How to Learn Photoshop Step by Step

Have you ever thought “image manipulation or graphic design looks cool, I’m going to learn Photoshop!” Then you opened Photoshop for the first time and felt absolutely overwhelmed by what you saw.

Photoshop is big, powerful software and you can do so much with it. The only problem is that there is a big learning curve. The good news is that you can learn Photoshop through a plethora of online resources — both free and paid. 

I’m Cara and these days I’m a photographer. But at a moment in the not-too-distant past, I had no idea what I was doing in Photoshop. I understand being frustrated because the program won’t do what I want it to do.

Come along with me as I show you how to learn Photoshop and create the type of content that makes your heart sing!

Step 1: Figure Out What You Want from Photoshop

Photoshop is a huge program with a whole lot of capabilities. The first thing you need to figure out is what you want to use it for. Then you can narrow your focus to learning the subsets of the software that you need. 

For example, as a photographer, I’ve never touched a ton of the tools in Photoshop. I don’t need vectors, shapes, paths, and many of the other tools available in the software. Similarly, if you’re only interested in design, you might not need photo-related tools.

A Note to Photographers

By the way, if you’re a photographer only planning on using Photoshop for photo editing, I recommend Lightroom instead. It is also designed by Adobe but is specific to photo editing. 

In my opinion, it is more user-friendly than Photoshop and is less time-consuming to learn. 

However, if you want to get into photo manipulation, you’ll need Photoshop. Lightroom doesn’t allow you to perform more advanced operations. For example, you can’t cut and paste portions of images to do a head swap in a family portrait when someone’s eyes are closed. 

The great thing is that Photoshop and Lightroom come as a bundle in Adobe’s Creative Cloud. You can start with Lightroom and ease into Photoshop as you need certain functions and the software is already available to you.

Step 2: Learn the Basics

Okay, back to how to master Photoshop. There are a few basic tools and skills that everyone who wants to use Photoshop will need to understand. These include:

The Toolbox

On the left-hand side of the screen, you can find the basic tools that Photoshop offers. These include powerful tools such as the Lasso, Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, and more!

The Basic Panels

These are the panels you can use to fine-tune your tools such as the brush settings panel and photo adjustment panels such as hue/saturation adjustment and others.


To work non-destructively in Photoshop, you need to work in layers. Every edit you make to your photo should happen on a separate layer. That way if you need to go back and change something, you can simply select the appropriate layer. You can only hit Undo so many times before it doesn’t work anymore. 

Basic Menus

Across the top of Photoshop, you’ll see a menu bar with a whole lot of different options. Learning about these options and what they do will take you a long way on your Photoshop learning journey. 

Step 3: Invest in a Photoshop Course

One way to knock out learning Photoshop is to take a dedicated course. There are a plethora of online courses both free and paid that are available. These courses are usually taught by professionals well-versed in using Photoshop.

There are all sorts of courses aimed at beginners, intermediate users, or dedicated to teaching advanced concepts in Photoshop.

Most are aimed towards certain types of users, which will have a big influence on which course is best for you. Again, define what you want to use Photoshop for and look for courses that cover these skills.

Step 4: Photoshop Tutorials

The Internet is also full of tutorials that offer video demonstrations or step-by-step instructions. Videos are nice because you can follow along on the presenter’s screen and see exactly what they’re doing. 

I tend to like written instructions because I can go back and reread a step here or there real quick. On a video, I have to keep backing it up to search for the right spot. I find it to be time-consuming. 

Side note: speaking of this, that’s also the reason why we created PhotoshopBuzz, offering free Photoshop tutorials and freebies for our readers.

The Adobe website itself is chock full of official tutorials. You can sort them by beginner or experienced and they are divided by topic so you can easily find what you need. 

Step 5: Learn One Thing at a Time

Sometimes you just need to learn how to do one thing. You don’t want to take a whole course to figure out a specific thing, such as how to whiten teeth. 

Or maybe a step-by-step course just isn’t your learning style. I have taken a piecemeal approach to learning Photoshop because I get bored in courses. 

Whenever I want to learn how to do something specific, I watch a video or read a tutorial and figure it out from there. That approach won’t work well for everyone but the beautiful thing about the Internet is that there is something for everyone. 

Final Thought: Eating the Elephant!

My high-school science teacher presented our year-long research papers like this:

“Think of it like eating an elephant. It’s impossible to eat the entire elephant at once. But if you take little bites over time, it’s totally possible!”

You have to take it in bite-sized pieces as you learn Photoshop. Otherwise, it just gets too frustrating and overwhelming and you find yourself pulling your hair out. 

There was more than once that I gave up in frustration and stomped away from my computer after nothing would work the way it was supposed to! 

I would follow online videos or read tutorials but there would always be something that was off. It wouldn’t have happened the way the presenter said, or if I hadn’t checked (or unchecked) a little box somewhere that was messing it up. There was always something!

I don’t say this to frustrate you, but rather to encourage you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by Photoshop, don’t worry! Everybody that uses Photoshop started right where you are now. They learned it and so can you!

To help you get started, there are plenty of resources right here. We have a whole list of easy-to-follow tutorials and tips for learning Photoshop. 

Have fun on your Photoshop learning journey!

About Cara Koch
Cara fell in love with photography circa 2014 and has been exploring all corners of the imagery world ever since. When she felt limited by Lightroom, she dove headfirst into Photoshop to learn how to create the images she wanted.

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