Photoshop Top 40
Illustration by John Hersey

2. The Layers Palette


Photoshop Top 40

with Deke McClelland

Video: 2. The Layers Palette

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! #2, #2! After 38 features each more essential than the last, you might be wondering what in the heck is left inside Photoshop, except that you just saw the title and you know it's a little thing called the Layers palette. This one palette is where everything happens, blend modes, opacity, adjustment layer, Smart Objects, layer effects, luminance, blending and layer masks take place in this one palette.

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Watch the Online Video Course Photoshop Top 40
7h 13m Intermediate Dec 21, 2009

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There's nothing people love more than lists, and Photoshop Top 40 offers a great one, highlighting the best features in Photoshop. Deke McClelland counts down to #1 with a new video each week, detailing one great feature after another in this popular digital imaging application. The videos cover tools, commands, and concepts, emphasizing what's really important in Photoshop.

This is an ongoing course that will be updated monthly.

For the newest updates please go to our blog entry for Deke's Photoshop Top 40.

Topics include:
  • Assembling multiple pieces of artwork with layer comps
  • Creating a black-and-white image from a color photograph
  • Merging multiple channels to create an alpha channel with calculations
  • Selecting images with the Pen tool
  • Masking images using the Brush tool
Design Photography
Deke McClelland

2. The Layers Palette

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! #2, #2! After 38 features each more essential than the last, you might be wondering what in the heck is left inside Photoshop, except that you just saw the title and you know it's a little thing called the Layers palette. This one palette is where everything happens, blend modes, opacity, adjustment layer, Smart Objects, layer effects, luminance, blending and layer masks take place in this one palette.

Those who work on flat images are as children. Those who use layers are grown-ups. Welcome to command central. Feature #2 is the Layers palette and I doubt anyone would contest the power of this amazing palette. I was running through the Photoshop Top 40 list and feature #39, layer comps, 38, vector-based type, 20, Free Transformation, 19, luminance blending, 18, Smart Objects, 17, layer effects, 16, adjustment layers, and 11 opacity and blend modes would not even be possible without the Layers palette.

They all not only rely on layers, they happen inside the palette and many of the other features off course too numerous to mention, would be greatly diminished. This is really command central where Photoshop is concerned and you end up spending probably a good 50% of your time if not more inside this one palette. So, by way of demonstration we're going to take this photograph of this girl that we first on Feature #5 the Sharpen Filters comes to us from Jason Stitt and we are going to transform her into a Na'vi the from the movie Avatar and here she is.

Now this is a flattened version of the image, hence it just has one layer. But we'll go back to the other multilayered image. It has 22 layers in all and we will build her up from scratch. I want you to notice that this is a fair labor of love. I've spend a lot of time masking at the hairs, so the blue is just hitting the skin. The make up, the war paint is actually transitioning into the skin. We have this dragonfly kind of things flying up here in upper right kind corner. We can see through her hair to her blue scalp. So her scalp is blue. The eyes require all kinds of layers as you'll see in layer effects and so on.

She's not even smiling anymore. Anyway, let's see how it was put together and I want to tell you two things. We're going to run through it right now. I'm just going to build it up in front of you and then I'm actually going to go into details and spend about an hour and a half on this project in my very first chapter, in Chapter 1 What Photoshop Can Do, of my next video series Photoshop CS5 one-on-one which will be part of the Online Training Library. So let's light switch back to the image that needs to be modified and my first step was to jump this image to a new layer and then apply the Liquify filter.

So, I went ahead and pressed Ctrl+Alt+J and Command+Option+J in a Mac and I called this liquefied eyes. You can already see this layer exist right there, but I'll make it for you. liquefied eyes and then I clicked OK in order to create this new layer and then I went up to the Filter menu and choose Liquify. Now, you might ask well, why didn't you apply Liquify, which is a Filter, as a Smart Filter to a Smart Object? Because it doesn't work. You can't apply Liquify as a Smart Filter. You've to apply it as a static adjustment to a pixel-based layer. So, that's what I did. I choose Liquify and then I'll go ahead and Load the Mesh that I used to create this effect.

It's Avatar girl (eyes) right there and then click Open and shouldn't look all that great, right? It's just a first step. It's really about more than the eyes. I got the eyes kind of big at this point, but I also changed the nature of her smile. So, she's not smiling anymore. She has more of a frank look on her face. I changed the nose around quite a bit, all of the bridges of nose still need work and I changed her cheekbone structure, a few other things and then of course I clicked OK. And that is this liquefied eyes layer. It's exactly the same thing. So, I could just go ahead and grab this guy and delete it by pressing the Backspace key or the Delete key of the Mac.

