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Old Mar 22, 2004, 12:32 PM   #1
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Default layers help

I have a question, but I'm not really sure how to phrase it. I'll give it a go.

I am fairly new to Photoshop and picture editing. I have learned enough to get around, and I’m generally happy with the results I get. But I know that I could do better.

One of the biggest mental “leaps” in Photoshop is (I’m told) to go from working in one layer to using multiple layers. I have only tried to do this a few times, with rather unhappy results. My problem is as much with the interface with layers as it is with how to use them. It’s like you have always cooked dinner using a certain few utensils and then someone gives you a multi-function “Swiss Army Utensil” as it were. You look at the thing and say “I don’t even know when to use it, let alone how!”

My problem is that I look at layers and I think “When should I use them?” “What problem are they good to solve?” “What all is possible with the layers pallet & how do I leverage that?” And then I think “I really just wanted to edit this picture and get back to doing fun things” and I don’t use them.

So where is this ramble going? I’m not exactly sure. I can think of a few things that might help, but maybe you have some other ideas?

What do you use layers for? Give me an example of a problem that they solve is a good way (easier, better, whatever) and describe what you do!

Do you know any good books that describe layers really well? Web page? I found the on-line help that came with PS didn’t do a very good job with layers, but maybe I didn’t read enough of it?

How do you think when using layers? They seem to require a different mindset than just editing in a linear “do this, then this, then this” to a single layer.

Or if you had a different thought while reading this that you think might help! I’m trying to both learn something and start a dialog here.

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Old Mar 22, 2004, 1:29 PM   #2
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Don't make things more complicated than they already are. You seems a bit confused of when and why to use layers in PS. Let me tell you a bit about, what I do and think.

Layers are very nice to work with - a gift to the digital photographer. They comes in handy if you want to copy and paste and when you might want to do things different, but are not really nessacary if you just want to paint the sky more blue. So - there's a time for everything.

I do follow my instinct however. I know how to use layers - but I don't have to use them all the time. Exactly as you describe for yourself. Some of my photoediting is very improvised. If I have to think about the process of using layers at the same time - this might ruin the creative process for me. This might seems a bit strange to some, but the feeling of having made an edit, that you can't do again - is like making art! A one timer!

However, if I edit a shot for commercial use - I always use layers as I will be able to go back to the specific part that the receiver don't like. Practical reasons, you know.

Think about, how many times you want to "go back" to a shot and do new edit of the shot...not that often, right ? With digicams we want to do a new and better shot instead...! Who want to see 5 edits of the same shot! If you edit a copy of the original you can always go back anyway.

I agree, that there's much "talk" about the use layers and it's often people that just learned about them, who wants to show other people, that they're into advanced photoediting. But they not nessacary, aren't they!

This is some of the reasons why I use layers - but not have to!

If you see some of my tutorials on my website, you will see the same pattern!
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Old Mar 22, 2004, 4:03 PM   #3
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I'm on the otherside of the fence...

I use layers for absolutely everything I can.

It allows me the ability to composite and manipulate images (including color management) that is nearly impossible in single layer instances. In addition to this I also use the new layer groups that are available in PS 7 and CS.

How to use layers? Well there are two things you need to add to this:

1. Layer Masks
2. Adjustment Layers

1. Layer masks will allow you to apply effects and edits to images withough disrupting the original. For example... To fix an over exposed or under exposed image try this:

1. Open the native file
2. Create a new layer copy of the original (CTRL+J on PC).
3. Change the blend mode to multiply. The image should instantly darken.
4. Now to do selective darkening apply a Hide All layer mask to the newly modified layer by ALT Left clicking on the Layer Mask icon in the Layers Pallette (looks like a rectangle with a white circle in the middle). You should see that the darkened image will revert back to it's previous state.
5. Now click on the mash thumbnail that appeared on the new layers segment and then use the brush tool and paint with white to 'reveal' the Multiplied effect to specific areas of the image. Use a soft brush to prevent unsightly hard transitions.

This is basically the same as the dodge and burn techniques but much more flexible. You can create many multiply or screen layers and then mask of areas that you don't want to use. You can also change the opacity of the layer to vary the effect. I often stack these layers to achieve a good deal of variety in the adjustments.

Adjustment layers work the same way. You can also apply a layermask to an adjustment layer to target specific areas of the photos.

I am so passionate about this subject that I could go on and on about this. I'd recommend a couple of books on this that will help you imensely:

1. Photoshop for Photographers
2. Photoshop 7 down and dirty by Scott Kelby.

Another great way to learn if you don't like books is the Software Cinema tutorial series. You get a CD with Quicktime movies that will show you how to use the effects. The series by Julianne Kost on the Fundamentals and Advanced use will take your PS skills to all new heights... I have all of these items and recommend them based on my own experience. (No I am not affiliated with any of them. Just a happy customer.)

EDIT: Ed linked to the photoworksop site and that's affiliated with the software-cinema folks I mentioned... Here's a layers link from Julianne Kosts series:

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Old Mar 22, 2004, 4:37 PM   #4
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here is a short video, you may find useful.


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Old Mar 22, 2004, 4:43 PM   #5
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Just to add to Klaus & MichaelE's excellent points, I'd add that layers are a very good way to learn how the adjustments that you make interact. By using adjustment layers instead of simply adjusting the image, you can easily go back and change it. You can switch it on/off to see what your adjustment did. You can change the amount of effect by changing the blending options.

With the masks in the adjustment layers, you can apply an adjustment to just part of your image while fine tuning the boundry.

A great aid in learning since it is easy to change whatever you are doing.
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Old Mar 22, 2004, 6:29 PM   #6
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I couldn't add much to the great input you have already received. Like the others, I work a lot with layers for various reasons, but the main reason is that I can always go back and change things even after saving if I work in layers. Can't do that if you make destructive changes to the original layer once you've saved the file.

Eric, they are definately worth learning. They're not as complicated as you're making them out to be once you get your feet wet
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Old Mar 24, 2004, 1:51 AM   #7
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Think of layers as clear sheets of cellophane with no thickness. The image is created by looking down through the layers. Clicking the "eye" icon turns layers on and off (visible and invisible).

Say I'm working on a portrait and I want to clear up bloodshot eyes... I'll select the eyes and do a Control "J" to put them on a separate layer. I'll fix the eyes there, but still keep the original eyes in the background layer. Maybe I'll make another copy of the eyes level and change the eye color to a brighter blue... Maybe I'l make another copy of the eyes and make then 5% bigger to get that "Doe eyed" look that lots of models like... then I can activate each of the layers separately to see how they look... and change again later if I want to...

Sometimes I use multiple layers to darken an underexposed image. Make a second copy of an underexposed image on a new layer and change the leyer blending mode to multiply... if the image still isn't dark enough, add another layer... if it's too dark reduce the opacity a bit...

If you want to apply a layer effect to part of an image... copy the part of the image you want to use to a new layer, lock transparency and apply it...

Layers are a good thing...

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