The Power of Adjustment Layers in Photoshop, Part I

03/30/20 – this post has been updated:


Adjustment Layers

Adjustment Layers are one of the more powerful features of Photoshop. The purpose of Adjustment Layers is to allow you to make adjustments to your image, both globally and locally, in a non-destructive manner. By the way, I define “destructive” as causing pixelization and posterization to your digital image, resulting in bad prints.

Think of Adjustment Layers as “clear plastic overlays” over your original image, with each layer giving you the ability to control a particular aspect of your final image, such as contrast, color correction, and so on. In addition to “global” control, you can define what “localized” area a layer will control by using Selections and/or Layer Masks (see this post for more on Layer Masks).

You work with adjustment layers in the Layers Palette. If you set your workspace up using the default workspace, then your layers palette will be near the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. If not, simply go to the “Window” menu, put a check mark beside “Layers”, and drag the palette to your desired location.

Let’s explore some of the features shown in the diagram above:

  • A Background Layer is the image you bring into Photoshop – – This layer should generally be left alone – – Most of the time, no work should be done to it.
  • The Active Layer is the layer that you are working on, and is highlighted in gray.
  • You can control your Layer Visibility by toggling the “Eye” on and off – – This will help you see the effects of a particular layer on your image.
  • The Blending Mode lets you control the way pixels are blended together. The various blending modes that are available can be seen in the drop-down menu. By the way, the vast majority of time, your Blending Mode will be “Normal”.
  • To access the Layers Palette Options, just click on the button shown in the diagram above. Here you can quickly delete a layer, duplicate a layer, flatten you image, and so on. If you go to “Palette Options” at the bottom, you can change the size of the thumbnails displayed in the palette (A personal favorite, as my eyes are getting older!). By the way, each Palette (not just this one) has a different set of options.
  • You can control the opacity of a particular layer by moving the Opacity Slider. 0% Opacity means that none of the effects of that layer will show through: 100% Opacity means that all of the effects of that layer show through.
  • The Layer Thumbnail is a visual representation of the tool you’re using in an adjustment layer. Double-clicking on the layer thumbnail will open the dialog box for that tool. The Layer Mask Thumbnail is a visual representation of the selection or layer mask for that tool. There’s lots more information on Layer Masks here.
  • You can Delete a Layer by dragging it to the Trash Icon.

That’s it for Part 1 – – In Part 2, which I’ll post in a few days, I’ll talk about how to create an adjustment layer, how to edit an existing layer, and a few other interesting tidbits.



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Thx again, and cheers,

John Watts 🙂


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