Now, then I needed to do the nose on a separate layer. So this was the nose distortion and the whole reason I need to do this on a separate layer. I will zoom in for you here. Is because inside a Liquify there's no way to resolve the eye going behind the bridge of the nose. So I had to distort the eyes and one layer in the bridge of the nose on the other layer and then mask it. So, I went ahead and added a layer mask. I'll Shift+Click on that layer mask to turn it on and you can see how now the bridge of the nose is covering up the eye. We'll go and zoom out and then I went ahead and made a selection using feature #23 Color Range and I selected all the flesh tones in the image which took me into the hair detail quite a bit, but it eliminated the background and you can see that layer mask right there.

So, the background is black and the foreground is white. Then I applied a Hue/Saturation layer in order to color her skin blue and that's what we've got going on there. Normally I'm not going to show you the contents of the adjustment layer, but I'll do it this time. I'll just double-click on that guy and you can see that I changed the Hue value to -170. That's all I did. So I'm just rotating the Hues around there. I'll go ahead and close that palette now. Then I'll turn on the deep layer, which was just sinking the colors a little bit. I wanted to make everything darker. Now that's going too far, so I reduce the opacity of this layer to 80%.

I also wanted to make sure her scalp didn't get too dark up there, so that I can reveal her scalp when I was painting away some of the hairs and so I added a little bit of a layer mask. Notice this is layer mask and something that's interesting about this layer mask. I'll bring out the Masks palette. I've gone ahead and reduced the density of this mask. So what that means is if I take it up to 100%, I'm cutting all the way through in these areas are black. See the mask right there. You can see that the mask thumbnail that is downright on screen is black in the top left corner and then white elsewhere and I can Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask, so you can see the whole thing.

When you reduce the Density what you're doing is you're essentially making the black parts gray so that they're not hiding nearly so much. So, in other words you're revealing more of the layer by reducing this Density value inside the Mask palette. It's one of those obscure options that was added to CS4 that over time I've found to be more and more useful. I'll go and Alt+Click or Option+Click once again on that layer mask thumbnail, hide the Mask palette, so I can see what I'm doing and actually I'm going to switch back to the Adjustments palette and then hide so that I have a wider Layers palette to work with here.

So, there's that layer just deepening those blue flesh tones. I went ahead and added some shadows. Now notice I painted these shadows in using feature #31 The Brush tool. But what I want you to notice is that I painted them in using a complementary color and that way they're going to blend in better when I apply the Multiply blend mode. So, I'll go ahead and select that layer and switch it to Multiply like so and you can see how nicely the orange is blending with the blue flesh and then I'll go ahead and take the opacity value down to 70% for that layer.

Then I need to reduce the Vibrance. So I took both the Vibrance. This is a Vibrance adjustment layer. I took both of the Vibrance and Saturation values down to -20% each. Now, her skin's looking great. Her eyes are a problem of course, we need to work on those, but her skin's looking great. But the hair, we're totally losing the definition in the hair and the whole reason I chose this woman in the first place was because she already had Na'vi styled hair to work with. So, what I needed to do is to create a knockout that's going to bore through all of these layers, down through the blue layer right there and it's going to reveal these liquefied layers in the background.

So I painted this layer of red here. I just made it red, so I can see it very easily. Anywhere where we're seeing red is going to bore through the other layers where we're not seeing red is not going to bore through. So that's the nature of a knockout layer. I'll go ahead and double-click in an empty portion is this layer to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and I'll change the Knockout value to Shallow, and then Shallow is very important by the way. You don't want to go deep. Shallow is almost always what you do with knockout and them I'll reduce the Fill opacity value down to 0% so that we're cutting a hole.

The problem is now click OK. We're cutting a hole all the way down to the background layer. I just want to cut through these layers right here. So I want to take knockout and cut all the way through and including blueness down to the three layers that are not selected. So I'll click on one, Shift+Click on the other to select these guys. Go out to the Layers palette menu and choose New Group from Layers and I'm going to call this knockout group and the idea is a group will contain the knockout. So by virtue of having knockout set to Shallow, it will just go through the group and no farther.

Click OK and notice how well that works. Now, it's just cutting through these other layers and just to give you sense, this was without that layer. This is with that layer. So the knockout layer makes a terrific difference in terms of this composition. Let's skip up a couple to the irises layer. Now the irises presented a very interesting problem. I could've gone to a totally different image and gotten somebody else's irises if I wanted to and brought them in here, but instead I worked with the distorted irises from the liquefied faces here and I just selected them using the Elliptical Marquee tool brought in the front.

