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Using Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 1 of 7

Class Introduction

Ben Willmore

Using Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

And now it's time to turn our attention to layers. Layers are one of the fundamental features in Photoshop, where if you don't know layers, you really don't know Photoshop, and so let's jump into Photoshop and look at the essentials for layers. If you end up getting the full, complete guide, we'll eventually have another session which will be on advanced layers, and that's, we'll get in even deeper. But for now, let's look at the basics of layers. In Photoshop, I'm gonna start by creating a brand new empty document to start to construct a more complex image from. I'll go the File menu and choose New, and I'll go over here to a Print Preview, or a preset, and I think I'll make this maybe about a seven-by-five inch image. Choose Create, and then we'll just zoom up so it fills the majority of our screen. When you first start out in the Layers panel, which is on the left side of my screen at the moment, you're gonna start off with a background layer, and it's only the things that appear ab...

ove the background layer that are actually considered to be layers. The background itself is not truly a layer. I can control how large the thumbnail images will be in the Layers panel by right-clicking in this empty area below the layers, so right now, if I press my right mouse button, or on a Mac, if you don't have two mouse buttons, Control+click in this area. You can choose how large these are going to be, so I'm gonna choose Large just to make these easier for you to see, and you can do that anytime you like by right-clicking in this empty area, or going to the side menu of the Layers panel, and you'll also find it here under Panel Options. Then I'm gonna go to Bridge, and let's look at various ways where I can get an image into a layer in Photoshop. So I'm gonna open an image here, starting in Bridge, just double-clicking, and the first thing I could do is copy this image. Now Copy will be grayed out because it doesn't know how much of the image I wanna copy. So I'll first go to the Select menu and Select All, then I can come up here and copy this. When I copy it, the entirety of what I had selected is being held in what's known as the Clipboard, and so I can close this original image, and now I'm back into the document we had before, and I'm just gonna paste it. When I paste, watch what happens in the Layers panel. There's our first layer. Now, the size of the document is based on the size of the original document. It looks at the width and height of the image in pixels, and then it puts that many pixels into this document, and if this document happened to have a skinnier width or a shorter height, it'll fill more than the document itself. But let's look at other methods we could use for getting images into this document. I'll return to Bridge and open another picture. This time, I'm gonna use the Move tool. The Move tool is what you use to reposition layers. It's the top tool in our Layers panel, and I'm just gonna click anywhere within this document. Then, with my mouse button held down, I'm gonna move my mouse over to the other tab, the tab for the document I created earlier, and then I'm gonna move my mouse into this document before I let go. A lot of people will end up messing up and letting go where their mouse is still on top of the tab for this document, and then nothin' will happen. But I'm gonna let go right now, and so now we've moved that second image over here, so so far, we can copy and paste, or we can drag and drop. I'm gonna close the other document, the one that I just dragged over, it's the second tab that's here. I'll just hit the little X that's there to get rid of it. And let's go back to Bridge. Now there are other ways where it can be very useful to get images between Bridge in Photoshop, and that is: I'm gonna click on the top edge of the Bridge window, and just pull it down like this so I can see what's behind Bridge. Then I'll make my thumbnails in here a little smaller, and now if I wanna get one of these images over to the other document, I'm just going to click on it here and drag up there to the Photoshop document I can see behind, and let go. Now when I do that, it does a couple things differently. The first things it does is it scales down the image to make sure it fits within this document, and if I want it to be even smaller than that, I can grab these corner handles and pull 'em in, and decide exactly how big I'd like that image to be. I can click within the image itself and reposition it, and then when it's the right size and the right position, I press the Return or Enter key. Now, if I wanna get the other images to be sized and positioned, all I need to do is go over here in my Layers panel, click on a different layer, and then go to the Edit menu, and about halfway down the menu is a choice called Free Transform. When I choose Free Transform, I get little handles on the corners of my picture, and if that picture extends beyond the edge of this document, I might need to scroll down to actually see the handles, but there's a trick. There's a keyboard shortcut that usually means fit within window, and it usually would cause the entire document you're working on to fit within your screen, but when you're transforming something, it thinks about the transformation you're performing, so if I come up here to my View menu, and choose Fit On Screen, or I take Command+0, which is what I usually do, Control+0 in Windows, it will scale it down until I can see those transformation handles, and then I can scale this down and reposition it. Now if I type Command+0, it's thinking about the document because the picture fits within it, and I'm just gonna scale this until it's about approximately the same height as the other layer. Then to finish, I'm gonna press Return or Enter on my keyboard. I'll go to the next layer