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Photoshop Elements Layers

A beginner's guide to working with layers in Photoshop

photoshop elements layers

This is a quick introduction and guide to Photoshop Elements Layers, the simple and brilliant framework that you'll do most of your Photoshop editing through.

It is a good idea to a have a firm basic understanding of what layers in Photoshop actually are. To the beginner, the terminology, as well as the editing workspace itself, is all a bit mysterious; there’s no reason why it should make sense!

So to clear things up and introduce you to some important Photoshop essentials, here's a brief guide to working with layers in Photoshop.


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What actually are these Photoshop Elements layers!?


Soon you'll be taking them for granted, but layers are as ingenious as they are simple. It's pretty much the system that is the foundation of Photoshop's image editing prowess!

So, you've got a photo. You want to make it better – make some changes. How? Well, layers work by applying alterations to an independent 'surface' that sits on top of your background picture. Think of this surface / 'layer' like a clear sheet of glass or transparent film.

photoshop elements layers

So as you alter, say, the contrast, saturation or brightness of an image, these adjustments don't actually occur on the image itself, but on the clear sheet - the layer! The combined effect is what appears on the image you see. Any layer(s) can easily be removed whenever you choose, revealing the original picture, unaltered and ready for fresh adjustments to be made!

This system can be as simple or as complex as you make it. 1 layer might be enough to complete all the necessary changes. Or perhaps 1000 layers stacked on top of each other, each bringing new subtle differences to the background photo, is more your thing!

Layers, and the background image, are displayed in the ‘layers palette’ to the right of the main image in the ‘Editor’ workspace. The top layer is nearest the top of this table, whilst the background picture sits at the bottom


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How to save pictures with Photoshop Elements layers


You've spent 2 hours working with layers in Photoshop, slaving over a great photo. It-s almost there, with a dozen layers stacked on top of each other, cumulatively giving just the effect you were after.

How can you be sure that when you next open this image all the layers will be there, in tact and ready to continue working on?

Simple! Make sure you save it as a 'PSD' file. Go to 'Save As', enter a memorable file name, then from the 'Format' drop down menu select 'Photoshop (PSD)'. Done. Your picture will be there ready to resume editing on next time (saving a working copy like this is one of the Photoshop essentials). 

photoshop elements layers

Saving in the usual JPEG mode will flatten the whole thing, giving a nice finished photograph, but preventing future access to the individual layers that it was comprised of.


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Common commands for Photoshop Elements layers


1. It's possible to work exclusively on 1 specific layer by clicking on it in the layers palette. To quickly scroll through the different layers to reach the one you want, hold 'Alt' and tap '[' to move down or ']' to move up.

2. To select several Photoshop Elements layers at a time hold 'Ctrl' and click on the desired layers.

3. To merge layers - useful when you are happy with them and would like to tidy things up - select the relevant layers all together using the 'Ctrl' key. Right click on one of the selected layers and from the menu choose 'Merge Layers'.

4. To make a layer invisible  (useful, for instance, to check whether you think the adjustment it contains is needed) click the eye symbol in the leftmost column of the layers palette, adjacent to the relevant layer. Click the same place to make the layer visible again.

photoshop element layers

5. To link layers, hold 'Alt' and move the cursor over the line that divides them in the layers palette. Left click when the link symbol (2 overlapping circles) appears.

6. To flatten an image and merge all layers into a finished image simply right click on the background picture and choose 'Flatten Image'.


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Adjustment Layers


You might have heard the term 'adjustment layer' in relation to Photoshop Elements layers. This simply refers to a layer created by pressing the half white, half gray circle in the layers palette.

This brings up the option of adding a layer with adjustments to 'Levels', 'Hue/Saturation' 'Brightness/Contrast' and so on. The dialogue box of an adjustment layer can be re-opened at at any point, and further alterations made, simply by double-clicking on the layer.

Adjustment layers are crucial to imitating the effects of a layer mask in Photoshop Elements. If you'd like to know how to do this - and it is a really cool Photoshop trick - check out this tutorial.


I hope this brief overview to layers in Photoshop has proved useful. Getting to know how layers operate is one of the Photoshop essentials and will open up all sorts of creative options for you.

Do have a look at this brilliant Photoshop trick for using layer masks, which allow you to select which specific parts of a layer show through on the image below.


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