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11 Shortcuts to make you more efficient within Photoshop

Millions of photographers from around the globe use Adobe Photoshop to edit and manipulate their digital images. Photoshop shortcuts allow for a much more efficient and creative workflow. How so? By keeping your mind on the creative process and not fumbling around with the plethora of tools and extensive menu items within Photoshop, your mind will stay on the task at hand – creating a GREAT image!

Listed below (In no particular order) are ELEVEN shortcuts or tips that can really make your post processing workflow much more enjoyable. I would suggest that you look them over and then give each one of them a try. Remember that practice makes BETTER (no one can ever be perfect) and the more you utilize these shortcuts over and over in your workflow the faster and more enjoyable your editing will become.

Change Brush Size/Opacity on the fly

If there is one tool in photoshop that most people use more than any other tool, it would have to be the brush tool. It can be used for so many different purposes within Photoshop! You are most likely aware that hitting the left or right bracket keys will decrease or increase your brush size and doing the same while holding the SHIFT key will soften or harden your chosen brush. You can also right click while using the brush in your work area and a menu will pop up where you can adjust both size and opacity using sliders (along with brush tip) and then return to your work by hitting enter or return. While these two methods work, there is a much better way.

The brush size is indicated by the circle and the brush hardness is shown as the red that you see. The softer the brush you choose, the more "fuzzy" the red will be.

The brush size is indicated by the circle and the brush hardness is shown as the red that you see. The softer the brush you choose, the more “fuzzy” the red will be.

On a Mac, simply hold down Control + Option and click and drag right and left to increase or decrease your brush size. On a Windows PC this is done with Alt + Right Click and dragging. Adjusting Hardness? Same thing only drag up for softer brush and down for harder brush. This way you can change your brushes quickly and just let go of the mouse click once size desired is reached. You’ll never use the other methods again and wonder how you got along without it!

Bird’s Eye View

While holding the H key, click and drag your cursor around the image and the area in the box will be zoomed back to previous zoom level when you release the mouse.

While holding the H key, click and drag your cursor around the image and the area in the box will be zoomed in to when you release the mouse.

With today’s ever expanding large megapixel sensors, the modern photographer has an enormous amount of image information to work with and view. It is often best to keep an eye on the overall look of the image rather than get caught up in just one area for too long. This quick tip makes working on fine details and then returning to the whole image view quick and easy. The (H) Hand tool is of little use since simply pressing the spacebar will get you the hand tool in an instant. However, you may want to try this little trick using the hand tool without actually switching off your current tool:

  1. Open an Image
  2. Zoom into 300% (or whatever you need to work on small details)
  3. Hold down the (H) Key on your keyboard and click your mouse and hold that click. You will now see your image in full view (Bird’s Eye View) and also you will see a little box which you can move around while keeping the “H” key and mouse click applied. Move this little box to the area in which you wish to go and release the mouse button and then the “H” key. Your previous tool will still be active and the image will now zoom back to whatever the zoom level was before activating the “Bird’s Eye View” shortcut.

TIP – Edit Image Side by Side with Zoomed and Full Size View

This is a great trick for viewing your image in two different windows either side by side or one above the other. One can be zoomed in to work on fine detail and the other can be left at full size to get a whole image view of the file being worked on. Same file – Two windows! It is possible within Photoshop! This is really nice on larger desktop displays. Here is what you do:

  • Go to WINDOW>ARRANGE and then go down to “New Window for <Your File Name>” which is the file you currently working on. This will open the same file in a new tab.
  • Go back to WINDOW>ARRANGE and choose Two Up Vertical (or horizontal – your choice). This will put the same image side by side (or one window above the other). You can then zoom into one of them and leave the other at full size or whatever you wish.

Whatever edits you make inside of one tab will happen in the other since it is the same file. The benefit here is that while you make small changes to the overall image, you can see how it is looking in the large, full size image. It is really great when working on finer details and you’re still keeping an eye on the overall image. Give it a try! You will love it!

This allows you to see your overall image while working on fine details when zoomed way in!

This allows you to see your overall image while working on fine details when zoomed way in!