The good news is that we have these nice reflections in focus in one eye, out of focus in the other, terrific. It's obviously the same stuff going on. But notice how tiny the pupils are and this area right there is a pupil and same with this little dark zone right there. So I needed to get rid of those pupils, make some other adjustments. So here's what I did. I went ahead and added this overlays layer right there where I painted in a bunch of white and the nice thing about painting with white and then setting it to the Overlay blend mode is it behaves a lot like the Dodge tool.

It's different than the Dodge tool, but it also exists on a separate layer, which is kind of nice, and it ended up lightning things considerably as you see there. Now it goes outside of the eyes into the flash, so I needed to go up to the Layer menu and choose Create Clipping Mask so that I'm clipping the overlays inside the irises and in fact there are a bunch of layers here that want to be clipped. So I'm going to the click on lighten, Shift+Click on overlays and in one full swoop I can clip them all to the irises layer like that. So they're all right ready to go.

Then I've got this thing called the old pupil eliminator and that's getting rid of these pupils to an extent, not getting totally rid of them off course. Then I've got this shadows layer right there, which is green, something of a complementary color and I set it to the Multiply mode in order to burn in those shadows. Then I've got some more shadows and yet another layer, turn them on and set them to Multiply. You may feel like I'm going too far with the shadows, but I've got some other stuff going on with the irises down here. First of all, I've got a layer mask so that the irises actually fit inside the eyes.

So I'll Shift+Click to turn that on. Then I will twirl open the effect so that we can see all the effects that are going on. I've got an Inner Shadow, which is adding a little darkness around the edge of the irises. We have some gaps that need to get filled in so I've got an Outer Glow that's going to help me with and then I've got an Inner Glow that's happening inside at the lines, and notice both of these Glows are actually shadows. If you're to double-click on one of them, you would see that the blend mode is set to Multiply instead of Screen, thereby darkening the irises and I'm working with a dark color as well.

I'll cancel out of there. Color Overlay so that we're coloring the eyes with a bit of green there, a yellowish green and if I were to double-click on that, I've got that set to the Color blend mode, but the opacity is ratcheted down so that we're not completely replacing the previous colors. Then finally I added one I almost never use Satin, which you'll just see a tiny little effect happen, this little bit of bounce inside of those eyes. Then I wanted to darken up the whites of the eyes a little and so I added this layer, this badly clipped layer of very light gray.

But it doesn't matter that it's badly clipped, because I'm going to set it to the Multiply blend mode. So we're going to lose those edges against those black rings of the eye there. Now then I went ahead and lighten the irises a little bit so that we've a little bounce and of course we're missing the pupils entirely, aren't we? So let's turn on the pupils. It didn't take a lot of effort to draw those pupils. Just grab the Elliptical Marquee tool and drew a circle and filled it with black. It was mostly all about trying to get the pupils in the right location. Of course, you look at these pupils and you think, oh, boy! That doesn't look right at all.

It just looks like black holes out of no where, which is why I went ahead and modified the pupils a little bit by double-clicking to the right here inside of this empty area to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and then I took advantage of feature #19 Luminous Blending. Using Underlying Layer that's what we have to do here to reveal the highlights in the background. Because after all, this layer won't do us any good, because everything on this layer is black. And then I took the Y point down to 240 and then I Alt+Dragged or Option+Dragged the left half of that triangle down to 185 to achieve this effect right there so the highlights are showing through.

Now, I still didn't feel like that was enough in the way of highlights. So I'll go ahead and click OK on that. So I went ahead and selected the highlights using feature #23 Color Range and I got this effect right here. I went ahead and selected them, brought them to front, filled them with white and set them just for extra measure to the Linear Dodge (Add) Mode to get as much highlight out of them as possible. The edges of those pupils are too hard, so I added an Outer Glow. That's really an outer shadow effect like so. Now it's time for the war paint. So I went ahead and added the cyan paint first.

Now that's not masked at all. I need to go ahead and mask it. So I'll Shift+Click on this mask in order to turn it on and I just basically painted that using a mouse and the Brush tool of course, feature #31. One of these brushes is right here. So I kind of varied between them. But I didn't use a tablet or anything. This is very quick and dirty paining going on there. Then in order to make sure that these brush strokes sort of blend in with the face which they quite obviously don't right now. I went ahead and double-clicked to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and again I took advantage of feature #19, Luminous blending.

