Photo Tip: Partitioning Effects in Photoshop Layers

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Photoshop these days, not because I need its specific editing features, but because it’s the most competent creative environment for the majority of my effects filters. When I’m getting creative, that means I’m probably going to dig into my bag of digital filter tricks, especially the Nik Software plug-ins.

As I’ve pointed out in my workshops and safaris, the Nik plug-ins have the same control set regardless of host environment. That means whether you use Photoshop, Elements, Aperture, or Lightroom, you’ll still be able to apply the same effects with the same controls. Where the Photoshop environment differs is that you can use Layers to hold and partition your effects. That gives two distinct creative advantages:

  • Layer Masks and Brush Tools
  • Layer Blending Modes

In addition to the creative advantage, you also get a degree of non-destructive workflow. It’s easier to dump a layer most of the time than it is to start over from scratch. If you use layers, you might want to consider partitioning your effects. When you use a filter that combines several effects, you’re stuck replicating all of them if they are all in the same layer. Moreover, any brush effects get applied to all the effects in that layer equally, meaning you’ll be painting out everything, including your borders or other finishing effects. While it is nice that many plug-in filters now offer the option of adding borders, vignettes, and other finishing touches, if these effects are all in the same layer, you’ll have fewer degrees of flexibility to edit later should you change your mind.

I like to put my finishing effects into separate layers, which allows me to delete only that effect and leave my core processing effects untouched. Consider my earlier post of the orchid. Here’s the layers palette from Photoshop CS5 showing how everything was partitioned. I also kept a copy of the original image in the background layer.

The layers palette in Photoshop CS5 from my orchid photo shows how I've partitioned my effects.

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2 thoughts on “Photo Tip: Partitioning Effects in Photoshop Layers”

  1. I was originally turned on to Capture NX2 by reading your blog. I was also convinced to try Photoshop by an entry you wrote several years ago comparing a photo converted using both Capture NX2 and Adobe Camera Raw. Like you, I love Nik Software’s plug-ins. Since, as you state above, “you have been spending a lot of time in Photoshop”, I am curious why you prefer performing your raw conversion using Capture NX2 as opposed to newer versions of Adobe Camera Raw?

    Do you have a standard “recipe” you use for converting your raw files in Capture NX2 before sending them to Photoshop?

  2. It’s a workflow concept. I can do most of my “traditional” processing in CNX2, and I like the way it handles white balance, auto CA correction, etc. I only send images to Photoshop that I want to use plug-ins on, so it’s a subset.

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