Photoshop Basics: Layers Tutorial Part 1

Layers are the fundamental building blocks in Photoshop.  They are pretty much what they sound like – effects or images stacked upon one another.  Imagine them as layers of acrylic stacked upon each other.  Some layers may be transparent, some may be opaque, and some in-between.  When you look down at your stack from the top, you will see your composite creation.

It is important to remember that a layer will only affect the layers below it.

The Layers palette in Photoshop is where you will create and keep track of your layers.  When you open your photo, it will show up as the Background layer.

Layers palette

There are several different types of layers you can create.  By far, for photo editing, I use adjustment layers the most.  Examples of adjustment layers include Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, and Brightness/Contrast, just to name a few.  To create a new adjustment layer, click on the half black/half white circle at the bottom of the Layers palette and choose the type of adjustment layer you want to create. (In the example below, I created a Curves adjustment layer)

Adjustment layer icon

To create a new blank layer, click on the icon that looks like a square with an upturned corner.

New blank layer icon

To turn the visibility of a layer off/on, simply click the eyeball icon for that layer.

Visibility on:

Visibility on

Visibility off:

Visibility off


To adjust the opacity of a layer, type in a new value or use the slider in the Opacity box:

Layer opacity

To delete a layer, simply highlight the layer and do one of the following:

1.  Hit the ‘Delete’ key on your keyboard

2.  Click on the trashcan icon at the bottom of the layers palette

3.  Drag the layer to the trashcan

Trashcan icon


To duplicate a layer, highlight the layer and do one of the following:

1.  Hit Ctrl/Cmd + J on your keyboard

2.  Drag the layer to the “Create a new layer” icon (the square with upturned corner) –  this will duplicate the layer

Blending modes are a topic for another day, but by default the layer will be set to ‘Normal.’  However, if you want to change this, a list of blending modes are available in the dropdown.

Blending mode dropdown

To rename a layer, simply double click on the name and give it a new one.

These are the basics of Layers you’ll need to know for editing portraits.  You can read Layers Part 2 and Part 3 for more information about how to use layers.

I hope this was helpful!  As always, any feedback is much appreciated!

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8 Responses to Photoshop Basics: Layers Tutorial Part 1

  1. Sharif says:

    I am relay thankful to you for nice and essay tutorial. This Photoshop Basics: Layers Tutorial Part 1 make me more confident to become a Graphic Designer.Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sonrisa says:

    ahhh that was refreshing and clear! THanks so much! Finally someone who can explain photoshop simply and visually. THanks for the simple jargon too:)

  3. mae loraine cribillo says:

    im new to photoshop and this is by far the easiest and understandable tutorial.
    and i only have the beginner dslr does that make a difference?

  4. Sherry says:

    I get it! I finally get it! Thank you so much!

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