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Layer Basics

While each image will necessitate slightly different treatment, you will save a lot of time by creating an action of the most essential adjustment layers for each type of photography so that you’re only one click away from the proper layer structure and have some consistency in your naming.  This will help you start quickly while being organized through the whole retouching session.  Here are the layers broken down in a nutshell.


This should always be your first layer, which should remain untouched so no destructive editing to the original file occurs.

Any changes to the shape / silhouette using the liquify tool should be done first. Why? Should you need to recover original details for any reason, they will have moved or shifted leaving you with no access to the original (just after the liquify). If no liquifying is needed you can skip this layer.

This is your liquified layer, duplicated and renamed. Obvious point to hit home: This is where all of your pixel level retouching takes place, I.E. Cloning, healing or the inconspicuous removal of anything unwanted from the image should occur here.

Curves are your best friend.  You can use them effectively for nearly any image problem.  Shaping and smoothing small blemishes in skin are done best with Curves adjustment layers. Make a group called “L and D” or some variation thereof, and make 2 Curves layers within, named, you guessed it: lighten and darken. For your “light” layer, find a dark point you would like lightened, select it, and move the Curve upward using your arrow keys. For your “dark” layer, find a light point you would like darkened, select, and move the Curve downwards using your arrow keys.  Then fill that adjustment layer mask to black so none of the adjustment is showing.  Paint white to darken or lighten depending on which layer you have selected,  You get the picture.  I could write a whole post on just those two layers so for now.. to be continued.

After you have altered shape and tone, as described, you can move on to your color corrections. A group is also recommended here, containing a Curves layer and a Hue and Saturation layer maybe even a selective color layer as well. Use masks to isolate specific color issues.

The overall curve can be done at any point. It is most advantageous to set it first, so your healing and cloning is evaluated closest to the final image.

That’s all on Layers Basics for now. Stay tuned for more and, as always, feel free to reach out with questions on the CYAN JACK facebook page.