Layer – Basics


What are layers?

One of the first things you will be learning in Photoshop is how to use layers.  When retouching an image in Photoshop you will use many different layers and this will allow you to manipulate your image with a great deal of control.  You can think of layers like pages of a book.  The cover page will be your top layer and the back cover will be the background layer.  So if you have a top layer that is covering the layers below it then the layers below will not be visible.  You can adjust the opacity of each layer allowing you to see through it, or you can remove parts of a layer entirely.  You can also paint, clone and heal on each layer.

What are layers used for?

A layer can address a set issue on an image.  For example if you want to remove a small part of an image, you can do this by creating an empty layer and use cloning to remove a small section of the shot.  If you want to bring it back then you can turn the layer off.  Each layer has an ‘eye’ that can be turned on and off allowing it to be seen or not.  Lets take a look at the layer pallet and how it can be used to retouch an image.

Basics of using layers

To begin using layers you need to have an image open in Photoshop.
If the Layer Pallet is not already showing on the right hand side, under the pull down menu click on ‘Window’ and then select ‘Layers’.  This will open the Layer Pallet to the right hand side.  At the bottom of the pallet you can see several buttons. The two basic buttons are:

  • Add a new LayerHow a photoshop layer palet worksThere are a few ways to create a new layer. My favourite ones are:
    1. To create a new empty layer click the new layer button as shown on the image on the right.
    2. Another way to add a new layer is to select Layer > New > Layer on the main menu at the top. On the New Layer window that opens name your layer and hit Ok. See the next point for more info about naming layers.
    3. On Mac press ‘Command + Shift + L’ and On Windows press ‘Control + Shift + L’ keys.
  • Naming Layers – You can name each individual layer so that you can quickly identify what each layer contains.  This is particularly useful when you have many layers in a Photoshop file.  To name a layer you need to carefully double click on the layer in the layer pallet.  It is really important that when you click on the layer that you click on the name of the layer. Then it will be highlighted and you can type your desired name.  If you double click on the layer and not on the text of that layer then it will open up a different option and you wont be able to alter the name. These other functions will be explored in future posts.
  • Erase a Layer – If you want to remove a layer then first select that layer in the Layer Pallet by clicking on that layer and then click the trash button as shown on the image on the right.
  • The ‘eye’ icon – There is an ‘eye’ icon next to each layer on the Layer Pallet.  Turn the ‘eye’ icon on or off to make a layer visible or invisible without erasing it . To turn the ‘eye’ icon on or off click on it once. Toggling the ‘eye’ on and off can be a good way when retouching to see if you have completed your retouching or if you have areas that still need working on.

These are the layer basics in Photoshop and you will always be creating new layers when retouching, a fundamental part of any retouching workflow.  When I address different retouching techniques in future tutorials you will first need to create a new layer.  This way you can separate your retouching and have much greater control and further your ability to adjust any subtle change.

The layer pallet in Photoshop