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

Photoshop’s Layers in effect


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

01 Background layer
This is the original image as it was opened in Photoshop. This layer has had no alterations made to it at this point. As the Background layer, it’s used both for a base and a source for any subsequent Duplicate layers.

02 Background Copy 85% Opacity
A Background Copy layer, in Multiply Blending Mode to darken the lighter areas in the image. A Layer Mask partially hides the effect of the layer in selected places.

03 Soft Light 65% Opacity
Another Background Copy layer, this time set to Soft Light Blending Mode, adds some much-needed contrast to the image, darkening shadows and lightening highlights.

04 Colour Blending Mode 100%
A slightly desaturated Background Copy layer is added and set to Colour mode. The lower area has been masked out in this layer so that it just cools down the sky a little.

05 Overlay 80% Opacity
A layer filled with 50% grey is set to Overlay mode. In Overlay mode, grey is neutral. We painted on this layer with black to darken some areas, and with white to lighten others.

06 Adjustment Layer
A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer is used to slightly desaturate the entire image overall. Adjustment Layers can always be re-edited simply by double-clicking on them in the Layers palette.

07 Soft Light 45%
This layer, set to Soft Light Blending Mode, has a simple black to transparent gradient added to it to darken the sky and make it look more overcast. Because of the gradient, the effect is strongest and most bold at the top of the image.

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


8 alternative ways to convert to black and white in Photoshop
50 free Photoshop actions for portrait photographers

  • Wade Nelson

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