Editing Photos with LayersA beginners guide to understanding layers in Adobe Photoshop ElementsBy Charlie Kerekes, 10/20/2005As one becomes comfortable with digital photography, the next natural step is to edit thephoto in order to repair or enhance it. Digital photo editing is available to everyone througheasy-to-learn software, among which my favorite is Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0.To go beyond basic photo editing such as red eye removal, rotation, and cropping, one mustbecome familiar with layers. Admittedly, the concept of layers is slightly more difficult tograsp due to its higher level of complexity and power, but not so difficult to cause theaverage photo enthusiast to shy away.Common uses for layers in digital photography: Change appearance of photo without altering original image Add text to photo Add other graphic elements to photo, such as shapes, textures, and fragments of other photos Apply special effects to photo Experiment with various effects by showing and hiding different layers Merge multiple photos in creative waysIn this article I explain what the layers feature is, familiarize you with its basic operation,and walk you through a few simple examples. Once you have the basics down, you will beable to more easily follow other articles on this web site, most of which require the use oflayers. So lets get started.Understanding LayersTo visualize the layers concept, imagine the following: You have a color photo that you wishto change. You place the photo on a tabletop to use as a work surface. One of the changesyou want is to darken the main subjects jacket with a black marker. However, youdo not want to darken the photo directly in case you do not like the results or change yourmind later. Therefore, you take a sheet of clear transparency and lay it on top of the photo.With the marker you draw on the transparency to darken the jacket. Lifting thetransparency away leaves the unchanged photo.In the above scenario you created two layers. The photo was the fist layer, and the secondlayer was the transparency to which the changes were applied. In the same manner youcould have layered additional sheets of transparency to isolate various changes onto uniquelayers; on the next layer you could have drawn a mustache, on the one after that glued abow tie, and so on.Digital photo editing software uses the same concept of layers as described above, except itis all done electronically. If you are still not clear on the concept of layers, please keepreading—if you follow the steps below, I believe it will be clear by the end of this article.Identifying Layer Features
In this article I assume that you have Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 (or 3.0) installed onyour machine and you know how to open a photo. Please follow along by starting PhotoshopElements and by opening a photo, preferably one that you dont mind mutilating.Making the Layers Palette Visible Layers palette circled on the Photoshop Elements window. Photo indicated as "Background" in the Layers palette.Photoshop Elements displays layers on your screen in a box called a "palette". Palettes areusually docked on the right edge of the screen, unless they have been moved elsewhere. Tomake sure that the Layers palette is visible, confirm that the following menu has acheckmark:Window > LayersOn the screen shot to the right I have circled the Layers palette in red. Keep in mind thatthe location of tools can change, so it may be in a different location on your screen.Take a moment to do the following in Photoshop Elements on your machine: Confirm that there is a check mark next to the Window > Layers menu. Find the Layers palette on your screen. Use the Window > Layers menu command to show and hide the Layers palette several times, and then leave it visible.Creating a Text LayerAt this point we only have a single layer, and that is our photo. Technically, PhotoshopElements does not consider it a layer, rather the "Background". Lets create a text layer sowe have something to work with: Click the Horizontal Type Tool . On the top toolbar select Arial Black as the font. On the top toolbar set the font size to 72 pt. On the top toolbar set black as the text color.
Click somewhere on the image and type your text. Press Enter within your text to start a new line. When finished typing, click the Move Tool .Notice that the Layers palette now contains a layer named according to the text you typed.I entered the word "Cattails" and that is what I see in Layers.Identifying Layers Palette Components Layers palette containing a background image and a text layer.Now that we have a background and a layer to work with, lets identify the commoncomponents.This article is not covering all layer features—Im keeping it to the bare minimum for thebenefit of those just learning.Layers: Each item listed in the Layers palette is either a layer or a background. It ispossible to have a background without any layers, or only layers and no background. In ourexample we have one of each.Selected Layer: The selected layer is the one with the blue highlight. Click on a differentlayer to select it. All editing performed in Photoshop Elements is applied to the currentlyselected layer or background.Layer Visibility: The small eye to the left of each layer makes the layer visible or invisible.Click on the eye to hide the layer. Click again to show the layer. Hiding all layers leaves onlythe canvas visible.Blending Mode: The drop-down list in the top left corner of the Layers palette is theblending mode. New layers are set to "Normal", meaning the layer is stacked on top oflower layers as if it was solid, without any blending between layers. The blending mode isused for special effects as illustrated in other articles, such asColoring Pages From YourDigital Photos.Opacity: The drop-down list in the top right corner of the Layers palette is the masteropacity control. It can be set between 0% for completely transparent, all the way to 100%for completely opaque. Opacity is used to blend layers with varying levels of subtlety.Experiment by selecting your text layer and setting the opacity to 50%—notice how theblack text fades. Feel free to try other settings, then set it back to 100%.
Changing Layer OrderLayers are stacked on each other. Lower layers show trough transparent areas of upperlayers. In places where an upper layer is not transparent, it hides the lower layers. It isoften necessary to change the order of layers to show desired components. Rectangle shape layer hiding text layer.Before we change the order, lets create a new layer containing a rectangle shape: Select the text layer by clicking on it in the Layers palette. Click the Rectangle Tool . Rectangle Tool may be hiding behind other tools such as the Custom Shape Tool . On the top toolbar set desiredColor. Lets use something bright like yellow. Drag your mouse over the text to draw the rectangle, covering the text completely. This process creates the rectangle in a new layer of its own.
Layers palette after moving text layer to top, above the Shape 1 layer.Now we have three items in the Layers palette: Background, a text layer, and the Shape 1layer on top containing the rectangle.Since we do not want the rectangle to cover our text, we will move the text layer to the top.This is accomplished by dragging the text layer with our mouse to the top of the list withinthe Layers palette. Go ahead and try it now. When you are finished, the text layer should beon top and the rectangle shape layer second, and the text visible once more.Layer StylesOne of the best features for adding visual appeal to a photo are the various layer styles;special effects applied to a layer to alter its appearance.To find the Styles and Effects palette, look above or below the Layers palette. If you onlysee the Styles and Effects title, click the right-pointing triangle to open it.Many styles are available, but lets learn by applying one of the more popular effects to ourtext layer, the drop shadow: Select the text layer by clicking on it within the Layers palette. In the Styles and Effects palette select Layer Styles and Drop Shadows. Click on the Soft Edge style box. Now the text has a drop shadow appearance. In the Layers palette double-click on the text layer style indicator to bring up the Style Settings dialog box. Adjust style settings as desired and click OK when finished.To remove a layer style, right-mouse click on the layer within the Layers palette andchoose Clear Layer Style.v