After working with Photoshop since version 4 in 1999, I realize that nobody really knows every thing that Photoshop can do. This makes it a great toy and tool, because there’s always something new to discover. But you can learn most of it and keep learning. I recommend the following habits if you want to become a Photoshop Expert.

For this article, I’m defining expertise as being able to:

  • imitate something from real life (e.g. how shadows and light really work, how glass and water bend light).
  • guess with reasonable accuracy how a particular effect was created by someone else in Photoshop.
  • troubleshoot your own errors as well as someone else’s.
  • manipulate pixels non-destructively.
  • work efficiently through the proper use of shortcuts, panels, actions, and tools.
  • know how and when to use most of the features in Photoshop.

Here are the 10 things I recommend you do if you want to be a Photoshop expert.

#1: Own the latest version of Photoshop
It’s pretty hard to really experiment with Photoshop if you don’t have your own copy at home. Having the latest version is important too. Particularly with the last two versions, CS3 and CS4, new features are added all the time. These features usually either make your job easier (like the Adjustments panel), or give you tools that didn’t even exist in prior versions (like some of CS4’s 3D capabilities).

I do recommend you purchase your own copy. Please don’t used pirated stuff. If you are a teacher or student who is not using Photoshop for commercial purposes, you are allowed by Adobe to purchase the educational version at about half-price. It is as fully-featured as the non-educational version. You can usually buy this version at college book stores, or online at sites such as creationengine.com.

You are allowed to run your Photoshop online photoshop software on two machines. I have one copy on my desktop PC and one on my laptop for travel.

#2: Play and Make Mistakes
Experimentation and play is the key to learning something beyond the basics. Try out all kinds of tools and filters, and see what they do with different settings. You can’t really ruin Photoshop. And if you do, you can reset all the defaults by closing Photoshop, then pressing and holding the Shift+Ctrl+Alt keys (Mac: Shift+Cmd+Opt) while Photoshop restarts.

Take a bunch of photos from your camera (or online) and throw them together. See how blend modes change an overall image as layers are moved around. Try all of the layer adjustments, and every filter combined with another filter. Don’t worry if it’s ugly. You’re learning. And there’s always the History panel to allow you to back up several steps and try something else.

#3: Take a Class
To be honest, I had an awful Photoshop teacher. He did little beyond schedule what we were supposed to complete in the textbook. I stopped going at one point. I had learned how not to teach, and four years later I was teaching Photoshop. What a good teacher can do is give you assignments you never dreamed you could do (and enjoy!) More importantly, a good instructor can give you personal guidance when you don’t even realize you made a mistake, or there’s a typo in the textbook, or you accidentally skipped something, and something goes wrong.

Finally, a good instructor will give you projects to do that give you real-world scenarios and specifications. This prepares you for making real money with Photoshop.

#4: Go to Seminars
Kelby Training provides absolutely fantastic seminars all over the United States. I have had teachers such as the amazing Bert Monroy and Dave Cross. These seminars have increased my creativity and efficiency in Photoshop beyond belief. The day-long seminar is always fun and very inspiring. Go to one of these seminars if you can, or find something comparable in your area.