Photoshop for Beginners: Introducing Layers

Layers are a crucial component of photo editing, regardless of whether you are just a beginner or a seasoned professional. Many of the editing tools that are available separately in Photoshop (e.g., levels, curves, brightness/contrast, vibrance) can also be accessed as “adjustment layers”.

So, why would use layers? One major benefit is that you can save all your adjustments to an image and undo or modify them later. Even if you’re a photographer that never returns to old photos, they offer other creative benefits. Let’s look at one or two of these:

Layer Masks

A significant advantage of using layers is that you can apply “layer masks” to them and then paint your adjustments into specific areas of an image. For instance, let’s say you wanted to create a black and white image with some portions of it in colour. To achieve this, you’d first apply a black and white adjustment layer to the image. (All adjustment layers have a white “layer mask” attached to them.)

Using the brush tool and making sure the layer mask is selected, you’d then paint colour back in wherever you wanted it. Note that the foreground colour of the brush must always be opposite to the layer mask colour. Hence, typically you’d use a black brush to expose the colour behind a white layer mask. By flicking the brush colour back and forth between black and white, you can erase and redo your brushwork until you have the effect you want. This same principle works with all tools, making selective adjustments easy in Photoshop.

Blending Modes

Another benefit to using layers is that you can manipulate the way they are blended together, which drastically affects the look of the photo. For instance, the “screen” blending mode lightens an image, while “soft light” adds contrast. You can also use “layer styles” to create different effects such as placing a frame around your photo. The “opacity” slider alters the intensity of blending modes and the visibility of their effects.