Change Blend Modes in an INSTANT

The ability to quickly change blend modes (Layers and Brushes) really helps in speeding up your workflow and greatly lends to creative ideas.

The ability to quickly change blend modes (Layers and Brushes) really helps in speeding up your workflow and greatly lends to creative ideas.

While working with an image in photoshop, one of the most powerful features in the entire application is the ability to use layers. Using different blend modes will alter that layer for a multitude of looks and effects. But it is time consuming to drag your cursor over to the blend mode drop down menu each and every time you want to change a blend mode. There is a handy shortcut for that. When using one of the selection tools or the move tool, simply press SHIFT and + or – to cycle through the 23 blend modes. This little shortcut alone will save you countless amounts of time now and in the future.

This also works for the Brush tools. Just make sure that a Brush tool is selected when doing so. If you don’t see the brush blend mode changing when using this shortcut, it is because you have a selection or move tool active. This is also true when changing blend modes in the layers panel. A selection or move tool MUST be active when changing layer blend modes. It is very easy to forget this while working in Photoshop. Keep a mental note of this when working with your files in the event you can’t figure out why the mode isn’t changing. After a little while, it will be second nature.

You may also use an even quicker shortcut to get to the exact blend mode you are looking for. Again, with the Move tool or one of the selection tools active, press down SHIFT + ALT/OPTION and “N” for Normal, “K” for Darken, “G” for Lighten, and “O” for Overlay. All 23 modes have a shortcut letter associated with it. Play around on the keyboard and you will see the mode change. Trust me here; experimenting by doing will have you memorizing them much more quickly than listing them here! So tap away different letters and you will learn the corresponding blend mode shortcut.

Trying various blend modes, filters, etc in PS can make your image something you hadn't even thought of at the start!

Trying various blend modes, filters, etc in PS can make your image something you hadn’t even thought of at the start!

HUD (Heads Up Display) Color Picker

A super handy way to change your brush color to any color you want without having to leave your work area.

A super handy way to change your brush color to any color you want without having to leave your work area.

This trick allows you to change your hue, saturation and brightness (HSB) levels in a split second. While using a brush tool simply press Control+Option+Command (MAC) and click and hold click down and the HUD color picker box will appear on your display. On a Windows machine press ALT+Shift+Right Click. You can let go of the modifier keys – just make sure you keep the mouse key clicked until you have desired color and then let go. The hue slider is on the right. You can then just slide back over on the left section for the saturation and luminance levels. Your new color is now chosen and ready to use once you release mouse button.

This differs from simply sampling a color using the color picker tool because this allow you to change not only the color but also the saturation and luminance values as well.

Opacity and Flow

The best way to quickly change your brush tool opacity (or strength with the Blur, Sharpen, or Sponge tool) is to hit the corresponding numeric number on the keyboard. For example when using the Brush tool, hitting “7” on the keyboard will change your opacity to 70%. A “5” will change it to 50%. Very simple to remember. What about 25%? Simple – just hit “2” and then “5” quickly in succession and your blend mode will be 25% or whatever two numbers you keyed in. To return to 100%, simple hit the “0” (ZERO) key.

To change the Flow of your brush, the same numeric keys are used but with the Shift key being held down while hitting the numbers. This is a very helpful shortcut while working on your files.

To change the Opacity of the current layer you are working on, make sure a selection tool is active (or the move tool). Hitting the numeric keys will change your layer opacity percentage. You want your current layer at 50%? Very simple – just hit the “5” while you have one of the selection tools in use. Fill cannot be changed with the keyboard shortcuts but it can be with the very next shortcut.

Scrubby Sliders

Click and slide to right to increase/left to decrease.

Click and slide to right to increase/left to decrease.

There are many sliders within the Photoshop interface. Scrubby sliders are sliders that appear when you place your cursor over the text that is just before a size or percentage field such as Text size and Fill opacity, for example. When using the “T” Text tool, for example, hover your cursor over the text size “tT” just to the left of the font size. You will see two little left/right arrows appear. Click and slide right or left to make bigger or smaller. With Fill Opacity, another example, hover over the word fill in the layers area and those same arrows appear. Click and drag right or left to increase of decrease the fill on that layer. After using Photoshop quite a bit, when you use other applications that don’t have these sliders, you will miss them!

