Project Description

Layers provide a high level of control over adjustments applied to photos. Exposure’s non-destructive layer system is powerful, yet still easy to understand. We made this video to show you how to work with layers in Exposure. By the end, you’ll understand how to apply complex editing tweaks easily without having to be a post-processing guru.

Photos: Lynda Mills Photography


What are Layers?

Layers contain particular editing adjustments applied to images. Layers can be stacked, enabling you to blend numerous effects together with endless variety. Most adjustments in Exposure are assigned to a layer. This includes film emulation or creative presets, essential edits, and special effects.

Layers in Exposure

A layer in Exposure is made up of two things: a combination of adjustments and a mask.

Adjustments are made in Exposure’s editing panels… or by applying one of the looks from the Presets panel. Editing tweaks can affect the entire photo, such as applying one of the presets. Adjustments can affect selected areas of the image when applied using Exposure’s Brushing panel.

The mask determines where the image will be affected by your adjustments. The mask thumbnail displays which parts of the image the layer adjustments apply to. White areas of the mask show the effect full strength. In black areas the effect is not visible. Gray areas are in between – the strength of the effect is controlled by the brightness of the mask. 

In the Layer panel, the layer thumbnail displays the state of the image at that stage in the editing process. It displays a list of all your adjustments when you hover over it.

Each layer has its own Opacity slider for blending the intensity of the layer effects.

Base adjustments like spot healing, crop and rotate, and lens correction are not part of a layer. Make these adjustments, including transform adjustments, before making layers.

Creating Layers in Exposure

Apply a preset in a new layer for an extra level of control. In the Presets panel, find a second creative look to layer over the top. Right-click and select New Layer with Preset. That will apply that preset over the entire image. Adjust the layer opacity to make it work with the photo.

Another way to create layers in Exposure is with the Layers panel. At the top, select Add Layer. Then, click the mask thumbnail to open Exposure’s Brushing panel. Select one of the brush presets from the dropdown to get moving quickly. These presets are great options for making localized edits. WIth the preset selection made, adjust the brush parameters. Then, click and drag to apply that layer’s effects to the image.

You have freedom to apply adjustments in any order when editing. However, it’s best to put adjustment layers in the following order:

    1. Basic adjustments like exposure, contrast, clarity, and saturation at the bottom
    2. Preset or presets
    3. Brushing adjustments
    4. Grain and overlays like borders or light leaks the top

This is because each layer applies its effect to the layers that are below it.

For the final layer add one last creative effect — a subtle glow around the bright areas of the image from the Infrared panel.

Managing Layers

Right-clicking the layer thumbnail, or the mask, or the layer brings up a menu with various commands. This enables quick workflows such as duplicating a layer, then inverting the mask.

Toggle layers off or on to preview their effect on the image.

When working with layers and multiple images are selected, the same types of layering work will apply to all of them.

Another great feature with layers is the ability to save them as a custom preset. This will duplicate these same effects to other images whenever it’s selected. Define the look as a custom preset with Cmd+S or Ctrl+S on Windows. Include them all or leave out adjustments that are likely to be unique for each image.