Layers Are Our Friends!

Layers in Photoshop seem to cause confusion and uncertainty in the minds of new users!  They know they should use them - they know where they are - but they have no idea what to do with them.  It's a case of not understanding some simple concepts about the "L" word ...

Once you understand them your digital imaging projects will go to a whole new level.

I understand the confusion because I was a newbie once and they were a complete and utter mystery to me.

What The Heck Are They?

Think of layers as sheets of acetate stacked one on top of the other above your image.  Making adjustments on the layer above your original image means the original is not being modified but its appearance is changing.

You can have as many layers as you wish so don't be stingy with them.  If you are burning or dodging an image don't do it all on one layer - add additional layers for different items and give each layer a name so you can find it if you need it.

So what are the values of working on Layers?

What Good Are Layers, or
"Why Go Through The Agony Of Learning Layers?"

In actual fact learning how to use layers is a joyous journey and there are some very good reasons why you should learn everything you can about them!

Image Protection

When you are working on a layer you are not working on the original image and that is generally a good thing.  

Say, for instance, you are doing some adjustments on a valuable image and being a good digital imager you are saving regularly.  The time comes when you realize you have gone too far and want to get back to the starting point only to discover - to your horror - that you were working on the original image and it is the only one you have of that subject and now it is headed for the trash.

That will not happen if you were working on a layer!

Use Multiple Layers For Time Saving

There will come a time when you are retouching an image and everything is perfect except for one little area.  If you were regularly adding new layers (and naming them) it is easy to locate the offending area and eliminate that particular layer.

If, on the other hand, you completed hours of work on a single layer and realized something was amiss - well - out goes the layer and you get to start all over again.

Decrease The Impact Of an Adjustment

The opacity of each layer can be lowered making it easy to decrease the effect of an adjustment.

Add Layer Effects

There are really cool ways that one layer can react with other layers.  Effects like drop shadows and emboss among others.

See The Results Of An Adjustment

Layers can be turned off and back on to see the results of an adjustment you have made.  This is very useful.

If you don't like what you see then modify the adjustment or throw out the layer and start again!

The Layer Palette

This is where you control everything to do with layers.  Its just a tiny little thing, really but it is so useful.

layers palette
  1. Blending Options

  2. Create Layer Mask

  3. Create a Layer Set

  4. Create New Adjustment Layer

  5. New Layer

  6. Trash

  7. Blending Mode

  8. Layer Opacity

  9. Layer Options

  10. Background (original image)

  11. Copy of Background

  12. Burning Layer

  13. Clone Layer

  14. Two Adjustment Layers

  15. Visibility 

Now for an explanation of the palette ...

Palette Bottom

layers palette bottom

Number 1 is a drop down menu to change the layer style of the active layer.  When one is selected the Layer Style Palette comes up with a lot of different options and the one you selected is the active Style.

Number 2 is used to add a Layer Mask - there will be more on this later.

Number 3 creates a new layer set and other layers can be dragged into the folder.  This is useful if you have lots of layers and would like to keep the ones who belong together in the same place.

Number 4 provides a list of the Adjustment Layers available - more on this later.

Number 5 will create a new layer

Number 6 is the trash where rogue and undesirable layers live - but not for long.

Palette Top

layers palette top

Number 7 is the blend mode - this is how layers react with one another.  It is a topic for its own tutorial.

Number 8 is the opacity of the layer.  It is normally at 100% and it can be decreased to lessen an effect on the layer.

Number 9 presents a bunch of different layer options.  It is useful but I rarely use it.

Layer Thumbnails

Layers thumbnails
Number 10 is the Background Layer - the original image.  You cannot do anything to this layer - unless you change its name then it acts like any other layer.

Number 11 is a copy of the background.  It is created by dragging the background onto the New Layer icon (Number 5 above).

Number 12 is a layer with a blend mode applied to some burning.

Number 13 is a normal layer that was used to do some cloning.  It was created by clicking on the new layer icon (Number 5 above).

Number 14 are two Adjustment Layers - one  Curves and one Channel Mixer.  These two adjustment layers were created by clicking on the New Adjustment Layer icon (Number 4 above).  The white box in the middle of the Adjustment Layers are the Layer Masks - every Adjustment Layer comes with its own mask.


Layers palette left

Number 15 sets the visibility of each layer.  When the little eyeball is visible then the information on that layer is visible and when it is not visible then the information on the layer is not visible. This means you can turn a layers visibility off and on by clicking the eyeball to see the result of any adjustment made on that layer.


Well thats OK if you are because learning often has to move through confusion because if you don't know anything about a subject then you can't be confused!

And always remember ...

Layers Are Our Friends!

The next section will look at a few applications of simple layers ...

Simple Layer Examples

layer girl thumb

Basic layer manipulation is the starting point to understanding how to use this powerful feature of Photoshop.

Clicking on the thumbnail will take you to a thorough discussion of basic layers.

From The Help Files

Layers allow you to work on one element of an image without disturbing the others. Think of layers as sheets of acetate stacked one on top of the other. Where there is no image on a layer, you can see through to the layers below.

layer thumb

You can change the composition of an image by changing the order and attributes of layers. In addition, special features such as adjustment layers, fill layers, and layer styles let you create sophisticated effects

(from Photoshop Help)

Layer Images

Layer palette
Layer Palette

layer options
Layer Options

layers blending options
Blending Options


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