Computer ArtsInterview

How Photoshop changed my life

It's exactly 20 years since Adobe unleashed Photoshop 1.0, and we celebrate by asking creative experts about their lives with the all-conquering image behemoth.

On 19 February 1990 Adobe launched its very first version of Photoshop. It was a monochrome application with very limited functionality by today's standards, but just one look at that toolbar tells you that it's a direct ancestor of the application whose very name has become a synonym for image manipulation.

So to celebrate its 20th birthday we got in touch with some of the top names in our big creative address book and asked them about their relationship with Photoshop. Read on to discover how they first met it, how it's affected their careers, what they hate about it and what their own top tips are for getting the best out of it.

Jon Burgerman

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I don't know but it was in 1997-98.

What were your first impressions?
My friend James Wolf put it on my computer and I couldn't believe what you could do with it.
I got hold of a flatbed scanner shortly after and started scanning in bits of my paintings and drawings and messing around with the program.
I'd seen some graphics programs on TV before, often on one of those shows where they show how big expensive films have been made. It felt like I suddenly had access to some serious software power. Inevitably I added as many filters as possible to all my work to start with. Then you realise that makes everything look horrible.
My first impression was slack jawed dribbling on the keyboard. Wow.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I probably wouldn't have a job. Wait, I don't have a job. I mean I probably wouldn't have been able to forge a career doodling as easily as it seems. Photoshop has helped cut a lot of corners and enabled me to generate ideas and pieces relatively quickly.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
If the bugger crashes I am filled with a sort of rage that turns people green and makes them punch through walls.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Don't forget to work things out on paper and in your head first. Oh, and save regularly!


Rex Crowle

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Version 5.0 as far as I remember, before that I'd been using Corel PhotoPaint (as it came free with my "Multimedia PC") and before that, Deluxe Paint on the Amiga.

What were your first impressions?
Initially I was a little disappointed, as it had less plugins than PhotoPaint and no animation features. But, I hadn't learnt at that stage that plugins are generally pointless, it's how you use the basic tools that matters!

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I would destroy a lot more forests-per-day than I currently do.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The ease of undoing! It can be easy to obsess over redrawing tiny elements to get them perfect, hammering away on the Apple-Z keys, and completely losing the flow of the main piece.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Keep it simple and don't get too distracted by software features. A good idea should still work even if you draw it in MS Paint with a trackball. Although it'll look rubbish, so don't do that.


Tom Baker

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Photoshop 7

What were your first impressions?
I quite liked it. I'd used Deluxe Paint on the Amiga before that and Photoshop was way better. It took a while to get used to using the tools etc and it's always annoying to have to keep asking someone how to do something or refer to a book. I also wanted to get to know it really quickly so I could be one of those 'cool' designers who whinged about Photoshop so I was a bit excited to be using it.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Hmmmmm - hard to say. I think whilst for my current job as an animator and illustrator, Illustrator and Flash are more integral, but I owe much of my previous work to Photoshop and still use it every day.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The only thing that bugs me about it is what bugs me about all Adobe products, the fact the short cut keys are not constant. 'Q' creates a bounding box in Flash but a 'Quick Mask' in Photoshop. Z is Zoom but M is magnify etc. I know you can reset these and I do but it is a pain. It also took me a while to work out why my .jpg images did not look the same when exported.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Not really, other than if you're new to it, to explore. People often work out a way of doing something then stick to it. If something seems a bit of a pain to do then there is probably a quicker way to do it.


Jeff Knowles

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Photoshop 3, I think!

What were your first impressions?
Bewilderment, it was my first experience of using computers for design, so the whole experience was a bit strange.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
We use, and I take a quite a few photographs for projects, so I would badly miss the retouching capabilities of Photoshop.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
I hate the fact I only know how to use 10% of its potential, too busy doing projects to sit down and learn more about it.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
In general, more compatibility between Adobe applications, for instance not being able to paste from InDesign into Photoshop is maddening! Oh, and they should bring back the hidden electric cat!


Brendan Dawes

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
It was version 2.5 which was before any kind of layers. It was my Dad who worked as a sports photographer who brought it home on his 180c MacBook.

