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When you start working with layers inside Photoshop there is one particular layer you have to understand right upfront, and that's the background layer. It's different. It's special. It's different than any of the other kind of layers you are going to be working with. So, if you take a look at the Layers panel over here on the right, you'll see I have got quite a few layers here, lots of different types of layers. And you'll see there's a layer at the very bottom with the word background, or the name background. It's got a little lock icon there. Now this is obviously a document I've created. It's got a bunch of layers in it. If I just click on this particular document, this is just an image with a single layer in it with the Background layer.
So, every image you open off from your camera is more than likely going to have a Background layer as well. And when you create a new document, so if I do File > New, and just go with the default settings here, the background contents are set to white. That's the default. When I click OK, you'll see this new document also starts with a background layer. So, what is that background layer? Let's go ahead and close these documents and come back here. Here I've selected the background layer, and the thing that's special about the background layer is that it cannot be deleted or moved unless it's been converted to be a non-background layer.
So, you see there is a lot of lock icon there to the right that's telling you that you can't delete it. If I try to change the stacking order by clicking and dragging it and moving it somewhere up and down the layer stack, you'll see I get a not valid icon or cursor telling me that's not possible. So, if I have the Background layer selected, let's click on the name of it to select it, and then I get the blue highlighting there. If I make a selection, go ahead and get my Marquee tool by pressing the letter M, and just make a selection of pixels here. On any other layer other than the background layer, if I were to hit the Delete or Backspace key, I would be deleting those pixels and I would end up with transparent areas, areas with nothing on them.
If I hit the Delete or Backspace key here though, because I am on a background layer I get the Fill command coming forward. So, that's only going to happen when you're on a background layer. Normally we just delete, and you would see no pixels there, but because you are on the Background layer the Fill dialog comes up, and then you can choose what you want to fill this selected area with. Now the default is white here, but you can pick a different color or pattern or whatever, so I am going to go ahead and click OK. And you'll see that instead of seeing transparent pixels or a transparent area represented by a checkerboard, I've actually filled and replaced those selected pixels with white pixels, and that's not really what I wanted here.
So, I am going to go ahead and undo that. What I wanted was to delete some of these pixels to a transparent background, maybe create a vignette effect. Well let's go about that a little bit differently. I am going to go ahead and deselect, and I can do Command+D or Ctrl+D to deselect that current selection. I want to go ahead and just drag out a rough rectangular selection here again on the Background layer and let's go ahead and feather that selection. Now I like a different technique than feather. So, I am actually going to Quick Mask mode. Type a Q for Quick Mask mode. That views your selection as this green overlay.
It might be red on your machine. That's the default color. I have changed mine to green, and I am going to go to Filter > blur > Gaussian Blur. I am going to click on the corner of that mask there, so I can see the edge quality there, and I'm actually feathering or softening that edge. Instead of a hard edge, it just give it a nice soft vignette effect. A Radius of 15 is okay. I am going to ahead and click OK. I am going to press the Q key to go back to normal mode. And again, if I were to hit the Delete key here, I would bring up that Fill dialog box because I am on the background layer. What I want to do is delete those pixels to transparency instead.
So, to do that, we just need to simply convert the background layer, and the simplest way to do that is just double- click on the name of it. That brings up the Name dialog for new layer, and you can just name it layer zero, that's the default, or give it a descriptive name. For now, I am just going to click OK. And now if I were to hit the Delete button-- I'll go to the Backspace key on my keyboard. I'm actually deleting those pixels to be transparent. And that's what that checkerboard pattern represents. Now I wanted the opposite of that, so I am going to undo it, Command+Z, Ctrl+Z, and I am going to go to the Select menu and choose Inverse to get the opposite of my original selection.
So, now the inner area is not selected. It's the outer area that's selected and if I hit the Delete or Backspace key again, now I've deleted that back to a transparent vignette effect. And I was able to do that because I was not working on the background layer anymore. I'll go ahead and deselect. You don't need a background layer in a layered document that has more than one layer on it. It's totally up to you. Some people like to have this notion of a base layer that nothing can go below. If you want to convert any layer into a background layer, and you can only have one background layer in any given file.
You can just select that layer and go to the layer menu and say, New > Background From Layer, and that will convert that layer into another background layer again. Unfortunately, when that happens you'll lose your transparency because a background layer cannot have any transparent pixels in it. So, all the transparent areas that were there to start with, they became the background color. Now in this case, it happens to be black. If you take a look over on the toolbar over here on the left, you'll see there is a foreground color chip of white and a background color chip of black. If this had been pink, that black chip had been pink, then these transparent areas would have ended up being pink instead of black.
So, there you have it, kind of the ins and outs of the Background layer. When you want to get creative and start manipulating the background layer, you just need to convert itand again, the way to do that is simply double-click on its name. I'll give you little bonus tip. If you Option or Alt double-click on the background layer, that just converts it without bringing up that naming dialog box where you'd give it a different name.
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