Photoshop Layers De-mystified: a beginner’s guide to smarter photo editing

Photoshop Layers Explained: a beginner's guide to post-processing the smart way

Yesterday we took a look at how Photoshop’s Blend Modes work and the 10 best blends for photographers. Today we want to go even further back to basics with photo editing and look at the types of Photoshop layers and how to use them to get the effect you want.

Photoshop Layers Explained: a beginner's guide to post-processing the smart way

It’s a given that layers are key to successful image editing in Photoshop but, for novices, layer lore can still seem like a black art. In this post we’re going to demonstrate how user-friendly and essential Photoshop layers are to you.

In a nutshell, layers enable you to work on one part of an image without affecting others. You can change the opacity of layers, so they’re opaque or barely visible. You can move layers, mask and subtly blend them.

You need to think of your Photoshop layers as sheets of acetate stacked on your background image. A layer can be filled with image pixels, or just have a small area of an image with other areas transparent.

You can also blend layers and hide parts via Layer Masks. On the third page of this post you’ll see a deconstruction of our featured image image, and how we used layers to achieve the result.

PAGE 1: What are layers?
PAGE 2: The Photoshop Layers palette
PAGE 3: Photoshop layers in effect
PAGE 4: The only 3 tips you need to know about using layers


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  • Wade Nelson

    Sorry, but I’ve been using computers and cameras for 30 years and this article doesn’t cut it.