What were your first impressions?
It wasn't until I downloaded the Kai Krause tips on a new thing called the web that I truly understood what it could do. The Kai Krause stuff taught me about alpha channels and masking and inventive use of very basic filters. Back then even the type was rendered as a bitmap so you couldn't edit it after it was laid down so you had to work within the constraints. What I really loved though was the keyboard shortcuts. You quickly realise how powerful they are and how they rapidly speed up your workflow.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Well, Photoshop has transcended software to actually become a verb. It would be like removing a word from the language lexicon. There is nothing that comes close to it and I think part of that is because so many people have grown with it. Its joy is its familiarity.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The icons leave a lot to be desired. A lot of them don't really communicate what they do, they instead become markers for functionality only when you've played around with it.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
In any dialogue box such as Levels hold down the option key and the "cancel" button will magically change to "reset". Very handy.

Julien Valle

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
If I remember well I think it was 6.5

What were your first impressions?
I went crazy with this. It was my first step into computer generated graphics, and I just loved it.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Hard one! It seems hard for designers of our time to imagine our everyday job without this tool. I'm sure I use it more than I notice. I mean each picture that I take from camera, on the web or from a scan is automatically opened in Photoshop. I would be curious to see how many picture files have never been opened in it..
But I believe we should always remember that this is only a tool that should help us to save time. I already incorporate a lot of my process without it, but I still believe it is essential.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Like most of the programs, there are always too many popup windows to ask if you really want to make this or that action. It usually bothers me, but I don't understand why they don't warn you before you (normally by mistake) hit the Revert shortcut button.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be
That might sound funny but recently I teach two of my friends that there is this possibility to make more than one undo, just hit Alt+Apple+Z Keys. How brilliant, huh!


Chrissie Abbott

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I cant remember what number it was, maybe 2? I think the icon had an eye and a magnifying glass. It was in 1999ish.

What were your first impressions?
I was excited as it made me able to work in a new way.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Everything would take a whole lot longer

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The fact that it has enabled people to recklessly add drop shadows onto type.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Umm I'm actually pretty crap at it because I am self taught so anything I know is from trial and error or sheer chance. Maybe always remember to save a layered version?


Jasper Goodall

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I think it might have been 2 or 3? I don't really remember - all I wanted was a 'machine that would do a thing like a screen print'. When I saw that Photoshop used layers I realised I could use it to replace the screen printing I used to do at uni.

What were your first impressions?
I probably thought it was a bit crap, but that was just because I couldn't use it properly and it was alien. Often my Uni students still feel that same way - till someone shows them how to use it properly.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I don't want to even think about the implications! BUT I have one hypothesis: I think people/I would have a much more defined style that we/I would stick to more rigidly because we'd have to practice so much more to be good. Like if I was an airbrush artist using real ink - I'd have to be that much more specialist and would be less inclined to try something new... just a thought.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Totally nothing. Not one single thing. I hate stuff about illustrator, but never photoshop ever. You can do ANYTHING.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Depends who I'm giving a tip to. What I end up most often showing illustrators who scan in drawings is to lay off the magic wand and use the RGB channel to make selections of line art.


Ronald Kurniawan

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
First version of Photoshop was version 3.

What were your first impressions?
I thought that it was so impersonal and would never have thought of using it as a painting tool. Especially working with only a mouse. Not until version 7 did I use it more often.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Photoshop altered my job by altering the timeline. The program allows adjustments to an image much easier and faster. To alter color using traditional paint is a long and painful process, which Photoshop eliminated. Also, since the visual field is mostly digital now, Photoshop expanded the types of jobs I could get just by being able to use the program.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The thing I really hate about Photoshop is actually the myth about Photoshop. How everything is quicker now with just the press of a button, the computer will render it for you.Creating an image still takes a long time and Photoshop doesn't do that for you, it is just a tool.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
The one Photoshop tip I would give out is one I am sure everyone knows about. It is the layer mask or locking your transparent pixels on a layer.


Shane Mielke

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I first started using Photoshop 3.0 back in 1995 while I was still in college. A friend of mine showed me how to Photoshop myself into a scanned photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger working out. Seeing how the two images were merged was magical and inspired me to keep learning.

