Layers in Photoshop

Photoshop is my go to editor for digital photography. In this article I explore the basic layer structure of a Photoshop file and how to combine layers to make basic edits.

Photoshop is fundamentally a way to improve an image by understanding it as a layer in a string universe of infinite layers. At least that is my preferred way to think about it.

In order to harness the power of Photoshop you have to wrap your head around how to organize and adjust layers between files.

Organizing Layers in Photoshop

The key to using Photoshop effectively is to be able to adjust and merge layers without destroying original images.

There are several ways to do this.

The first is to work from a copy : Command + J (Mac) and Control + J (PC).

When compositing layers together merge the visible layers into a new layer (Option + Command + Shift + E (Mac) Control + Alt + Shift + E (PC)).

When you do this you can create a new layer without deleting the constituent parts of that merged layer in the file you are working in.

When compositing I frequently create groups of layers and create layer compositions (which can be made visible in the Layer Comps Window).

Finally, you can work from Smart Objects.

To convert a layer to a Smart Object go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.

A smart object preserves the layer as a PSB file in your temporary files on your computer. To change the file location of a Smart Object you would change where it is saved: File > Save As.

When you place a file into another file in Photoshop it does so as a Smart Object.

Smart Objects are primarily used to isolate a layer so that it can be edited independently of the Photoshop file it is in. When a file is changed it updates the smart object in other files where it is saved as a layer.

To share the layers across files without them being linked as Smart Objects you need to rasterize the layer or duplicate the layer.

To rasterize the layer go to Layer > Rasterize.

Duplicate layers ( Layers > Duplicate Layer ) to share layers between different files open in Photoshop.

Layer Visibility in Photoshop

Use the Layer Comps window ( Window > Layer Comps ) to create compositions of visible layers to compare within the document different versions of visible layers.

To see just one layer in isolation Option + click on a layer to make just that layer visible.

What about viewing layer blend modes? With the navigator tool selected, hold down shift while tapping plus(+) or minus(-) to cycle through the blend modes. To adjust opacity in 10% increments tap any of the numerical keys.(1-0).