How I learned Photoshop

30 Sep

Right out of high school  I went to work for a local company that produced seven small and largely unnecessary newspapers. My editor, an ancient man we’ll call Mr. Johnson, hired me despite the fact that I showed up to the interview wearing combat boots, jeans, and a too-small epic boy’s mustang tee-shirt. It was very Three Wolf Moon and I loved it.

I was hired as a typist but since I had other marketable skills I worked my way up to editing the legals page, processing the papers’ photos, and editing articles. I did a bit of layout work (we did it all by hand) but my aptitude at Photoshop is what made me an asset.

You know when your mom or grandma takes photos of a family event and you look at them later and notice that the framing’s all weird, someone’s head is cut off, and it needs to be cropped by several inches? Well, we didn’t hire any photographers at the newspaper; it was all done by the staff reporters. Basically it was like giving a camera to your still-haven’t-mastered-the-cell-phone mother and telling her to have at it. Needless to say, the photos needed work before they were put in the paper.

One day during a particularly rough cold season half our staff was out sick and the assistant editor was nearing a nervous breakdown. She pulled me away from my typing duties, sat me in front of the computer and said, “This is Photoshop. You adjust the levels here. You adjust the curves here. You adjust the brightness here. Edit all the photos for this edition. You have two hours.”

I got that issue’s photos edited in one hour. After that day I was given regular Photoshop duties.

I plugged away at Photoshop earning minimum wage. Mr. Johnson promised me a raise after I had worked there for three months and that day came and went with no pay raise. He’s so old, I thought, he might not remember. So a month later I gathered my courage and asked to meet with him. Mr. Johnson was a shrewd man. Of course you can have your raise! he said, At the beginning of next month, it’s all yours! I left the meeting elated only to learn that next month the Californian minimum wage was raised by twenty five cents so my sweet raise was basically the law. After that Mr. Johnson quit promising raises to his staffers and for motivation gave us press passes to Sweet River Saloon, a dismal restaurant thirty miles away.

Our computers were old and clunky and Photoshop ran poorly and crashed about three times a day. The best thing to do when this happened was to quietly restart the computer and not mention it to anyone. Mr. Johnson was convinced all computer problems could be fixed by defragging. Whenever there was an issue he took it upon himself to shout loudly throughout the office, “HAS YOUR COMPUTER BEEN DEFRACKED? HAVE YOU DEFRACKED THAT COMPUTER LATELY? THAT’S THE PROBLEM, I’M SURE OF IT! YOU HAVEN’T BEEN DEFRACKING!” He had a cane, and he’d wave it menacingly at the computers as he shouted. Years later when I was reading through The Onion I realized that Mr. Johnson was basically an incarnation of The Onion editor, T. Herman Zweibel.

At the time I was just working there to make some money while I went to school, but I learned so much about Photoshop that I still use to this day. I had hours and hours to play with the program everyday and it was through trial and error and experimentation and practice that developed whatever skill I have today. I’ve never taken a class or been formally trained, which proves that you can accomplish a lot just by messing around. Which I encourage everyone with a photoediting program to do. Mess around! Don’t be afraid to try stuff! And remember, always always defrack your computer.


8 Responses to “How I learned Photoshop”

  1. dingey September 30, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Oh sweet jebus that made me laugh. DEFRACK! Remind me to tell you about crazy Bernstein and how I broke his computer weekly. In his MIND.

    • LittleBig September 30, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

      That sounds like an awesome story.

  2. laura October 1, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    i can attest that newsrooms are great for on-the-job learnin’, sink-or-swim-style.

    • LittleBig October 1, 2010 at 11:37 am #

      As I was writing this I knew this post would resonate particularly with you. ❤

  3. purplequark October 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Well put! I “learned” Adobe InDesign this way. However, I also forget things very quickly…so I already forgot. But I do take pride in still being a quick learner. I need to take your advice and start messing around with Photoshop and Illustrator to work on my stuff.

    • LittleBig October 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

      I really had to get re-acquainted with PS after I quit working there and didn’t have access to the program for about year. But it was worth the work and I’m glad I did it.


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