What were your first impressions?
I was immediately blown away by all of the possibilities even though the filters and options at the time were half of what they are today. I started doing any tutorials I could find, especially the ones found in the popular "Photoshop Text Effects" books of the late 90s.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I'd probably be using multiple programs to support all of the visual things I do on a daily basis which would slow down my process. It's so nice to be able to do all of my art, design and photography in one program without going back and forth between applications.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Because of Photoshop's domination in so many industries, Adobe keeps adding obscure new features that are seldom used by the majority on a day to day basis. As a result the core program has become bloated and very slow to use on older systems and laptops.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Keep your layers organized with folders and names as you go. It may seem like you're wasting time at first but as the number of layers in your file grows you'll soon be saving time. You'll also earn the respect of your co-workers if you work in a collaborative environment where files are passed back and forth.


Jason Arber

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I actually used Photoshop 1.0 at university, which was upgraded to Photoshop 2.0 within a couple of weeks of me trying it.

What were your first impressions?
One of the first things I did was lasso someone's head and drag it over someone else's head (there were no layers back then). I thought it was the stuff of science fiction. I fell in love with the application immediately.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I can't even comprehend what my job might be like without Photoshop as I use it daily to design concepts and in partnership with After Effects.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
I've never loved how Photoshop handles the web side of things. Saving a JPEG via Save for Web & Devices... or Save As... often results in slightly different colours. There's probably a very good reason for that, but it kicks me in the seat of the pants every time.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
This tip is not a very sexy one, but I use it all the time. Option-dragging (Alt-dragging in Windows) a layer duplicates it. Over the decades of using Photoshop this has probably saved me days in productivity.


Aral Balkan

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
The first version of Photoshop I used was version 2.5. I was on Windows at the time (I was young, I was foolish) and I believe it was the first version available for Windows.

What were your first impressions?
I remember it well because it didn't have layers. You did everything with channels in those days. And boy was it confusing to get your head around channels. I remember reading all these tutorials on channels and thinking wtf? It took me a while to really get my head around them. Then, of course, layers were introduced in the next version. Typical!

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
My life would not be as much fun. I'm a total Photoshop snob. I love that app. All my designs start in Photoshop and a lot of those get cut up and end up in my apps. There's a lot of Photoshop in my latest iPhone app, Feathers, and on the site. If Photoshop didn't exist, I'm sure Feathers would not look as good as it does.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Recently, Adobe has been adding a lot of bloat to Photoshop. All that 3D stuff is great but, really, why can't I filter my layers by title? That's so much more important to me. They should be concentrating on user experience and instead they're dumping in features by the boatload. I think part of the problem is that Photoshop has been more than good enough for a while now. Until recently I was still on Photoshop 7 and I could do everything I wanted to. I recently upgraded to CS3 mostly because Adobe sent me a free copy. And I've skipped CS4 altogether. I guess it's hard to sell new versions of software when your previous version is already excellent. This should give Adobe even more reason to concentrate on improving the user experience, though.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Invest time in learning about selections; they're central to so much of what you do (and remember that sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, grab the magnetic lasso tool, zoom into 3200% and painstakingly trace the outline of something to get it just right - fancy whizz-bang tools are great but there isn't always a silver bullet.)
That, and learn to use non-destructive editing methods like layer masks and adjustment layers. They'll make you more infinitely more flexible when working on a design.


Philip Hunt

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I first looked at Version 4.0 way back around the mid 90's when it was mostly on the level of playing with the novelty of drawing on a screen without it being via Quantel's paintbox and an expensive edit suite.. and I think I actually used it as a Photo-editing tool for a while before realising I could create artwork with it as well... But I still preferred drawing & compositing via Photocopier for a while.. And in many ways still do - although I use PS every day now..

What were your first impressions?
Clunky, unresponsive. Horrible to use with a mouse and about as nuanced as a dentist with a sledgehammer... But strangely compelling and full of possibility - especially when Wacom hit the stores

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I would still remember how to put down my pen and go home at night. I would spend less on acupuncture on my drawing wrist. I would really struggle to deliver some of the overwhelmingly ambitious concept frames that a lot of project ideas demand... And I'd use a lot more paper, pencils and string.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
The lack of 'clarity' at times.. All things 'bitmap'... The myriad of useless filters and the fact that you cant customise the UI to bin the 90% of functions you just don't use... I also dislike that fact that it starts to render everyone's work with the same digital veneer and 'expectation of sheen' that we all gravitate towards.. But the upside to that is I appreciate analogue that much more and why should I 'hate' software? I'd just stop using it if it failed me..
Mind you - if they could combine Photoshop with illustrator and Google SketchUp I'd probably have even worse RSI.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Keep hitting 'Save'.

