What is the best feature in Photoshop?

By Don Hinds

Photoshop is the ubiquitous image editing software program that allows me to make creative images only imagined in my daydreams or nightmares.   I have been asked, what is my favorite feature in Photoshop?  It is definitely LAYERS and LAYER MASK.  I could not make my fine art images without them.  Photoshop was released in 1989.  It wasn’t until 1994 that LAYERS was introduced.  LAYERS allow me to play and experiment.  I can get consumed in my work and ideas; before I realize it, many hours have passed.


Usually I make many layers, sometimes dozens, re-naming the layers in the stack, so I know what change was made to a specific layer.  Each layer can be moved, turned on or off and opacity changed.

When a FILTER or ADJUSTMENT is applied to an image, it does it globally, however I usually don’t want that applied to the whole image, so I add a LAYER MASK.

Now is when the magic really starts.  I choose a SOFT EDGE BRUSH from the TOOL PANEL.  Set the opacity to 18% and with the FOREGROUND COLOR set to black, I start “painting” the areas that I want “revealed” from the top, duplicate layer.  The image from the lower layer will start to show thru the areas being “painted”.

If there is an area that was “Revealed” too much, I switch the FOREGROUND COLOR to white and it hides where I paint.  By using an 18% brush opacity, it blends the image for a more natural look.

As an example, the image “Help” is a rather simple image with only two images and the FLOOD Filter.  First, I “Select Out” the puppies from the original background by using a hard edge brush set at 100% on the LAYER MASK.  Next, I layer the puppies on top of the sunset image and apply the FLOOD filter on top.  Last, I blend the FLOOD filter to soften the WATER where it meets the tub by using a soft edge brush set at 18%.

For my Kitschy, “Nightmare” image I have 23 layers.  For the figures and plane, I selected them with a hard edge brush and for the posters, I used a soft edge brush to remove some of the edges and reduced the opacity to make them look old and worn.  I also added a shadow to Shrek so he was anchored and not floating.  Then I added a shadow to the girl in the window and a soft edge shadow around the witch.

It is fun to play and experiment.  Sometimes during the process I am surprised and a completely different version takes over the process, which leads to a very different masterpiece.

I am a retired professional photographer.  My wife and I owned a full service studio in Geneva, Illinois, which specialized in senior high school portrait sessions and also offered wedding, executive, family, children, pet, real estate, commercial photography and graphic design services for 15 years.  We were known for our unique creative portraits. We sold stock images to Metro Creative Graphics, NY, NY.

I also was part time staff photographer and free lanced for newspapers as the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group, covering events like the Experimental Aircraft Association, Oshkosh, WI and Indy Car races.  An Honors graduate from the College of Du Page, Wheaton, IL, I have won dozens of awards as a past member of the Professional Photographers of America and PPA Northern Illinois.