Needless to say, there are almost always multiple ways to do something in Photoshop, and more than one tool to use to get to the same end. On the surface, it might seem like “any” tool is okay to use if it gets the job done, but some are definitely “better choices” than others. And by better I mean either simpler to use, and/or there are alternative methods that are more editable and flexible. So here are the tools that I suggest you put on the back burner and use less than the suggested alternatives.
In the early days of Photoshop this was the go-to selection tool, but now there are some alternative choices that – to me – are often faster, easier and frequently more accurate. My alternatives to the Magic Wand are:
The Quick Selection tool
Unlike the Magic Wand that requires you to enter (guess?) the Tolerance setting, the Quick Selection tool just works: click and drag and it will automatically detect edges, usually much faster than using multiple clicks with the Magic Wand.
This is like using the Magic Wand but interactively and with a preview. Click to sample a color and then use the Fuzziness and Range sliders to fine-tune the selected area – and use the preview options to see your results much more easily.
Erasing pixels off a layer is a very permanent way of deleting information, so if you are 100% sure… I still wouldn’t use this tool. At the moment you are about to erase you might be “sure” that you won’t need those pixels later, but how can you really be 100% certain. Personally I use a Layer Mask the vast majority of the time, just in case I change my mind, want to try something different or want to use those pixels in another document. Do I ever use the Eraser? Yes, but very rarely – and even then a voice in my head is asking me “Do you really want to permanently delete that?”
Dodge & Burn
To me, working directly on a photograph and changing the pixels in a permanent way is never a good idea, and that’s why the Dodge and Burn tools are on this list. A better alternative would be to use an Adjustment Layer such as Exposure, Levels or Curves and then paint on the mask to make it a selective technique. I recommend this alternative method because it’s more flexible, it lets you look at a document month later to see how you did it (and re-edt it if necessary), and it lets you be more accurate by over-doing the adjustment so it’s easer to mask and then put the setting back to the appropriate amount.
Blur & Sharpen
Similar to use the Dodge and Burn tools, using the Blur and Sharpen tools directly on a image is just a bad idea. Not only do you have limited ability to control how the tools works, you have no recourse if you later decide that you did “too much”. Instead I would suggest using a Smart Filter: that way you have much greater control over the settings (that can be edited at envy time), the affected area can be controlled/edited using the Filter Mask, and you can apply the same filter to a different image (tweaking it where necessary).
So am I suggesting that you should never use these tools? To some degree, yes! But more importantly if you understand the implications (dangers?) of using these tools you may think twice and consider the simpler/non-destructive alternatives to these tools.