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Happy Birthday, Photoshop

February 20, 2010

Adobe Photoshop, my favorite utility for manipulating existing images and passing them off as original work, just turned 20 years old.  It’s a rare distinction when a product or company name is so ubiquitous that it becomes a verb.  Google, Photoshop, and Netflix are the three that come to mind.  I can’t think of others off the top of my head, so comment if I’m missing any.

I started learning Photoshop in high school, although my computer back then was so slow that just applying a filter meant it was time for a soda break.  I got more heavily into it in college when I started working with video and designing flyers for bands.’s Photoshop contests were a fun place to practice and see what other people could do.  If you haven’t seen these before, periodically offers up an image and lets readers hack away at it and post their “improved” versions.  As the contest threads grow in length, readers tend to build on ideas, and you’ll often see multiple variations on the same joke.  The quality of editing varies wildly, so Fark enables voting for reader favorites.  This was the starting image for one recent contest (full thread of submissions here):

Wire Wrangler

Learning Photoshop is like picking up a musical instrument in that it takes minutes to understand the basics, but years of practice to master.  When someone says, “I know how to use Photoshop,” it’s as vague a statement as “I know how to play guitar.”  Most people who know the basic chords on a guitar can’t improvise a jazz solo over a 5/4 time signature.  This is why I know better than to call myself an expert Photoshopper.  After 10+ years of casual editing, I’m proficient, but the more I work with it, the more I realize I have to learn.  For me, Photoshop has always been a supplemental tool for other creative pursuits.  In college, it was valuable for things like DIY concert flyers for my band:

Contraband Eightees Night

About three years ago, I started doing disc golf video on the side.  I got the idea from TV coverage of standard golf to build maps of the course holes in Photoshop.  I overlaid those maps onto footage in Adobe AfterEffects and created animated tracking maps.  Here’s a basic map of Hole 12 at Endicott Park and then a youtube clip of what the finished product looks like:

More recently, I used Photoshop to build the Idea Robber banner at the top of this page plus other random stuff like this image of two of my coworkers Photoshopped into a healthcare town hall debate.

I’m having some fun this weekend with this Lifehacker list of Photoshop tips of tricks, which includes things like how to make smoke.

One drawback to Photoshop is the pricetag.  Adobe offers an 80% discount for students, or if you aren’t a student, you can purchase an older version for a much lower price.  Open-source editors like GNU Image Manipulation Program are getting better all the time, and they’re free to download.

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