Key Technical Skills

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This course will deliver many things, but the most important are outlined very briefly on this page. A sample file showing these key technical skills can be found here (right click download).

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A mask is a non-destructive way or erasing the contents of a layer. Non-destructive editing is core to this course, though you also learn when it is best to destructively edit. A mask has the advantage over an erase in that it can be edited: softened, hardened, added to and removed from. This edibility is vital to digital painters and compositors for the control over edge values that it offers. A mask is often twinned with a selection in the following manner: after a selection is made the mask button is pressed, the subsequent mask being derived from the selection.


Selection to Mask Workflow


Clamp, Dilate and Erode

Quick Mask Mode



Clipping a layer (Layer 1) to another (Layer 2) means that the contents of Layer 2 are masked-out by the transparency values of Layer 1. In the image below the red dots (Layer 2) is above the black circle (Layer 1). If you hold down the Option Key whilst hovering over the line at which the two layers join, the cursor turns into a funny looking thingy (below inset... The grey check area indicates transparency).

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A mouse click will now clip these two layers together (below). The red dots are now only visible if the black circle has, by virtue of its transparency value, 'given them permission'. Layer 2 is now Layer 1's bitch.

Key learning 01.png

Technically, clipping is a trivial thing which takes thirty seconds to learn. However, from the point of view of layer Syntax it is very important. In a PS file 'thingness' is governed by layer clipping: an RGB content layer featuring a single 'object' will likely contain a small stack of clipped layers above it, all of which are performing some sort of adjustment upon it.



Layer syntax

Layer blends

Normally a layer (Layer 2) will sit on top of another (Layer 1) with Layer 2 obscuring Layer 1. However, by playing with the blending mode of Layer 2 one can get interesting results. By taking advantage of the underlying mathematical nature of digital color, a blend mode can get the two layers to react with each other in fascinating and useful ways: shadows can be painted-in using the Multiply blend mode, highlights can be made using the Screen or Color Dodge blend mode or color can be manipulated by using the Hue, Saturation or Color blend mode.


Blend Modes

Color as Numbers

Adjustment layer

In menu Image / Adjustment there are a whole bunch of items the purpose of which are to change the color values of the image. Of these the most useful by far is the Curves. The Adjustment Layers present non-destructive versions of these adjustments.




Color Correction Workflow

Color Workflows


This is the only key learning item that does not have a direct presence within the layers pallet, living entirely within the Filters menu and its numerous sub-menus. Whilst an Adjustment will effect all the pixels within an image to the same degree, a filter will effect each pixel within an image according to the values of its neighbours. This makes them slower to process than adjustments. Though there are literally hundreds of filters, only a few are likely to be of use to a digital painter or compositor. The most commonly used filters are a little bit boring, e.g.: Gaussian Blur (blurs), High Pass (sharpens).



Reduction of toolset

One aim of this course is to cull the huge range of options available within PS down to a manageable minimum. Photoshop used to be small enough to email to someone, now it is huge. This can be very daunting for the newbie. But here's a secret: you only need to learn a small fraction of it. Heres why:

Photoshop was designed to serve many communities.
Over the years Adobe has, in its development of Photoshop, gone out of its way to serve as many sectors of the creative industry as possible. This means that there are huge chunks of it that are simply not important for the digital painter (e.g. aspects of its web design toolset such as the slice tool).
There is needless duplication.
Consumer-ware applications such as Photoshop are very much inclined to present to the user many ways of doing the same thing (e.g. the 'Save Selection' command is not needed if you know how to use channels).
There are redundant consumer tools.
Adobe is always trying to make life easier for the newbie consumer by the addition of 'easy to use' one-click tools (e.g. the pathetic Red Eye tool). However, it is quite possible to live without such junk.

Most of all, the fewer tools you need to use, the faster and more creative you are likely to be.