30 Photoshop terms and tools to get you started

  • editing in Photoshop screenshot from Melissa Stottmann

30 Photoshop terms and tools to get you started

Learning a few basic Photoshop tools can make a big impact on your photography post production process.

If opening Photoshop makes your heart beat a little faster or induces cold sweats, then this list is for you! Here are some of the most crucial terms and tools for photographers to get started in Photoshop.

1. Action: A recorded set of steps to be carried out on an image.

2. Background: Base image in the layers panel.

3. Blending Mode: When applied to separate layers, blending modes, chosen from the dropdown menu in the layers palette, can be changed to create special effects and change the appearance of an image.

4. Brush Tool: Use the brush to create various types of artwork and paint onto and off of layer masks.  The brush, size, spacing, roundness, hardness, angle, etc. can all be altered in the brush palette.

5. Burn Tool: Darkens areas of images with a brush.

6. Clone Stamp Tool: Duplicate portions of an area within an image and “paint” over other areas to remove objects.

7. Curves Tool: Control brightness, contrast, shadows, and highlights or alter the color by moving the curve to produce different effects.

8. Color balance: Alter the amount and hue of individual colors.

9. Dodge Tool: Used to brighten areas of an image.

10. Eraser Tool: Erases the effects applied on a chosen layer.

11. Eyedropper Tool: Grabs the color value of an area within an image.

12. Feather: The process of softening the edges around a selection.

13. Flattening: Merging all of the layers into one single layer. This can also be applied to smaller groups of selected layers.

14. Gradient Tool: Fills an area with chosen colors that fade into one another.

15. Healing Brush Tool: Fixes imperfections on brush selected areas by matching the texture, lighting and shadows of nearby items within the image.

16. History Palette: The list of the most recent steps taken when editing an image and is available to help revert to a previous step.

17. Lasso Tools: Select an area of an image by hand drawing or using the Magnetic Lasso to snap to areas of an image.

18. Layer: Transparent layers stacked over the background layer to create multiple effects. These can be edited separately from one another.

19. Layer Masks: Use with a layer to apply special effects on certain portions of an image.  These are used in conjunction with the selection tools to allow them to be altered, painted on or used in conjunction with the lasso tools.

20. Levels: Similar to the curves with sliders.  Levels can adjust brightness/contrast/shadows/color.

21. Liquify: Push and pull pixels to alter areas of an image. Often used to make subjects thinner or push out areas.

22. Magic Wand Tool: Make a selection by simply clicking.  This smart tool will use colors to separate the selection from the background.

23. Marquee tools: Selection tools (rectangular, elliptical, single row, and single column) that can be used to select areas, by clicking and dragging, within an image.

24. Opacity: The percentage of transparency through a layer, brush, or other object.

25. Paint Bucket tool: Fills a selected and closed section of an image with a chosen color.

26. Patch tool: Similar to the healing brush, select a portion of the image and drag to a new location to use a portion of that area to heal.

27. PSD file: Photoshop file that can leave layers intact for working on an image at a later time.

28. Selective Color: Allows adjustments to be made on colors independently, affecting just the chosen hues.

29. Toolbox: This holds all of the tools needed to edit an image. Located on the left side of the screen.

30. Unsharp Mask: Sharpen an image by increasing the values.  Found under Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask.

About the Author:

Instructor of CPS’s Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, Melissa Stottmann is a newborn, children and family (including her own!) photographer from Wilmington, Delaware that is working on slowly getting her feet wet in the wedding industry. Shooting primarily with her D800, though using film occasionally, Melissa is often found with a 35mm or 85mm lens attached. Melissa believes that every moment is significant and uses her camera to bring attention to otherwise ordinary moments. Her portrait, lifestyle and documentary work revolves around the peaceful and serene life she craves. Visit Melissa Stottmann online.


  1. Lindsey Pedey Apr 16 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this Melissa!

  2. JanTyler Apr 16 2015 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Oh, this is such an incredibly useful list! Thank you so much for putting it all out there in one place…and for doing it so simply! <3

  3. maureen zacharias Jun 07 2017 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I bought Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Book and I’m having a hard time with it because It’s not for beginners I’ve figured out what most of these terms means during the past 18 months, but I love having this list. Thanks again to everyone at CM who contributes to the tutorials.

    • Melissa Stottmann Jun 11 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Maureen! I’m so happy the list was useful. I know how frustrating it is when you are figuring it all out <3

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