Photoshop Tutorial: Layers

In this tutorial, you will use layers, add images to a single document and replicate effects. You will need one .jpg image of your own. This must your own original work and should be no smaller than 600 pixels on the shortest side.

1. Download the Photoshop Tutorial Files .zip folder and “unzip” it so you can access the files.

  • On Windows, right-click the folder and choose “Extract All”
  • On a Mac, right-click the folder and choose “Decompress”

1. In Photoshop, go to File > Open and locate the image called bulletinboard.jpg in the Photoshop Tutorials folder, then click “Open.” This image should then open up in Photoshop. This is an image from the website, which is a good resource for free-to-use images.

2. Go to File > Save As and save this document as a Photoshop (.psd) file in your tutorials folder.

3. Click on the crop tool in the toolbar on the left side of your screen.

  • When the crop marks appear on your image, drag up from the bottom to crop the image to trim off about 1/4 of the bottom.
  • Hit “Enter” on your keyboard to apply the crop.

4. Next, we’re going to add more photos to this document. Go to File > Place Embedded and locate the image called “bryanhall.jpg.” When you click “Open,” this will appear in your document. Double-click the image or hit Enter to complete the process.

5. Look at your Layers panel in the bottom right of your Photoshop workspace. Before moving on, we’re going to go over some basic functions to control content.

  • All content in Photoshop is organized as layers, with the layer stacked at the top showing in the front of your document. Since the new photo layer is above the background layer, that photo appears in front of our background image.
  • Click the eyeball icon next to the photo you just added. This allows you to hide layers, either temporarily or if you no longer want them to display.
  • Click on the layer with your photo so it becomes selected. Then click the Move tool from your left-side toolbar. (The tool at the very top.) You can use this to move the image around, so move the image to near the center.

6. Next, we are going to crop the Bryan Hall clocktower image into a square. The crop tool only works for the whole document, so that can’t be used for images within the document unless you crop them ahead of time.

  • Choose the Rectangular Marquee tool and hold down Shift as you click and drag a square on top of the image. Make your selected square fit just inside the top portion of the photo so the clocktower is centered.
  • Up in the top menu, go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy. At first it will look like nothing has happened.
  • In the Layers panel, notice that you now have a new layer on top. Click the eyeball to hide the original photo, and you will see that the new layer is a cropped version of the original.
  • Click on the default Layer title (such as “Layer 1”) on the new layer. Rename this layer “Bryan Hall.”
Using the rectangular marquee tool to select a portion of the Bryan Hall photo to crop.

7. Add another image by going to File > Place Embedded and selecting the photo called “murrowhall.jpg.” Double-click or hit Enter, then use the move tool to bring the image to the right side of your document.

8. Repeat the process from Step 5 to crop the Murrow Hall photo into a square, and rename the new layer “Murrow Hall.” Make sure you have the correct image layer selected in the Layers panel when you do the Layer > New > Layer Via Copy step, or you may copy the wrong image!

9. Repeat this process with a third photo of your own, and move that image to the left side of the document. Rename that layer with an appropriate name based on the subject of your photo. At this point you should have three photos cropped into squares.

10. Line up your images using the move tool (click on the image layer to select different photos) and see whether they are similar in size.

  • To resize an image, go to Edit > Free Transform. Little squares will appear at the corners of the image.
  • Hold down shift and drag a corner of the image in or out to change its size.
  • Always hold down Shift when you resize images to keep them from becoming stretched and distorted!

11. In the Layers panel, select the Bryan Hall layer and double-click the thumbnail icon to open the Layer Style options. (You can also go to Layer > Layer Style > Stroke from the top menu.)

  • Click the checkbox next to Stroke.
  • In the options that appear, change the Size to 20px, set the Position to Inside and the Blend Mode to Normal, and change the color to white by clicking on the color box and using the color picker.
  • Click the checkbox next to Drop Shadow and click on the word “Drop Shadow” if the options don’t automatically appear.
  • Set the Opacity between 30-50%, set the Angle to about 130 degrees, set the Distance and the Size to at least 5px. You can choose options that look best to you.
  • Click the button on the right for “New Style.” Make sure that “Include Layer Effects” and “Add to my current library” are both selected, then click OK.
Settings in the Layer Style panel for creating the drop shadow.
Settings in the Layer Style panel for creating the white border.
In CS6, the style you created will appear at the bottom of your “Styles” tab options.

12. When you exit the Layer Style box, you’ll now have your new style appear under the Libraries or Styles tab.

  • Click the Murrow Hall layer, then click the layer style you just created to apply that style.
  • Repeat for the layer with your own photo.

13. Next, you’ll add a label to each photo. In the left toolbar, choose the Rectangle tool (toward the bottom).

  • Draw a label-shaped rectangle beneath the Bryan Hall photo.
  • In the Properties panel that pops up, or in the top options bar, change the fill to a dark color such as crimson or navy blue.

14. Choose the Type tool. Click near your label, and type the words “Bryan Hall.” You can highlight the text and change the size, font and color in the options bar at the top of your workspace.

  • Change the size so the text will fit in the rectangle you created.
  • Make the color of the text white.
  • Choose any font you like, as long as it is readable.
  • Use the move tool to position the text over the rectangle to complete the label.

15. In your Layers panel, there should be two layers at the top that represent the rectangle and the text.

  • Select both of these layers at once by holding down Shift as you click on them, then go to Layer > Group Layers. Alternately, you can click on the folder icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create the group.
  • Rename the new group “Bryan Hall label.”

16. Right-click the Bryan Hall label group, and select “Duplicate Group.”

  • Rename this group “Murrow Hall label” and use the move tool to position it below the photo of Murrow Hall.
  • Click on the label text with the Type tool to change it to “Murrow Hall.”
  • Tip: Hold down Shift whenever you use the move tool to move items in straight lines.

17. Duplicate the label group again, and repeat the process in Step 15 to create a label for the photo of your own.

18. Select the Bryan Hall label group in the Layers panel, and go to Edit > Transform > Rotate. Tilt the label a bit so it overlaps with the photo.

  • Repeat this process to tilt all three labels. You can also arrange your photos at an angle if you’d like.
  • Use the move tool to position all the elements in a balanced way.
After the labels are rotated slightly, use the Move tool to arrange the elements.

19. You’re done! Save your file. At the end of the tutorial series, you will return to each image to save a copy in a format that you can post on your blog.