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Book Review: Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature – 2nd Edition By Matt Kloskowski

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Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature was written because the author wished that there had been a book specifically on layers when he was first learning Photoshop. Everyone knows that layers exist, and most people use layers to one extent or another, but few really understand its full potential. Yet understanding layers is one of the keys to understanding Photoshop. This book will show you exactly what you can do with layers, and how to do it. The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature: Layers is 312 pages in length and is contained in ten chapters.

Chapter One, “Layer Basics,” explains the basics of layers. But even if you are familiar with layers, you will still want to read much of this chapter because there are quite a number of techniques that are shown here that you may not know exist. This is divided in to the true basics, the use of multiple layers and stacking, and another lesson that has a ton of tips and tricks that you don’t want to miss.

Chapter Two, “Blending Layers,” lets you take layers even further by showing you how to mix layers together. By using the techniques illustrated here you can go beyond simply manipulating the opacity and really start learning about blending. The author’s goal is not to show you every single item with regard to blending, but rather show you only the ones that you need to know about to get the job done. Here he works with the three most important techniques for layer blending.

Chapter Three, “Adjustment Layers,” shows that there are other layers available beyond the regular layers that you have been working with thus far. This is a different type of layer in the way that it lets you edit images nondestructively. It even lets you apply selective adjustments to specific parts of your image.

Chapter Four, “Layer Masks,” continues a technique that you learned in chapter three when making adjustments. Layer masks let you nondestructively erase areas away from one layer to reveal the layers below. An adjustment layer automatically includes a layer mask, but a regular layer does not so here you will learn how to add a layer mask to a regular layer.

Chapter Five, “Type and Shape Layers,” are two kinds of layers that have not been covered as yet. While type layers are what you use to add text to a Photoshop document, they have a lot more power available to them as well. With type layers you can let your text take on a life of its own. Shape layers allow you to work with shape in your documents. Here you will work to making a poster using the Shape tools. With these, you can go beyond the simple shapes and create complex one.

Chapter Six, “Enhancing Photos with Layers,” is about how to enhance digital photos by the use of layers. Here you will learn how to combine multiple layers, paint with light, perform selective sharpening, dodge and burn, create a pseudo HDR look, replace a sky, auto-align for group exposures, enhance depth of field, and create soft focus.

Chapter Seven, “Retouching with Layers,” is not a be-all, end-all stop for retouching, but there are a number of things that you can do to retouch photos within Photoshop. Here you will learn how to use some of the previously learned techniques to retouch photos as well as some techniques that have layer related options. These include removing wrinkles, smoothing skin, whitening eyes and teeth, removing distractions, and the use of content aware fill.

Chapter Eight, “Layer Styles,” are really layer effects that are contained within Photoshop. These are things like shadows, bevels, glows, and strokes that can be applied to any layer. What’s better is that layer styles can always be edited, and they can be saved so that you can apply that effect to another image.

Chapter Nine, “Smart Layers,” discusses the fact that in CS3 and CS4, Adobe started making it possible for layers to be indestructible. That is, these layers allow you to do things to layers in a non destructive manor, and, in CS5, you can even apply a filter to a layer and still go back and change the filter settings at any time.

Chapter Ten, “Advanced Layer Blending and Compositing,” is the one new chapter in the book. This one has four more tutorials — as well as one that was moved from the Blending Layers chapter in the previous edition. These tutorials cover the theme of blending, placing, and composting things into images where they don’t really belong and making them look realistic. This is an advanced chapter and makes the assumption that you have covered everything so far. Here you will replace a person’s background, wrap graphics on uneven surfaces, use layers for lighting and shadows, and create the cover image.

What makes The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature: Layers such a great learning tool; and book as well, is that the author keeps each topic short and to the point. But he does it in a way that is not trivial. That is, it would be easy to show some trifling example, but instead he shows a real world technique that, depending on how you use Photoshop, you can actually go out and use. In that way, this book is also, in a secondary way, a cookbook of techniques as well.

Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature is an easy-to-read, step-by-step tutorial book that will arm you with everything that you need to know about using layers in Photoshop. The style and wit also make it totally entertaining as well. The full color images that are contained within bring the steps to life and the images that are used in the book are available for download.

Another other thing that I liked about the book is that at the end of each chapters is a section called “How Do I…” in which the author asks and answers various questions that did not fit into the scope of discussion within the chapter clarifying the topic even more.

If you already own the first edition, there is not a whole lot of new material. But if you don’t and if you are a new to advanced novice Photoshop user, then Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature is an absolute must own. I highly recommend this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
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