's worth getting a qualification from an established institution. If your preference is to teach yourself by studying online, Coursera offers a Graphic Design qualification from the California Institute of the Arts (Calarts).
Referred to as a 'Specialisation', it is 5 separate course culminating in a final project. On completion, you'll receive a certificate from CalArts. The course starts with the fundamentals of graphic design, then looks at typography, colour, shapes and composition.
Armed with a qualification from a recognised institution and a portfolio of your project work, you'll be well on the road to scoring your first job.
Hopefully, you find these tips for learning Photoshop helpful. If you know of any excellent resources, I haven't mentioned, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts.