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Photoshop Training: Lesson #1 - Your Workspace

Updated on March 20, 2013

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  • Level: Novice ◊

Photoshop is a powerful image-editing and digital painting program. With practice, Photoshop can open a whole new world for professional artists and beginners alike.

For first-time users, however, the sheer number of tools available can be overwhelming. Where do I begin? What does this button do? How can I possibly make something when I don't even know what I'm looking at?

This tutorial is designed for such users. It will guide you through your Photoshop workspace and explain all the bits and pieces.

What is a workspace?

The Photoshop workspace is what you see when you open up the program. It contains all the tools you need to work. Just like any artist's work area, you'll find canvas, brushes, paint, erasers, and many more tools. Your exact workspace will vary from version to version, but the most important components will remain. For my tutorials, I'll be working with a copy of CS2.

If you want your own copy of this software, Adobe has it available for free on their website.

The very first time you open up Photoshop, your workspace will look something like this:

Your Workspace (Click for larger view)
Your Workspace (Click for larger view)

A little intimidating, isn't it? Break it down into the various parts (follow the red letters), and you'll find:

  • (A) Menu Bar
  • (B) Options Bar
  • (C) Toolbox
  • (D) Active Image Area
  • (E) History Window
  • (F) Layers Window


Menu Bar:

If you have some experience with computers, you've seen a menu bar before. Photoshop's menu bar will have a few new options that you may not recognize, such as “Image,” “Layers,” and “Filters."

The Menu Bar
The Menu Bar

When you click on these options you get dropdown menus, with even more options you may not be familiar with. At the very beginning, we'll stick to what we know: “File > New” “File > Open” and “File > Save” These three options are the same as they are in any other computer program.

Options Bar:

This bar is a little trickier to get the hang of than the other parts of your workspace. Every time you select a new tool to use, the options bar will change.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Crop Tool OptionsRectangular Marquee OptionsMagic Wand Tool Options
Crop Tool Options
Crop Tool Options
Rectangular Marquee Options
Rectangular Marquee Options
Magic Wand Tool Options
Magic Wand Tool Options

For example, when the brush tool is selected, you're given options to change the size, shape, and opacity of the brush. The text tool provides options for the font, font size, and color.

Toolbox:

As the name indicates, all of Photoshop's most basic tools can be found right here. The tools can be selected by right-clicking on them, or by a shortcut key.

Marquee Tool Variations
Marquee Tool Variations

Looking closely, you'll notice that almost all of the tool buttons have a tiny black arrow in the corner. If you right-click and hold, or left-click on these buttons, a new menu box will appear.

These menus give you variations of the tool to choose from. Once selected, the icon for the new tool will replace the former one. So if a tool isn't behaving the way it should, make sure it's the tool you want!

Active Image Area:

This is your canvas, and it's where all the magic happens. Once you create a new file or open one you've already got, this window will appear.

The Status Bar
The Status Bar

Along the bottom of the window, you'll see the status bar. The status bar gives you information on the current image. On default, it will show your zoom (how far you're zoomed in or out of the image) and your document size.

History Palette:

This little window will soon be your best friend. It allows you to undo multiple actions. So misplaced brushstrokes and accidental erasures are cured with the click of the mouse!

The number of actions that Photoshop saves for you can be adjusted as well. So you can save more if you're making lots of small changes on your canvas, or fewer if you need to improve the program's performance.

Layers Palette:

A Photoshop file allows you, the artist, to work on multiple pictures, or layers, all on the same canvas. These layers can be a very powerful tool once you learn how to use them to their full potential.

When you start on a picture for the first time, you'll see one of two things in this window. Either a small image of your canvas labeled “Layer 1” or a small image of your canvas labeled “Background” and a small picture of a padlock.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
New LayerLocked BackgroundChanging the Background to a New Layer
New Layer
New Layer
Locked Background
Locked Background
Changing the Background to a New Layer
Changing the Background to a New Layer

If your background layer is locked, you'll notice that a lot of options in the Layer window are grayed out. But don't worry, it's normal! Many digital photos you take and some pictures from the internet will have a locked background. The solution is as simple as a double-click on that layer.