And I'm going to do that by bringing up the black point to 80 and you can see how the paint is now dissolving into the shadows. And then I Alt+Dragged or Option+Dragged the right half of this triangle over to 165 so we get this effect right here, which I think looks pretty darn good actually. Click OK. I felt like the war paint should have a little bit of dimension. So I added a Bevel and Emboss layer. Now you might look at this and say if you can see it here, you might think that my highlights are a little thick, like the paint wouldn't really be that thick.

We just want a little bit of an edge. If I double-click on a Bevel and Emboss, this is the smallest edge I have. So the size is already down to 1 pixel. I can't go any lower. But this is something to note about Photoshop, when you're working with layer effects and you're working with a lot of layers, things don't always display on screen the way they really are at reduced view sizes. Even with OpenGL and all the great navigation stuff and the great image previewing stuff that Photoshop CS4 has, it's still not 100% accurate. If you zoom in to 100%, you will see the accurate edges.

100% or larger is the only time you're going to see everything exactly right unless you're working with a flat image and then you stand a chance of seeing things in a good shape. Now I'm going to turn on the white paint. There it is, but of course I need to Shift+Click on my layer mask there so that we can see it and I'm going to change the blend mode for this layer to Screen in order to get that effect there. I also need to change the Luminous Blending. So I'm going to double-click on layer to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and I'm going to change the black point value to 30.

That's where things are going to begin to drop off. Then I'm going to take this up to 100 like so and then we get a nice blend of the white with the flesh as well. It has a chunky feel, because of the Screen blend mode. Click OK. Finally, turn on to little bit of yellow paint, which ended up with these sort of fried egg patterns here. But that's the way it is in the movie. So I will now change the blend mode associated with that to Multiply and we get this effect there. The next thing, there's only two layers left. We've got these blurry leaves in the foreground and this came from an extremely low resolution Fotolia image.

I had to blow these leaves up to 600% or 800% of their previous size, which means I upsampled. In the very previous video on feature #3 I was urging you never to upsample, the exception is when you're trying to get layers to match each other. I don't believe in upsampling for print purposes. I of course believe in upsampling for creative purposes. This ends up looking very good, because then I turned around and went to the Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. So I wasn't concerned with having good detail in the first place. I wanted this to be out of focus, because it's very, very far in the foreground.

Lens Blur like Liquify is a filter that you cannot apply to Smart Objects. So, you just had to apply it static. It's a very slow filter as it is. Next, I went ahead and added a little bit of an Inner Glow, which is really an inner shadow to firm up those edges. That still didn't look right to me, so I went ahead and chose the Multiply blend mode to multiply the leaves within the background. My thinking being you normally don't see through leaves this way, but when they're way out of focus, you do see around them. The light just basically goes around the edges of the leaves and so you're going to see everything mixed together.

Finally, the dragonfly, there it is. So what I'm going to do is scroll over to the right here and I'm going to click on the dragonfly layer to make it active and notice that it is a Smart Object. This is the one Smart Object inside of this file and I have applied a series of Smart Filters. So I started by just inverting this picture of this dragonfly. He was originally dark against the light background and then I applied Gaussian Blur, feature #14 in order to give it a blurred appearance. Lens Blur is a more realistic blurring effect for optical blurring, but Gaussian Blur is a heck of a lot faster and you can apply it to a Smart Object.

Then I applied Motion Blur, which is also in the Filter menu under the Blur submenu and that allowed me to create a motion effect. So that the dragonfly appears to be moving and then I went ahead and added a Lens Flare to get this effect here, because I wanted to make it look like the insect is glowing. Of course, that's pretty fakey at this point. So, we go ahead and change the blend mode associated with the dragonfly to Linear Dodge (Add) once again, so he is very bright and then I wasn't happy with this little trails from the Lens Blur filter.

So I masked them away using a layer mask. I'll go ahead and Shift+Click on that layer mask to turn it back on. And this, my friends, is the final effect, the final Na'vi created from a standard image file here inside Photoshop. Thanks in large part to the power of feature #2, the Layers palette.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Photoshop Top 40 .

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Q: Is there a way to batch convert an entire folder of photos from the RBG color mode to the CMYK color mode without having to open and convert each individual image?
A: In the Actions panel in Photoshop, create an action that converts an image from RGB to CMYK. Then link to that action from File > Automate > Batch inside Photoshop.
Next, in the Bridge, select a folder of images. Choose Tools > Photoshop > Batch. Select the action inside the ensuing dialog box.
Or, in Photoshop, select File > Automate > Batch, and select the action and the folder inside the dialog box.
See also: Photoshop CS2 Actions & Automation, Chapter 2 “Action Essentials.”
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