My Top 3 Photoshop Tips

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 3 Comments

There are so many processing software options open to photographers these days, that it’s getting harder and harder to choose which ones will suit your budget and needs best. I am still a firm believer in the power and relevance of Photoshop, even though I do start my workflow with every photo in Lightroom.

This short post will highlight 3 top tips that I would give to anyone who woke me up in the middle of the night, with a weapon in my face, and asking me to name 3 must-know tips for processing wildlife photos in Photoshop…haha.

I also decided that I won’t rehash some of the other tips I’ve shared on the blog before, those being on Local Contrast Enhancement and Colour Space.

Well, here we go then…

1. Learn to Love Layers

In Photoshop there are so many functions and features, that the average proficient user is probably only fluent and effective in about 15-20% of what the software can actually do! If you are unfamiliar with layers and how they work, you can actually take that down to about 7% (these figures are all thumb-suck values, but should show you the weight I add to layers!). By using layers you can make selective adjustments easily, and even make sure you can backtrack all your adjustments at a later stage by saving the file and using adjustment layers. A typical approach for me is to make a careful selection of the subject from the background, and layer that. This way, I can make sure I apply selective noise reduction to the background only (as it destroys fine detail on the in focus areas), and also apply selective contrast and sharpening on the subject only to make it stand out. There are a lot of tutorials online about creating layers and layer masks so make sure you spend some time on the interwebs watching relevant videos and reading up on blog posts. You can start HERE courtesy of my friend Jay Patel.


Screenshot showing layers of subject and background (latter hidden)

2. Learn to use Luminosity Masking

Suffice to say that you’ll need to come to grips with layering and masking (#1 above) before even attempting to find out what a luminosity mask is. The gist of it is that you make selections based on the lightness/darkness of the tones in the image, as opposed to a physical selection which you normally make via the lasso or magic wand tool.

This ensures that halos and obvious selection patterns are minimised, and you can effectively tone down bright areas (or brighten dark areas) in a way that is way less obvious than other methods allow you to do. I used this in a short tutorial I posted a while ago on the blog, HERE. My friend Hougaard Malan, probably the best landscape photographer in South Africa, has written some great tutorials on his blog regarding this technique – check out Part 1 and Part 2.


Before and After – Luminosity Mask toning down bright tones in the sky

3. Always leave sharpening for last!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The modern digital photography community has not come to grips with the purpose of sharpening when preparing images for presentation on the web. Most overdo or don’t do enough of it – leaving images oversharpened or looking soft. Sharpening is the last step of my workflow, simply because it will be dependent on my intent with the image (web presentation or large format printing, for example, require vastly differing approaches to sharpening).

Sharpening is especially important if you have upsized or downsampled the original image at all. Resampling the image will require additional sharpening in 99.99999999% of scenarios. Whichever sharpening algorithm or plugin you use, I prefer applying sharpening in small amounts in 2-3 iterations, as opposed to one round of sharpening at a higher pixel radius.

Check out these 3 images…”not sharp enough“, “oversharpened“, and lastly “just right“!


No sharpening


Too much of a good thing…


I sincerely hope this post has given you a push in the right direction if you are stuck in your Photoshop processing.

Keep your eyes on the blog for more tips to come soon!

I am looking forward to sharing some in-depth Photoshop teaching with some of you during the course of this year in my popular “Advanced Photoshop for Wildlife Photography” course at the Wild Eye office.

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About the Author

Morkel Erasmus

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Just a regular guy, camera in hand, overcome by the beauty of the African continent, and passionate about sharing this beauty with others!

Comments 3

  1. Heinrich Neumeyer

    Hi Morkel

    Thank you very much for posting these tips again.
    As I recently purchased Lightroom, I will definitely make use of these to get those photos out much better than before.
    I especially like and favour tip number 2 (Luminosity Masking) and will most certainly give that a try.

    Looking forward to some more tips soon 🙂

    Have a great one!

    Kind regards and best wishes

    Heinrich Neumeyer

  2. Beena Balasubramaniam

    Hi Morkel,
    Great tips in Photoshop, especially the Luminosity mask. I am trying this on some pictures from the tropics where there is a high variation between the bright and shades.
    Hope you do more of these.

  3. Laurette

    Thank you kindly Morkel for these very important tips when it comes to processing ones image for the best result in the end.

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