Using Layers in Photoshop or Elements

Peggy Farren 2014-02-04

by Peggy Farren

This is a basic lesson on using Layers in Photoshop or Elements. Layers are an easy way to save your work a bit at a time. The simplest way to understand layers is to start using them.

Photoshop Elements is the best selling photo editing software in the world for a reason. It has many of the features of Photoshop, yet costs only $100 retail. Of course bargain shoppers can probably find it for less!

Elements is all most photographers need for editing. The full version of Photoshop CS has a lot more options that you probably will never use. This lesson on Layer masks works pretty much the same for Photoshop CS and for Elements.

Layers are an easy way to save your work a bit at a time. The simplest way to understand layers is to start using them. Open an image that you would like to work on. In Elements 12, find your layers palette. It's on the right side of your screen while in the editing mode. It doesn't say layers palette, but you will see an icon for your picture that says “Background”. You may have to click on "Layers" on the bottom right of the screen.

Right click on the word “background” and click on “duplicate layer” then click okay for background copy. You've just created your first layer!

Elements for Layers article cu with arrow to bkgd

The top layer is what you see when you look at the screen. You cannot see through the top layer to see the bottom layer.

Let's practice. Go to the top menu and click on “Enhance” then “Convert to Black and White”. Choose your favorite black and white option, then click “OK”. You'll see that the top layer is now a black and white picture, but the background layer is still in color.

Elements for Layers article closeup

Turn off the top layer (the black and white layer) by clicking on the eye icon on the right side of the layer. When the layer is turned off, you will see the bottom layer. Turn the layer back on by clicking on the eye icon again. Layers with eye circled

Hopefully that gives you a general understanding of layers. I use many layers while editing. If I am editing an image with several people. I'll retouch one face then make a copy of that layer and retouch the next face. That way, if I mess up, I can just throw the top layer away instead of hitting undo many times.

Layers will help you in more ways than you can imagine. As a portrait photographer, sometimes I just overdo the retouching and the person begins to look fake. To fix that problem, I can just reduce the opacity on the retouched layer to make the person look more normal. Elements Layers Opacity

If you choose to reduce the opacity of a layer, you'll have to merge it down to the layer below if you want to continue working. Otherwise, everything you do will be a little transparent!

One of the problems you might encounter when using layers is having the wrong layer highlighted. If you are trying to edit and nothing seems to be happening, check to make sure you are on the top layer. Remember, you cannot see the bottom layers unless you turn the top layer off. So if you are working on the wrong layer (one of the bottom layers), you won't be able to see what you are doing! This is a very common problem so before you shoot the computer, check to make sure you are on the top layer!

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