Using layers is one of the most powerful tools a photographer has in the digital world. I use layers all the time and couldn’t imagine not having that capability. What is Layers? just picture stacking 2 photographs on top of each other, then visualize cutting out a section of the top photo with scissors so that you can see part of the image below it, this is a very basic illustration of layer work except for it is in the digital domain. You can do so much with Layers that you can’t do otherwise. For example you can blend two photos together like I did in the example above. You have at your disposal many tools in Photo Shop or Paint Shop Pro to get the look or effect your after. You have blend modes which I use all the time as well. I personally rarely use masks in PSPX5 but for some reason in Photoshop I use them all the time. Some newer software like LR for example have something similar with adjustment brushes but those tools are still limiting compared having full layer controls. You can get OnOne’s Perfect Layers for free here and see for yourself: http://www.ononesoftware.com/products/suite/perfect-layers/?ind don’t forget to check out their tutorials on Layers http://www.ononesoftware.com/university/#!/video/welcome-to-the-onone-university I am not going give examples here because there are just too many ways to use layers and cover all the tools and uses. Just Google “how to use layers” or “photo Shop Layers” or “Paint Shop pro Layers” and you will come across a ton of info. Once you see a few video examples on how to use layers you will be set to start experimenting with them. Another thing, don’t forget you can adjust the layer properties so as to control what range of tones is affected, for example if using the Multiply blend mode causes your blacks to block up too much just set the layer properties so the blacks are no affected in the range of 0 – 60 or so. Likewise you can also control the highlight range if need be.
Layers are excellent for:
1. Adding textures to images locally or globally.
2. Using blend modes to add many effects locally or globally.
3. Blending images or parts of images.
4. Localized adjustments such a sharpening to just part of an image. or noise reduction to just part of an image.
5. Using the paint brush along with blend modes for a variety of uses including portrait work.
6. Getting that Grunge effect.
7. Graphic art projects. Layers are the standard here, this way you can go back and change any layer you want later, for example text would be on its own layer.
Anytime you want to be able to go back and adjust the changes you make without having to start over. Some software like Lightroom remembers the changes you want to make to a file and stores that info so that later you can come back and redo an effect without the original file having been affected. The original is not harmed in anyway. Called “Non distructive Editing”. Raw files give the greatest latitude for post processing. Software like Lightroom makes working with raw files much faster then doing one at a time in PS. Files should be kept in 12-16 bit as long as possible. A Jpeg is 8 bit, and a Tiff can be 8 or 16 bit, Raws are 12-14 bit. An 8 bit file no matter how low the compression is can not give you as much shadow and highlight recovery as a Raw or 16bit Tiff can. Also the higher bit files can take a lot more processing without breaking down and showing artifacts as well as be saved many times without losing anything. Convert to Jpeg for the web and printing only. Otherwise someday down the road your going to wish you had the original file so you can do a better job or get a different look without problems.