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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Understanding Layers

Use these tips to make the most of this key Photoshop tool

Understanding LayersLayer Masks And Adjustment Layers
Adjustment layers affect the entire layer, making global or overall changes. If you want your adjustment to affect only a specific section of your image, you can use a mask that's created with every adjustment layer (by default, it's represented by the little white box to the right of the Adjustment Layer icon). In masks, keep this in mind, "White shows, and black hides." The default mask is all white, which means whatever adjustment you create, it will change the whole image equally.

But if you fill that mask with black by going to Edit > Fill > Use Black, the effect is hidden, blocked by the black mask. Select a Brush tool and white paint to paint in the change exactly where you want it to appear on the image (all these changes still take place only in the layer mask). If you want the effect to be strongest in one area, make that portion of the mask white. If you want the effect removed in another area, paint with black. And if the effect needs to be a little subtler in another area, paint with a shade of gray (or you can vary the opacity of the brush to make either white or black become gray).

Understanding LayersAnother benefit of working with adjustment layers is you can use Blend modes, which govern the way overlapping layers mix with each other. For photographers, the two most useful Blend modes are Multiply and Screen. These Blend modes will work in conjunction with unadjusted adjustment layers to change the exposure of your images (they only need a layer to work).

You can do this by first creating an adjustment layer without any adjustments made. Just click OK as soon as the dialog box opens. At this point, you have made no visible change to your image. Now change the Blend mode (the default is Normal on the Layers palette) by clicking on the little arrow to the right of Normal to get a drop-down menu. Select Multiply and the image will get one stop darker; choose Screen and the image will get one stop lighter!

If you want more than a one-stop change, duplicate the adjustment layer. If you want less than a one-stop change, lower the opacity of the adjustment layer. You'll find you have amazing control. And remember, you can paint on the layer mask of this adjustment layer; to change what's light or dark in the mask, you have the Photoshop equivalent of burning and dodging from the chemical darkroom.

These are just a few ways you can take advantage of layers. So, open up that Layers palette and experiment! Once you practice a bit, I'm convinced you won't go back to working on single-layer images again.




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