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|| News Item: Posted 2008-05-28

Ask Sports Shooter: Levels and Layers
By George Bridges, McClatchy Tribune Photo Service

Photo by
(Editor's Note: Each month Sports Shooter will take a question sent in or a topic from the message board and get an answer.)

In a recent post on the message boards a question was asked about adjusting levels in many images by automation. The catch being that all the images needed an individual adjustment.

Unfortunately there is no way to automate applying custom level adjustments to different images. Many suggestions were made on how to speed up adjusting each image by creating actions that stop at the levels adjustment or taking a shot at Auto Levels. But most of the answers about making tone correction to images missed one key feature of Photoshop -- layers.

Using layers allows a photographer to apply the old medical vow "do no harm" as layers can be turned off to see the changes or be quickly deleted while leaving other adjustments alone - and more importantly leaving the original file untouched until changes are applied. The ability to delete just one change to an image without affecting others can save you on images requiring lots of work, such as illustrations, without having to start from scratch.

The opacity of individual layers can be turned down to mute changes and you can rearrange layers making different ones the most prominent.

There are two quick ways to start an adjustment layer. One is to go to the Layers menu and under New Adjustment Layer select which one you would like to use. This will create a new layer and open the proper dialogue menu. Also, in the Layers Palette you can click the black/white circle and select the layer you want.

After making your adjustments and clicking Okay, you can view the changes by turning the layer off and on via the little eyeball next to the new layer. For changes such as gradient burns adjust the opacity up and down to further control the changes on the image.

Once you have all the adjustments done go under the Layers menu and click on Flatten Image to apply and be able to save the image as a jpeg.

Working in layers also gives more control over burning and dodging and is the best way to create gradient burns for darkening skies.

The average photographer may only use a small fraction of the power available in Photoshop. Thankfully there are many sources available to get quick lessons in the areas of Photoshop you may need. I first learned how to use layers when given a job of recreating a photo illustration that required multiple layers. I sat at the computer with "Photoshop for Dummies" on my lap and worked my way through it. That was more than a decade ago and now there are many easier methods such as video podcasts that give you step-by-step instructions.

There are several available through iTunes including Photoshop Killer Tips, Creative Photoshop and Photoshop for Digital Photographers which is also available at

One lesson from Photoshop for Digital Photographers titled "Lighten and Darken Selected Areas" gives a lesson in how to use layers for burning and dodging. Once you learn how to do this, you really realize the power of working in layers.

(George Bridges is the managing editor of the McClatchy - Tribune Photo Service based in Washington D.C. You can see his work on his member page: McClatchy - Tribune Information Services website:

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