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This post on Understanding Layers in Photoshop has been submitted by Jodi Friedman of MCP Actions. MCP Actions offers customized one on one photoshop training, photoshop actions, and photo editing for photographers. To see more Photoshop tips and tutorials visit her blog at http://www.mcpactions.com/blog.
One of the most important keys to learning and mastering photoshop is using layers.
Why work on layers at all?
There are a number of types of layers that I will discuss today.
(SHIFT, CTRL or CMD, and “N”) or under LAYER – NEW LAYER: This will create a blank transparent layer. This is useful when you want to add or change something on a photo and pixels are not needed. For example, adding a border. If you make a new blank layer, and then add a border by doing SELECT – ALL. Then EDIT – STROKE. You can turn the layer on or off by toggling the eye ball, add a layer style such as a bevel or emboss, or change the opacity by working on this type of layer.
Using the black and white circle in the layers palette or going under LAYER – NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER – and then whichever adjustment you want: This will create a transparent layer where you can make direct changes to your photograph without effecting your original in any way. This is how I edit every photo. Any levels, curves, hue/saturation layer, channel mixer layer, etc that I do, I use an adjustment layer. Why? The way adjustment layers work is you make the changes on a transparent layer. They change the appearance of pixels underneath without actually touching or destroying anything. So they are NON-DESTRUCTIVE. Another BIG reason to use adjustment layers is that you can go back and edit these layers even after you are onto new layers, by double clicking the adjustment layer icon of any layer. You can stack these layers and they accumulate. They do not cover each other up. They work together. And most importantly, they have layer masks. Layer masks allow you to selectively effect a photo. Here are three links to tutorials on layer masking: layer masking tutorial 1, layer mask tutorial 2, layer mask quick tip.
Press letter “T” on your keyboard or the “T” symbol in the tool bar to bring up the text tool. When you do this, it automatically puts your text on a new text layer. You can adjust the font, color, size, and shape of the text. This works similarly to an adjustment layer in that you can go back and edit it even after doing other layers, as long as you do not flatten.
(CTRL or CMD and “J”) or under LAYER – DUPLICATE LAYER: This will create a duplicate copy of whatever layer you are on. If you are on an adjustment layer, it will copy that layer and double the effect. If you are on the “Background” layer, it will copy that layer. Think of duplicate layers like a photocopy. These can be useful in certain situations. When you duplicate a pixel layer (such as the background), remember than it will cover up anything under it, unless certain blending modes are used. As a result, I use these sparingly. Duplicate layers are most useful when I run a defog (which clarifies the photo), for sharpening, for working on skin such as wrinkles or acne, or when using the clone tool. Many of these adjustments (but not all) can be done on a New Layer versus Duplicate. If they can be done on a New Layer, that is preferable. For a tool like the patch tool, you will need the pixels there and will need a Duplicate Layer.
This concludes my “Understanding Layers” tutorial. I hope you learned a lot and that you start working more on layers and less on your original when editing in Photoshop.