Adding Keyboard Shortcuts to Adjustment Layers

You can customize photoshop in many ways. Using a non destructive workflow means using adjustment layers. Creating your own shortcuts to make them is a great time saver and keeps you moving.

You can customize photoshop in many ways. Using a non destructive workflow means using adjustment layers. Creating your own shortcuts to make them is a great time saver and keeps you moving.

Ah ha! Now we are making our own short cuts! This is of most importance for a quick and organized workflow. Photoshop comes shipped with its own shortcuts as defaults. These aren’t the best for most people using Photoshop and especially not for Photographers. You have probably heard it said over and over again that it is best to work with a non destructive workflow. There simply isn’t a better way to do this than by using adjustment layers. Creating adjustment layer shortcuts for the adjustment types you will most often use is a great time savings idea. It also lets you name your layers with the dialog box that pops up on your screen. On a Mac or PC, go to WINDOWS>WORKSPACE>Keyboard Shortcuts and Menu. Scroll down to layers and click on the little arrow to open that list. This will then show you all the commands. When you get to adjustment layers, you can input your desired shortcut key combo by placing cursor over the “Shortcut” column to the right of the option you want to add the shortcut to and click. A little box will allow you to input new shortcut key combo. Photoshop will alert you if this shortcut combo is already used and if you would like to override the current shortcut. This will make it quick and simple when you make adjustment layers from now on AND keep your layers nice and organized.

Drawing Straight Lines

With a mouse, touch pad or a Wacom tablet, it is impossible to draw a perfectly straight line in Photoshop using any brush such as the Brush tool, Clone stamp tool, Eraser, etc. But this little tip makes it super simple to do! It is essential once you start refining masks in the layers panel that you know this. To do so, set your brush size and hardness as mentioned above. Click once and now press and hold down the shift key. Position your cursor where you would like the other end of the line to extend to. Click again and you will now have a perfectly straight line from them two points!

This trick also works in Adobe Lightroom with the adjustment brush. If you didn’t know it, this can really make a HUGE difference in your editing.

Super Fast Zooming

Simply Holding the "z" zoom key down and click-n-dragging will zoom in to the right and out to the left.

Simply Holding the “z” zoom key down and click-n-dragging will zoom in to the right and out to the left.

When working on your image, there will be many times that you want to zoom in on a specific area of the composition. This can be done regardless of whatever tool you are currently using. To do so, simply press down and hold the “Z” key and click and drag right or left to Zoom in or out. Make sure to keep holding down the “Z” key and release the mouse key first before releasing the “Z” key. This will allow you to snap right back to the tool you were just using.

Add/Delete/Duplicate/Add

I have put all of these together because they all have to do with either adding, duplicating or deleting a layer. To add a layer simply hit SHIFT+CMD+N on a Mac or SHIFT+CTRL+N on a PC. A dialog box will appear and you can name the layer along with other blend and fill options. To Copy a layer, select that layer and hit CMD+J on a Mac or CTRL+J on a PC. This will add a copy of that layer on top of the layer you just copied in the layer stack. To delete, simply hit Delelte/Backspace and the current layer will vanish.

View Current Layer Only / View Layer Mask/Jump From Layer To Layer

I have basically added three very key shortcuts/tips here to round out this list of time saving Photoshop shortcuts. The first is very useful when working with a multi layed document but you only want to see one particular layer at a time. Move your cursor over to the little eyeball that is in front of that layer you want to view isolated. Now hold the OPTION/ALT key and click on that eyeball. All layers but this selected layer will be hidden. Repeate this process to turn them all back on.

Option/Alt + Clicking on the mask in the layers panel will reveal that mask in the full image workspace area in photoshop. This is essential when manipulating layer masks. This same key/click combo will return you to the image. Also, just click on another layer to return to image view.

Option/Alt + Clicking on the mask in the layers panel will reveal that mask in the full image workspace area in photoshop. This is essential when manipulating layer masks. This same key/click combo will return you to the image. Also, just click on another layer to return to image view.

When using a layer mask and you want to view only the mask, place your cursor over the mask and press ALT/Option + click your mouse. This will reveal the layer mask only. Remember, black conceals, white reveals and grey tones mean partially selected pixels.