down. Again, I can go to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform, or that's something I use so often that I usually use the keyboard shortcut, which is Command+T for transform, Control+T in Windows. So I'm gonna type that, Command+T. Again, this image is taller than the document that I'm working with, so if I want to zoom out until I can see the little handles to pull on, I can type Command+0, that's Control+0 in Windows. And when I move this around, type Command+0 to zoom up on the document. If I get this to line up with something else in the document, you'll see some pink lines appearing. It is showing me what's lining up, in this case, the bottom of this image or this layer with the images to the left of it. If I move it up, now it's vertically centered on both images that are to the left of it, and if I get up here, it's now lining up with the top edges of them. Then I'll grab the corner here and resize, but what if I wanna get a bunch of images into this document? Well then I can come over here to Bridge, and just select more than one. Heck, I'll just select all these. And then, just drag all of 'em over there, and if we try to do that, the first time, it brings in one image, and since I dragged and dropped it, it makes sure that that image fits within this document, so there's no need to type Command+0 to zoom out. I can reposition this wherever I find it useful, and then I press Return or Enter to indicate I'm done, and since I dragged more than one image over, it instantly switches to the second image so I can start working with it, and I'm gonna start a new row of pictures down here near the bottom of my screen. Press Return or Enter, and the next image comes in. I'll make that fill the middle of my screen. Return or Enter, and the next one comes, and if I ever decide that I don't want to continue bringing more images in, maybe I accidentally selected 200 pictures, then I could always press the Escape key, and that would cancel, but here I want all these images, so I will just allow them to be placed and scaled down. I wish it would show me guides when I'm transforming to let me know that this picture is the same height as the others, but that doesn't usually happen. To scroll around here, I have a trackpad built into my laptop, and I'm using two fingers on my trackpad to scroll around. Looks like we have, hopefully this is the last image. Otherwise, I'll end up hitting Escape because I don't need more images than this. All right, that was the last image. All right, so we have a bunch of layers now. You should know that the layers I dragged over from Bridge, you remember that it automatically transformed them. It automatically made sure it fit within the document I was working on, but it also did one other thing, and that is if you look at my Layers panel, you'll see a bunch of layers here, but some of them have a special icon in the lower right, this icon here. That's something we're gonna talk about if you watch another lesson I'm gonna record that's on advanced layers, and that indicates that that layer is special. It's what's known as a Smart Object, but that's beyond the scope of this particular class. Just know that when you drag from Bridge, it does do one other thing, and it does something related to what's known as a Smart Object. All right, now let's organize these images in here. If I come in here and just click on an image, I make that layer active. Then, I can use the Move tool, the tool in the very top of my Tool panel to reposition things, and with default settings in Photoshop, it's going to automatically switch which layer is active at the time I click, so watch my Layers panel. Notice that the topmost layer is currently active, and when I click right here, notice it changed, and it changed to the layer that contained the picture that was underneath my mouse. If I click on the next image to the left, it'll automatically switch to the layer that is contained within, and so I can very quickly switch between layers. For me personally, I do not like that it does that. That's a change that Adobe made to Photoshop recently, and it's something where it messes me up quite a bit, because oftentimes, I can have a layer that might contain a tiny object that I wanna move, and I don't wanna have to click exactly where that object resides to prevent it from switching to a different layer, and so I want it to not automatically switch layers unless I do something to tell it to switch layers. So lemme show ya how to make that change, and so therefore you can have your Photoshop set up similarly to mine. When the Move tool is active, I'll come up to the top of my screen to the Options bar, and there's a checkbox right here called Auto-Select, and for decades in Photoshop, that was turned off, but then recently, well not all that recently, a few years ago, Adobe decided to change the default, and they defaulted it to being turned on. So I'm gonna have that turned off when I use Photoshop, and what that means when it's off is that it doesn't matter where I click on my screen, it will not change which layer is currently active, so if you look at my Layers panel, you'll see that the layer that is currently active is a layer that is located near the upper left of the document. It happens to be the one that contains this picture, and it doesn't matter where I click on my screen, that's the layer that's active, and if I want a different layer to be active, I need to manually change it here in the Layers panel. I'll show you ways of automatically changing which layer is active, and I think it'll be very convenient for you, but the main thing is it will never change layers unexpectedly on you.

Class Description


  • Scale, rotate and distort layers using transformations
  • Understand the difference between Opacity and Fill
  • Use Clipping Masks to relate one layer to another
  • Discover how selections interact with layers


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)

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