The Entertainer and the Entertained
Magicians in their magic acts are entertainers. They perform mystical feats designed specifically to cleverly trick us -- those being entertained -- into believing something miraculous is happening when they waive their wand or perform an incantation. Deep down, we know it is somehow explainable, but we want to be entertained, suspend our disbelief, and enjoy the show. We may half-heartedly try to figure out what really happened behind the scenes, but in a way, perhaps, we almost don't want to know: it might ruin the illusion and we'd no longer be entertained. The entertainer practices his craft building the clever and believable deception, and the entertained soak it in without thinking all too hard. That is the difference between the entertainer and the entertained.
Photoshop and Magic
People beginning to edit images with Photoshop and Elements often scour the menus looking for the tool that will do something spectacular to their images believing great images are just a few clicks away. It is almost as if they want the program to entertain them with an element of magic or a fantasic feat of mind reading. Photoshop and Elements have lots of tools whose behavior may seem mysterious and unexplainable at first, at least one named specifically 'Magic Wand', but regretfully there are no 'magic' tools that read your mind. No matter how clever the implementation of a function or how well it seems to work there is never anything 'magic' about a tool itself. There is a calculation -- however complex -- that drives any tool application. The behavior can be described and predicted, no matter how we might resist knowing.
To Be the Magician
A true magician doesn't waive a wand and hope magic will happen -- imagine what would happen to a magician doing that on stage. The magician knows the secrets of the tricks and what goes on behind the scenes, utilizing props and tools with purpose to craft the perfect deception. Likewise, the imaging magician, must be a master of the tools and craft of post-processing. Just clicking a filter or auto function and being elated or disappointed by the result isn't mastering Photoshop and Elements, it is being entertained. Being entertained can be pleasing at times, but generally it is not how you make a magical image. The tools themselves have no way to see and evaluate the images they work on except as a calculation. They are lifeless props and props never make magic either.
Magicians practice their craft and develop their art, and you will want to do the same to achieve desired results with your post-processing in Photoshop. Changes do not have to be mystical, spectacular or flamboyant to get the most from your images, and post-processing is only a portion of the photographic craft. There is a place for being both the entertainer and the entertained, the magician and the audience. Learn and be awed by other people's craft, but strive to understand the magic of their images like a magician in the audience watching the craft of the magician on stage.
To Learn More
My courses teach the timeless fundamentals for Photoshop and Elements that you'll use as the core of your craft. I talk about magic tools in my Photoshop 101 class...namely the "read my mind" and "do it for me" tools: mythical tools designed in the minds of users hoping there is an easier way. But it is the only mention of magic tools in my courses. You get practical methodology for Correcting and Enhancing Your Images, solid techniques for matching your images on your Monitor and In Print, and advanced exploration of
Layers: Photoshop's Most Powerful Tool. Each is a facet of the tools you have to master to perfect your image editing craft. My latest book, The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book, is the perfect companion to these courses.