Adjustment Layers in Photoshop Elements 10 - dummies

Adjustment Layers in Photoshop Elements 10

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

An adjustment layer is a special kind of layer used for modifying color and contrast. The advantage of using adjustment layers for your corrections, rather than applying them directly on the image layer, is that you can apply the corrections without permanently affecting the pixels.

This means that adjustment layers are totally nondestructive. And, because the correction is on a layer, you can edit, or even delete, the adjustment at any time. Adjustment layers apply the correction only to all the layers below them, without affecting any of the layers above them.


Another unique feature of adjustment layers is that when you create one, you also create a layer mask on that layer at the same time. The layer mask allows you to selectively and even partially apply the adjustment to the layers below it by applying shades of gray — from white to black — on the mask.

For example, by default, the mask is completely white. This allows the adjustment to be fully applied to the layers. If you paint on a layer mask with black, the areas under those black areas don’t show the adjustment. If you paint with a shade of gray, those areas partially show the adjustment.


Note that if you have an active selection border in your image before you add an adjustment layer, the adjustment is applied only to that area within the selection border.

Elements has eight kinds of adjustment layers, and you can use as many as you want. These are the same adjustments that you find on the Enhance→Adjust Lighting, Enhance→Adjust Color, and Filter→Adjustments submenus. Here’s how to create an adjustment layer:

  1. Open an image that needs a little contrast or color adjustment.

    Note that you don’t need to convert your background into a layer to apply an adjustment layer.

  2. Click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and from the drop-down menu, choose your desired adjustment.

    The Adjustment Layer icon and a thumbnail appear on the adjustment layer. The thumbnail represents the layer mask. And the dialog box specific to your adjustment appears in the Adjustments panel.

  3. Make the necessary adjustments in the Adjustments panel.

To selectively allow only portions of your image to receive the adjustment, you can paint on the layer mask using the Brush or Pencil tool. Or, you can make a selection and fill that selection with any shade of gray, from white to black. Another technique is to use the Gradient tool on the mask to create a gradual application of the adjustment.

As with image layers, you can adjust the opacity and blend modes of an adjustment layer. Reducing the opacity of an adjustment layer reduces the effect of the adjustment on the underlying layers.

Here are a few more tips on using adjustment layers:

  • To view your image without the adjustment, click the eye icon in the left column of the Layers panel to hide the adjustment layer.

  • To delete the adjustment layer, drag it to the trash icon on the Layers panel.

  • To edit an adjustment layer, simply double-click the adjustment layer on the Layers panel. You can also choose Layer→Layer Content Options. In the dialog box that appears in the Adjustment panel, make any desired edits. The only adjustment layer that you can’t edit is the Invert adjustment. It’s either on or off.

  • To use the adjustment panel controls, click an icon. From left to right, here’s what the icons do:

    • Have the adjustment layer clip to the layer below. (It will affect only the layer directly beneath it, not all the underlying layers in the stack.)

    • Toggle the adjustment layer on and off.

    • View the previous state (how the image appeared before your most recent step).

    • Reset the adjustment layer settings back to the default.