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Understanding layers

From: Up and Running with Photoshop Elements 10

Video: Understanding layers

One of the big advantages of working in the Full Photo Edit workspace, over the other editing workspaces, is that here you can take advantage of layers. The beauty of layers is that layers allow you to treat different pieces of artwork as independent images. So if you have a separate graphic or part of a photo on its own layer, you can paint on that layer, you can filter that layer, you can add an effect to that layer, you can move that layer, all without having any impact at all on the rest of the image. Control central for layers is over here in the Layers panel.

Understanding layers

One of the big advantages of working in the Full Photo Edit workspace, over the other editing workspaces, is that here you can take advantage of layers. The beauty of layers is that layers allow you to treat different pieces of artwork as independent images. So if you have a separate graphic or part of a photo on its own layer, you can paint on that layer, you can filter that layer, you can add an effect to that layer, you can move that layer, all without having any impact at all on the rest of the image. Control central for layers is over here in the Layers panel.

If your Layers panel isn't showing, then go up to the Window menu and choose Layers. Each bar in the Layers panel represents a separate layer. To see what's on each layer in this file, I'm going to make one layer at a time visible. I'll start with the layer on the bottom, the Background layer, holding down the Alt key -- that's the Option key on a Mac -- as I click on the eye icon to the left of the Background layer. So now I've turned off the eye icons on the other two layers, and what you see in the Document window is just what's on the Background layer, which is this blurry photograph that takes up the whole layer.

Now, to see just what's on the next layer, the sign layer, I'll hold the Option or Alt key, and click in the visibility field to the left of the sign layer. The sign layer has this partial photograph, and the rest of this layer is gray and white. The gray and white checkerboard represents transparency, or see-through pixels. So wherever this sign layer is see- through, we can see down through to the content on the Background layer below. And finally, there is a fish layer here, I'll Option+click or Alt+click in the visibility field to the left of the fish layer, and you can see that the only thing on this layer is this little graphic of a fish.

The rest of this layer is transparent, and you can see through it down to the contents of the sign layer and the Background layer below. I am going to Option+Click or Alt+Click again on the eye icon to the left of the fish layer, and that turns on the eye icons on all the other layers again. I know you're wondering how I got these different pieces of artwork on different layers. The way that I did that was to make some selections, and then delete the selected areas, and you'll learn how to do that in the upcoming movies in this chapter. But for now, I'd like you to concentrate on layers and how they work.

The beauty of putting these separate pieces of art on separate layers is that now I can work with any one of them without affecting the rest of the image. So, for example, let's say that I want to move the fish. I'll select the fish layer, and that's really important. I have to click on this layer in order to affect it, and then I'll go over to the toolbar, and I'll select the Move tool. Then I'll move into the image, and I'll click and drag the fish, and as you can see, only the fish is moving. The sign and the Background didn't move. I am going to move the fish a little bit off the sign, like this.

Now let's say I want to move the sign; same thing. I'll select the sign layer, I'll get the Move tool in the toolbar, I'll click and drag in the image, and the sign moves. If I want to move the sign and the fish together, then I'll select both layers. To do that, I'll click on a layer, and then I'll hold down the Control key on the PC, the Command key on the Mac. I'll select another layer, so you can see both are now dark, meaning they're both selected, and when I click and drag with the Move tool, they both move together. Now, moving isn't the only thing I can do to the content of layers.

I can paint on a layer, I can filter a layer, and so forth. I have just used moving as an example here. Another thing you can do with layers is to change the order in which they appear in the Layers panel, and that will change the order of their content in the image. So I'm going to click on the fish layer here, so that that's the only one selected. And then I'm going to click again and hold on the fish layer, and drag down to put the fish layer beneath the sign layer. When the border under the sign layer lights up like this, I'll release my mouse. You can see that I have switched the order of those layers in the Layers panel, and the content in the image has also changed.

Now the fish is behind the sign, so we can't see his tail. If I want to see the whole fish again, I'll go back and click on the fish layer, hold and drag to the top of the Layers panel, releasing my mouse when the border at the top gets dark, like that. And with the Move tool still selected, I am going to move the fish back where he goes: in the middle of the sign. What if you want to make a new layer? To do that, with the fish layer selected, I'll go down to the bottom of the Layers panel, and I'll click this icon that's called the Create a new layer icon. It looks like a page with the corner turned up. And that adds a new layer on top of whatever layer was selected; in this case, on top of the fish layer.

I think it's important to name layers, so that you know what's on each layer by the name. So to rename this from its default of Layer 1, I'll double-click on the Layer 1 name, and then I'll type a name for this layer. I am going to name this the paint layer. Then I'll press Enter or Return on my keyboard. To paint layer is currently completely transparent, and you can see that from the gray and white checkerboard on its thumbnail. I am going to add some paint on this layer, so I'll make sure that I have selected the paint layer, and then I'll go over and get the Brush tool. I happen to have some gold paint here in my foreground Color.

You can choose whatever color you like by clicking on foreground color box and choosing a color in the Color Picker. I'll go with this gold. I'll move on top of the fish, and I'm going to paint. Now remember, I'm not painting on the fish layer; I am painting on my new paint layer, and I'm laying down that opaque paint. If I'd like to make that paint a little bit see-through, so we can see the fish below, I can use either a blend mode from this menu, or I can try reducing the opacity of the paint layer. I'll start with the blend mode. I'll click on this menu, and there are many choices here.

These are all different formulas for combining the color on the paint layer with the colors on the layers below. I urge you to experiment with some of these blend modes. I am going to go right for the Color blend mode, which I often use when I want to turn paint into a tint. So when I choose the Color blend mode, now that orange paint becomes more of a tint on top of the fish. If I want to make that tint a little less opaque, a little more see-through, I can use the opacity slider here at the top of the Layers panel. Clicking the arrow to the right of the Opacity field and dragging to the left, and that reduces the opacity of the paint layer, and then I'll click to dismiss that slider.

Notice that one of these layers, the Background layer, has a lock on it. This is typical of a photograph that you might bring in from a digital camera. A background layer like this can't be moved, and you can't erase it down to transparency. So to show you that I'll get the Move tool, I'll select the Background layer, and I'll try to move it, and nothing happens. If I want to turn the Background layer into a regular layer that acts just like the other layers, I'll click on the lock, and I'll drag that down to the trashcan at the bottom of the Layers panel. And now I can click and drag the content of that same layer around, and its name changes from Background, to layer 0.

Finally, what if you want to delete a layer? So let's say I don't like the paint layer; I want to delete it. I'll select the paint layer, and I'll drag it down to that trashcan at the bottom of the Layers panel, and release my mouse. So that's an overview of layers in the Full Edit workspace. As you can see, they give you a lot of flexibility, and I urge you to give them a try.

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Up and Running with Photoshop Elements 10

29 video lessons · 5514 viewers

Jan Kabili
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