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Using Photographic Digital Layers

Updated on March 3, 2014
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) | Source
Finished image (All images bear the same attribution and rights) public domain.
Finished image (All images bear the same attribution and rights) public domain. | Source
 First layer
First layer
Second layer
Second layer
Third layer with mask
Third layer with mask
Changed with the sea gull moved to the right
Changed with the sea gull moved to the right
Opacity and color added
Opacity and color added

Today's advances in digital manipulation of photographs can take your photography into new heights.

Not only can you alter a photograph to make it seems like something completely different from its original form, but you can go as far as to fix an otherwise faulty image and turn it into a "work of art".

There are many purists who refuse to alter any photograph digitally since it separates itself from what is real. But like most art forms, digitally altering an image is just another part or rather an advance an evolution of sorts to make photos that much better.

Using layers allows you to move elements in a photo form place to place too, to add other elements that were not in the original in the first place, to eliminate parts of a scene that may otherwise distract the viewer's gaze.

This process is similar to when film photographers would take two slides and combine them to form one single photo. This also can be done through a digital software program.

A few years ago before the birth of programs such as Photoshop it used to be called "sandwiching", today this technique is is done through the use of digital layers.

First a little information so that you can understand more about layers: Layers are used in digital editing programs to separate different elements or parts within an image. A layer can be compared to a positive or transparency on which imaging effects or images are applied and placed over another image. Today they are an integral feature of image editors.

"Layers were first commercially available in Fauve Matisse and then available in Adobe Photoshop 3.0, in 1994, but today a wide range of other programs, such as GIMP,and others and even batch processing tools also include this feature. In vector images editors which support animation, layers are used to further enable manipulation along a common timeline for the animation; in SVG images, the equivalent to layers are "groups".Wikipedia.

Layers can also be made to have certain levels of transparency. In programs like Adobe Photoshop, a basic layer may have more than a hundred different possible settings. Even though some of them overlap and give the same result, they give someone who has familiarized himself with its use a lot of flexibility.

Layers can also be used to hide a subject but it is very useful when you want to add something else to another image and completely change its appearance. Very useful in making an otherwise real image seem unreal. The merging of impossibilities as it were.

A layer mask, most commonly called a mask, is linked to a layer and hides part of the layer from the original photograph. What is painted black on the adjustment layer will not be visible in the final picture.

As the layer mask can be both edited and moved around independently of both the background layer and the layer it applies to, it gives the user the ability to test a lot of different combinations of overlay. In other words, it allows the user the ability to create.

One word of caution; always save the original and work with a copy and do so with your layers too. If you make a mistake and save changes, like I have on more than one occasion, then you more than likely will not be able to re-edit the original

You must also become familiar with using layers, it is not as easy at it may sound. Adding or subtracting opacity to layers is also not as easy at it seems.

A good application for layers is if you wish to add color to monochrome photographs like black & white or Sepia.

Very few digital applications let you explore your creativity as much as layers, so use them wisely in order to let the artist in you shine.

Better practice on images that are not that important to you or that you can live without before venturing into truly important ones.

© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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