Click “OK” on the box that pops up, and you have a shiny new layer to work with!


Tips, Tricks and Troubleshooting:


  • My workspace vanished!

It happens – sometimes you hit the wrong button, sometimes your cat runs across the keyboard – but all of a sudden, all of your palettes and your toolbox are gone!

You're the victim of an errant keyboard shortcut. Luckily, it's just as easily fixed as it is to cause. The Tab key will show/hide all the windows in your workspace except for the Active Image window(s). Shift-Tab will show/hide all the little palettes on the right side of the screen.

  • I moved things around, and now it looks weird!

If you want to return your workspace to its original form without carefully dragging and dropping, you can find the default option under “Window > Workspace > Default Workspace”


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    • profile image

      Peaches Of The Night 

      5 years ago

      Thank You!!! I just found this site & went through the first lesson & It was GREAT!! I understand a lot more now. I am new to Photoshop. I just got Photoshop CS6 & you have already helped me so much I cant wait to go to the next lesson.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I wanted to get started from your first lesson even though I've been using Photoshop for some time. But I've been running into a few problems with things getting messed up and I already learned from you one trick that I had overlooked. You explained that the "Shift-Tab will show/hide all the little palettes on the right side of the screen". That already is a lifesaver for me. Thanks. Now I need to go on with your next two lessons. Later.

    • Amadaun profile imageAUTHOR

      Emily Velenovsky 

      5 years ago

      Thanks! Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to go over. I've been working with Photoshop for years now, so I can probably help with all the basics, and a good amount of the advanced stuff.

      I'm always learning more, though. XD

    • Amadaun profile imageAUTHOR

      Emily Velenovsky 

      5 years ago

      @Mercury: I hope to get some GIMP hubs up soon. I don't have quite as much experience with the program, but it's really similar to Photoshop, so I can definitely get some basics.

      But check out lesson one for a link to a free and safe copy of CS2 straight from Adobe!

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 

      5 years ago from Mexico

      I'll definitely go to the next lesson! By the way, I liked how you included a "previous lesson-next lesson" bar at the end.

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 

      5 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Looking forward to some GIMP hubs.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 

      5 years ago

      Lots of useful information and well organized.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Very nice Hub--useful information!

    • LauraD093 profile image

      Laura Tykarski 

      5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      I thought this hub was formatted really well. I have worked with Photoshop and must admit I have gotten lost a couple of times. I am pretty capable when using it now but had to learn by trial and error your hub would have been really appreciated during my first Photoshop projects.

    • prospectboy profile image

      Bradrick H. 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Well detailed lesson here. I've heard of Photoshop before, however, I've never used it. After reading this, I feel much more confident if I ever need to give it a shot. Great less on hub. Voted up, and rated useful.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 

      5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      This is a very helpful hub. I am completely lost when it comes to photoshop and the likes.

    • Louise Lately profile image

      Louise Lately 

      5 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks Amadaun - I will look forward to reading your future tutorials/guides on other Adobe products!

    • Amadaun profile imageAUTHOR

      Emily Velenovsky 

      5 years ago

      @Louise: I'm afraid I don't own a copy of Lightroom yet! But I am hoping to make tutorials for a lot of Adobe products and their freeware versions (like GIMP). So Lightroom is on the list once I own it!

    • Louise Lately profile image

      Louise Lately 

      5 years ago from London, UK

      very good hub - are you thinking about creating a hub on Lightroom? That's what I'm using but I'm a beginner:)

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      5 years ago from India

      Good hub, well written with good information. First hub on HP... It was good, welcome to Hubpages, all the best for happy hubbing. Looking forward to see your great works.

    • Amadaun profile imageAUTHOR

      Emily Velenovsky 

      5 years ago

      Thank you! Let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like to see from these tutorials. I'm always looking for good feedback.

    • Christine Wade profile image

      Christine Wade 

      5 years ago from UK

      Welcome to Hubpages! Very useful first Hub... I've been using Photoshop for a while but never done it in a systematic way. Your explanation is very clear and easy to follow - I will know where to start when I open Photoshop next time!

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