Bruno Sells

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Back in 1994. It was Adobe Photoshop 2.5.

What were your first impressions?
I visited my father's studio and they had a Mac LC with PS 2.5 installed. It blew my mind when i discovered I could actually draw something with a computer, before, I thought computers were only to type in weird languages. After that epiphany I spent months obsessed with drawing with it. I remember I just could work only in B/W, nonetheless that, the chance of having 1 undo command was to me like having a superhero's power.
In following versions, when Adobe introduced layers I said to myself "Whoa! That's it, that's the limit, there's nothing it can be done now to improve this software. Now is perfect." I have to admit that I had the same feeling which every new version... And it still keeps me amazed time after time.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
I guess it would be old school way, classic disciplines of image creation (drawing, painting, collage etc...) . That's not bad at all, it's super-cool, but it would take ages to do what I can do now in few minutes.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
I hate that I'm not the only user!

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
If you are in a hurry and you need a magic trick to complete your task do the following:
Go to the Paths palette (under the Window menu), hold the Option key (PC: Alt key), and in the palette's flyout menu, choose Palette Options.
Then make a wish.


Si Scott

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I have no idea what version it was - I do remember it was around about the year 2000!

What were your first impressions?
I was a bit overwhelmed at first as to how to start learning to use it and use it to it's full capabilities. Me and technology don't really get along at times, I have nothing against it-it just doesn't seem to like me very much sometimes.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
It would be very difficult as I wouldn't be able to scan my work to send to clients etc... I'd say it wouldn't be impossible but very tricky and long winded (even more so than what it is already!).

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Nothing really - it just frustrates me when I can't figure out how to get it to do what I want at times!

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Have a friend who knows what they are doing.

Joo Oliveira

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Photoshop CS1

What were your first impressions?
Honestly I've started using it as a tool to design web layouts, spent several months doing so before moving to digital illustrations but, from what I remember, I've got quite amused by all the filters and blending effects, pretty much like everyone who starts using Photoshop!

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Probably yes, I'm quite positive that the experiences I made on Photoshop made me step forward and follow a design career, I always was a science student with no art classes until design college so the odds of ending up as a designer without Photoshop would be quite small.

What do you hate about Photoshop?
Nothing! I hate it as much as a pencil or a paint brush, there's no way to hate it, it's an amazing tool.

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Use masks if you want to erase anything, using masks won't destroy the original material and you can always go back if you want to.


Lawrence Zeegen

What was the first version of Photoshop you used?
I first started using Photoshop in 1994 - does that make me a late developer? I'd been making images for a living since 1986 - so a good few years working in a completely analogue world, before embracing the digital. Can't recall what version it was but it was a heck of a lot faster than making 10-15 colour silkscreen prints which was my method of operation previously. Though, I met Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum, recently and he mentioned that a print he bought from me in 1986, he was the then editor of Blueprint, was still on his bedroom wall - not sure many of my digital prints have stood the test of time so well...

What were your first impressions?
Wow! Ok, so hardware was slow and rasterising took forever, but I could skip out of my Hoxton studio (deeply unfashionable then) for a coffee and come back and my Mac may have just finished the task. But it was the future - and we kinda knew that something big was happening.

How would your job be different if Photoshop didn't exist?
Something else would be in place, wouldn't it...? I mean, can you imagine the DTP revolution ever taking place without Photoshop...?

What do you hate about Photoshop?
For the first few years I would dip in, get done what I needed to do and get straight out again... It was a terrifying place to be for someone self-taught in digital ways and means. Photoshop also was responsible for too many designers thinking that they could create images and for a time they stopped commissioning illustration... that was a long time ago though...

If you had to give one Photoshop tip, what would it be?
Don't be afraid; trial and error, softly softly...

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