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- Arranging the panels and interface
- Cropping and resizing photos
- Creating new layers
- Refining selections
- Hiding content with a layer mask
- Using adjustment layers
- Correcting color, lighting, and contrast
- Converting a color photo to black and white
- Creating a panorama from multiple photos
- Retouching blemishes and wrinkles
- Making adjustments in Camera Raw
Skill Level Beginner
Having access to layers is one of the biggest advantages of working in the Expert edit workspace over Elements' other editing workspaces. What are layers and why are they so useful? One way to think about what layers are, is to picture several flat transparent panels stacked one on top of the other, as I've tried to show in this perspective illustration. The gray and white checkerboard in this illustration represents transparency, just as it does in actual layers in Elements. Each layer can contain some content, like this photograph that I've added to the bottom layer in this illustration.
Content can cover an entire layer, like this; or it can cover just part of a layer, like the smaller photo that I added to the top layer in this illustration. If part of a layer has no content, like the area around this small photo, you'll be able to see down through that part of the layer to whatever is on the layers below. Now let's switch over to Elements to see the actual layered file that I've tried to represent in these perspective illustrations. Here's a straight-on view of that layered file in Elements, with the background photo on the bottom layer and the smaller photo floating above it on a top layer.
So how would you know whether there are multiple layers in an image and what's on each layer? Well, for that you'll look at the Layers panel. My Layers panel is open over here in the Panel bin on the right. If yours isn't, then go down to the taskbar at the bottom of the expert edit workspace and click Layers. As I explained in an earlier movie about panels, the Layers panel is one of the fixed panels-- panels that snap into the column on the right when opened, and that you can quickly access from a button in the taskbar. In the Layers panel, each bar represents a separate layer with separate content.
The little thumbnail image on each layer gives you a tiny view of the content of each layer. But for a better view of what's on each layer, you can toggle the eye icon to the left of each layer on and off. And that makes that layer temporarily invisible so that all we see in the document window is the contents of the Background layer. I'll click that eye again, and that turns the content of the couple layer back on. I'll do the same on the Background layer, the bottom layer, clicking its eye to turn it off, and now you can see the transparent pixels around the photo on the couple layer.
These are the pixels through which we can see down to the photo on the Background layer below. I'll click the eye on the Background layer again to make that layer visible. Now let's switch to another image that has more layers than this one, so I can show you some more about layers. If you have a photo with a lot of layers and you want to see just what's on one layer without turning all the other eyes off and on one-by-one, then hold down the Alt key--that's the Option key on the Mac--and click on an eye to the left of a layer. So if I Alt or Option click the eye to the left of the rose layer, that shows me just the content of this layer.
And you can see that this layer has a small photo surrounded by transparency. I'll Alt or Option+Click again on that same eye icon to turn all of the other layers back on. And I'll just go through and do this for each layer. There is the couple layer, the cake layer, and the Background layer, each of which I can see separately by holding down the Alt or Option key as I click on the eye icons. So now you have a sense of what layers are, let's talk about why to use layers.
The short answer is that layers give you the flexibility to work on one piece of an image without affecting the rest. When you open a new photo for the first time in the Expert edit workspace, it will have one layer and that's usually called the Background layer like this layer you see here at the bottom of my layer stack. If you add any content to a photograph, like another photo or text or graphic, it's a good idea to put each piece of content on a separate layer, as I did here and as I'll show you how to do later in this chapter. Because I did that, whatever I do to the content of any one of these layers won't affect the rest of the composition.
For example, let's say that I want to make the background photo of the ring black and white, but leave the other parts of the image in color. First I have to make sure that I have the layer that contains that photos selected over here in the Layers panel. I have to tell you this is the one thing that everybody forgets to do at some point, including me. And so, if it ever happens that you do something to an image and it's affecting a different part of the composition, then just go back and make sure that you've selected the layer that you intended to. To select the layer in the Layers panel, you just click on it like this, and it will be highlighted in blue.
So I'll click on the Background layer to select it. Then I'm going to go over to the Enhance menu and I'm going to choose Convert to Black and White. I'll be covering this command in more detail in a later movie. For now, just select Convert to Black and White and click OK in the big dialog box that appears. And as you can see, the only part of the composition that's been affected by that change is the photo on the background layer. And the same would be true no matter what I did to this layer, paint on it, draw on it, copy it, filter it, or enhance it in other ways.
So that's the real power of layers. Let me give you one more example. Let's say, that I want to move one of these smaller photos, the photo of the rose. To do that I'll go to the toolbar and I'll get the Move tool. The Move tool acts differently than other tools and commands in that the Move tool is set to Auto Select Layers by default. That means that it will automatically select a layer for you. Now you may or may not like this behavior, but fortunately you can turn it off if you want to by unchecking Auto Select Layer. Let's just see what it does.
With Auto Select Layer checked, when I click somewhere in the image, the top layer that contains content under my cursor is automatically selected in the layers panel. So if I here on the rose, notice that the rose layer is selected. If I click on the wedding cake, the cake the layer is selected. Now if you don't like that, as I said you can go to the options for the Move tool and uncheck Auto Select Layer, as I'm going to do here. Now if I come in to the image and click on the rose, the rose layer is not automatically selected.
If I want to move the rose, I have to go to the Layers panel and click on the rose layer myself, and then I'll click inside the bounding box that appears around the content of the rose layer and drag. You can also choose to turn off that bounding box, if its anchor points are in the way. To do that, I'll go down to the options for the Move tool again and I'll uncheck Show Bounding Box. When I do that, if I want to move the rose layer, I don't have to click right inside of the area where the bounding box was; I can click anywhere on the rose layer and drag, and that will move the content of that layer.
Now there are some edits, but not all, that you can do to more than one layer at a time. So let me show you how to select multiple layers. If you want to select layers that are not next to one another in the Layers panel then, hold down the Ctrl key on a PC or the Command key on the Mac, as you click on another layer. If you want to deselect the layers you have selected, just click on one layer. Now let's say that you want to select layers that are next to one another in the Layers panel, then you can use the Shift key. So with one layer selected here, the cake layer, I'm going to hold down the Shift key and I'll click on the rose layer. And that will select all the layers in between as well.
Now that I have those three layer selected, I may want to align their content; you can do that down in the options for the Move tool using these align icons. So if I wanted to align all three of these small photos by their left sides, I would click this left icon. And then, because all three layers are selected, I can click anywhere in the image and drag where I want to place the content of all three layers, and they move together. So those are just a few things I can do to multiple layers. But notice that if I got up to the Filter menu for example, these commands are grayed out when I have multiple layers collected.
I hope you're getting a sense that having separate items on separate layers gives you maximum flexibility to edit and enhance each item without impacting the rest of the composition. That's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes all that you can do with layers. So stay tuned for more about layers in the rest of this chapter.