Understanding Photoshop is a biweekly column that takes an in-depth look at how digital photographs are built and manipulated. It is a college-level course in plain english for free at Photofocus. To learn more see this article.

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Let’s continue our overview of Photoshop’s interface. It’s important to understand the key panels and elements that you need to work with to get results. This article serves as an overview. We’ll dig deeper into each in later lessons.


Don’t confuse the Color panel with the color mode of the document. The Color panel allows you to modify and select colors using eight different color models. You can choose colors using RGB sliders or the more intuitive Hue, Saturation, and Brightness (HSB) model. To adjust color, move the sliders for the corresponding value. Sliding the Red slider to the right increases the amount of red in the new color. Choosing colors is independent of image mode in that you can use a CMYK model for an RGB image. However, picking a color to use in a grayscale document will not introduce color into that image.

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Spend some time exploring the Color panel and find a method that works best for you. Clicking on a color swatch opens the powerful Color Picker, which unlocks a larger visual interface for exploring color and enhances the use of the Eyedropper tool to sample color from a source image.


The Swatches panel is like a painters palette in that it holds several colors ready to use. Many colors are loaded by default, which are useful when painting or using filters that utilize those colors. If you click the panels submenu, you’ll discover many more swatch books to load for specialty purposes like Web browser colors, spot color printing, or photo filters.

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Temporary banishment of panels

If you want to hide your panels, you can quickly toggle them off and on:

  • Press the Tab key to hide all the panels.
  • Press the Tab key again and they return.
  • Press Shift+Tab to hide everything except the Options bar and toolbox.
  • To focus on only your image, press the F key once to go to Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar mode. Press the F key again to go to Full Screen and hide all the user interface elements. Press the F key once more to cycle to Standard Screen Mode. You’ll also find the Screen Mode Switcher located at the bottom of the Tools panel.


To explore Styles, open the file Shape.psd.


The Styles panel is where you can visually access Layer Styles. These are the combination of layer effects (which can be applied singularly to create effects such as beveled edges, drop shadows, or glows). Effects are most useful in combination, and advanced photorealistic effects can be achieved. Photoshop ships with several built-in styles, and many more are available for download from Adobes Web site (https://creative.adobe.com/addons) as well as many other Photoshop sites. Layer Styles are frequently used for text and image effects but can also be used for Web rollover effects for buttons or photo styles.

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While working with photos, you’ll often need to zoom in to touch up an image. It may sound clich, but its easy to lose your perspective when working in Photoshop. When you zoom in to a pixel level for image touchup, you often won’t be able to see the entire image onscreen.
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This is where the Navigator comes in handy:

    1. Open the photo Lizard.jpg.
    2. Select the Zoom tool from the toolbox or press Z (the tool looks like a magnifying glass). Make sure the Scrubby Zoom option is selected in the Options bar.
    3. Click and drag near the lizards head to zoom in.
    4. Call up the Navigator panel by choosing Window > Navigator. Drag the corner of the Navigator panel to make it larger and easier to see.
    5. You can now navigate within your photo:
    6. Drag the red view box around the thumbnail to pan within the image.
    7. Resize the Navigator panel for a larger image preview.
    8. Move the Zoom slider to zoom in or out on the image.
    9. Click the Zoom Out or Zoom In buttons to jump to a uniform magnification.
    10. Close the document by choosing File > Close.


Open the file Histogram.tif.


Photoshop CC007While color correcting or adjusting exposure, the histogram can be a great help. This graph illustrates how the pixels in the image are distributed across brightness levels. To read a histogram, start at the left edge, which shows the shadow regions.

The middle shows the midtones (where most adjustments to an image are made), and to the right are the highlights. You may want to leave the Histogram panel open as you work, because it is an easy way to learn to read the graphical details of a digital image.

The Histogram panel has been set to Show All Channels view (Click the triangle in the upper-right corner and choose All Channels view). The top histogram is a composite histogram for the red, green, and blue channels combined; the next three show them individually.