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Photoshop Elements: Layers

This article–the third in a series about Photoshop Elements–examines adding layers; an extremely useful and versatile feature, which offers many creative opportunities. There are several ways to add layers, but the two ways that I use most often will be described here. Once you’ve added layers, move them around; adjust their sizes, color, brightness and contrast. In other words, have fun. Click the links below for the first two articles in this series.

Part One: The Basics [1]

Part Two: Crop and Lighting [2]

Download the free Elements trial here [3].

To provide an example of editing possibilities, the fish tank in the image below is part of an ongoing project. Eventually, this (or a variation of it) will be painted on a wall inside a local business at 8′ x 15′. To prepare the proposal, several dozen photographs were taken at the aquarium of a nearby zoo. From those, a few were selected and cleaned up (backgrounds removed, contrast and lighting adjusted, etc.).  After that, a proportionally correct (8” x 15”) image was created in Elements, with the edited photos added as layers. The advantage of doing it this way is that individual layers (each fish, the coral, and anything else that might be added) can be moved, resized, or manipulated in any way. For example, if I decide the shark should be moved further into the background, its image can be reduced, darkened, and diffused.


Several days after the preceding paragraph was written, the size of the project was changed from 8′ x 15′ to 5′ x 14′. Since it was set up as described, I only needed to create a file at the updated proportions, drag the layers into the new image, and arrange them accordingly (see below). The finished product will be entirely rendered by hand, but digital editing makes major preliminary changes like this considerably easier than the labor intensive alternatives.


As you can see, a couple of the fish are behind the coral, a couple of them are in front, but this can easily be changed by resetting the layer arrangement (done from either the right-click context menu, or from the Layer menu at the top). Relocate a layer by simply clicking on it with the Move Tool (below) and pulling it around. Grab a corner handle and pull or push to expand or contract the size.

Move Tool


To demonstrate adding layers, I’ll set up a desktop image for my computer. For this, a new file was created, using the Ctrl+N keyboard shortcut in Elements. My desktop is 1280 x 768 pixels, so that’s the Width and Height settings. The Background Contents: is marked White.


An image was then selected from the computer, and opened in Photoshop Elements.


Then, with the image open in Elements and the Move tool selected, the entire image was highlighted (shortcut Ctrl+A). It was then dragged to the new file (displayed in the Project Bin below).


The new file will open in the workspace be default. There, to adjust the size of the layer, push or pull a corner handle. Pushing or pulling one of the center handles will squeeze the image, changing the proportion. Once you’re satisfied with the size, click the green check mark, or tap the Enter key to approve the change.


Then, an online image was added by copying one found in Firefox. Other browsers may offer slightly different image copying options.


From the Elements Edit menu, select Paste (or use the Ctrl+V keyboard shortcut).


Below, the web image has been pasted into to the new file, along with the one pulled from the computer.


Once your image is complete, if you’d like to be able to return to it with all the layers intact, save the file as .psd (see the first article [1] for saving options).


This article only skimmed the surface of a vast pool of layer possibilities. Also, since it only included two of the methods I use, many ways to add layers were overlooked. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions.