Although there are many photo editing software packages on the market, the industry standard for professional photographers and printers is Adobe Photoshop. One of the main reasons for this is that Photoshop contains so many tools to produce the exact right look for any photo for any application. Most photo editing programs use the same basic toolsets as Photoshop, but the latter has far more of them. For many people, the program has more tools than you will ever need for basic photo editing.
Photoshop provides the most commonly used tools in two Toolbars, one at the left of the workspace and the other along the top. The side Toolbar contains such tools as "Crop," "Select," "Magic Wand," "Text," "Paintbrush," "Clone Stamp" and "Healing Brush" among others. Down near the bottom, you can select a foreground and a background color. As you choose most of these tools, the top Toolbar changes to add functionality to each tool. For example, if you select the "Text" tool, the top Toolbar will change to allow you to select the font, the font style such as bold or italic, the font size, font alignment and color and other aspects. For more control, it has a button to allow you to set kerning and leading, and another button to allow you to bend and twist the text.
The primary use of any photo editing software is to adjust the color and tone of your images. Photoshop has a whole array of these tools located in the "Image" menu and "Adjustments" submenu. The most common of these to use is "Levels," which controls the lightness and darkness of the image. There also are many other tools here. For example, if you need to lighten up a deep shadow in an image without changing the highlights, you can use "Shadow/Highlight." If you are working with a black and white image, you can use the "Black & White" tool to give you subtle control over the tonal range of grayscale images.
Filters in Photoshop most often come into play as tools for special effects, with the exception of "Unsharp Mask" and a few others. Almost all photos can benefit from the restrained use of "Unsharp Mask." For special effects, however, the "Filter Gallery" in the "Filter" menu offers a lot of options. You can make an image into a comic book style, a charcoal drawing, a mosaic or a watercolor, among many other options using the "Filter Gallery." Each filter in this gallery has some adjustment controls to customize the image.
Actions are sets of preset commands that cover a variety of issues in Photoshop. For example, if you want to create some text and have it appear to be reflected in water, you can go through several steps to do this on your own, or you can just select the "Water Reflection (Type)" action and Photoshop will do it for you. Apart from special effects, with "Actions," you also can create simulated frames around your images. Another bonus of "Actions" is that you can record your own to speed up certain redundant tasks. For example, if you always want a specific set of attributes associated with "Unsharp Mask," you can record that particular rule set as an action. From then on, you can just hit the button or a function key and the program will take care of the details.
The most significant tool set in Photoshop for many people is "Layers." Picture them as multiple transparent sheets overlaid on your image. You can use them all, or just one, or turn them off completely. You can use "Layers" to adjust the "Levels" of your image without changing the original until you are happy with them. You can add "Photo Filters" or create special effects and toggle between the original and your improvements before you commit to them. When you add text, it creates a layer that remains separate from the underlying image. This means you can move it around or change styles without altering the original photo.
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