This is very helpful when using the many tools in Photoshop that facilitate layer mask manipulation which is one of the most powerful features in all of Photoshop. To return to the normal view, just do the same thing:

ALT/Option + click mouse one the little eye near layer or click on a pixel containing layer.

Finally, a super fast way to move up and down while working with layers is to hit the Option/ALT key + ] or [. You will never have to drag your mouse over to move up and down the layers list.

The are many, many more shortcuts and quick tips available for use with Adobe Photoshop. It is an application that has been around for over 25 years and it is a very mature, well developed and extremely stable application. The secret to using these and other shortcuts in a very efficient and professional way is to work with them consistently over and over again until they become second nature. Photoshop is not an intuitive application but with some time, patience and lots of practice you can sit down to edit your images and fly through your work filled with confidence and concentrate on the creative side of making a truly awesome image.

Please leave any comments or questions below in the comments area. Also, why not share some of the shortcuts that you may be familiar with in your particular workflow? We are all here to help each other Improve our Photography!!

Feel free to contact me on Facebook at BrianPex and check out my SquareSpace website at PEXPHOTO.COM Instagram? Clickhere!

I am thrilled to talk to anyone about everything Photography and Post Processing at anytime!

Original Content provided by Improve Photography

14 Comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for the tips!

  2. Thanks Jon! Appreciated! If you ever run into a Photoshop issue, let me know. I love helping others grasp Photoshop and its amazing power!

  3. Tracy Munson

    Wow, Brian. So much information here. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on PS, but I did not know (or remember) most of these. I think I’m going to make a little cheat sheet to tape to my monitor to remind me to use these!

  4. I had all kinda of notes around when learning PS but for me repetitive motion sticks in your brain like song lyrics. Take a crappy image and just practice over and over for a few days and they become burnt into your brain! I have had desk mark lines on my face from falling asleep practicing! ha ha! Thanks!

  5. Peter LaGregor

    Definitely some of the most useful shortcuts that not a lot of people know about. Very cool.

  6. THANKS! My pleasure!
    The more we learn about our post processing tools, the more FUN it all becomes!! It is such a flexible piece of software that it is endlessly fascinating to me all the new techniques and ideas people come up with. The tool set is pretty basic but the uses are as endless as our imaginations. Keeping the tools out of the way with smooth workflow allows us to whip through these digital files and concentrate on content creation! ????

  7. Daniel Johnson

    I’m new to photoshop. I’ve been using Lightroom for less than a year and decided to get the free trial of Photoshop cc and start learning it. I’ve been watching anything I can find on YouTube and when I try to repeat it I’m switching between YouTube and photoshop for each step. I’ve gotten stuck a couple times when I accidentally opened a tool and didn’t know what it was. I had to google it to figure out how to turn it off. These chief its are extremely helpful! Thanks Brian!

  8. Daniel, remember this always! You can always go to top left corner where the selected tool is shown and right click to “RESET” all tools. It will be back to default and all will be fine. You can do that with individual tools also. If you ever have any questions at all, please contact me via Facebook messenger and I will always be glad to help! Keep eyes open for some YouTube videos on these topics as well ????

  9. Daniel Johnson

    Sorry, last line should have read “shortcuts” not “chief it’s”. Lol.

  10. Rusty Parkhurst

    Excellent article, Brian! I’ve only scratched the surface in Photoshop, but these tips will be a big help to me. Thanks!

  11. Thanks Rusty! Any questions hit me up! I’m glad to help in any way possible ????

  12. New Tips Tricks

    I can use photoshop easily and fast. Nice Tricks

  13. Fiona Florence

    Hi, Brian Pex. In a word, just amazing. I have nothing to say. I am learning photoshop for 1 year but I didn’t know the ten of these. I knew only brush size method. These could make us an expert I hope.

  14. Terrie White

    Hello Brain! I am a newbie graphics designer and enthusiast about photography. Thank you for sharing this time saving photoshop shortcut. This short cuts really help me to know more about photo shop. I am not expert but, i am optimistic to learn new things from you. Thanks for this excellent article.

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