Teaching Photoshop: Introducing layers channels, and color corrections

Once students understand the basics of Photoshop, they are ready to move on to Layers. This article includes a simple tutorial to help students understand how to manipulate graphics through the use of unique layers of type, color, and texture.

By Marilyn J. Ellis

Once students have mastered the basic skills of Photoshop, they are ready for the adventure of learning layers, color, color corrections, and channels.

To prepare Photoshop lessons:
  • Determine what new information you will cover and how existing skills can be incorporated into the exercise.
  • Choose a picture for the background of the image and make a copy for each student.
  • Open Photoshop, write down each step of the exercise (using Word or another word processing program).
  • Review the lesson and make corrections.

Once you’re in class, distribute the tutorial and any other files to your students. It is best if you use a projector or large-screen monitor so the class can follow along as you open Photoshop and walk through the lesson.

To facilitate completing your lesson on time, ask students to hold their questions until the end. You will find that many students will also be able to answer their own questions by working through the tutorial.
For more tips on teaching basic Photoshop skills, read:Teaching Photoshop: Introductory tips for trainers and Teaching Photoshop: A lesson in basics for a beginner.
Tutorial: Layers and dropped shadow
A basic Photoshop skill that is used frequently involves the use of the Layers feature. This is a good skill to introduce in an intermediate Photoshop class. Below is a short tutorial created in Photoshop 4.0 that covers adding type layers and a drop shadow to a picture.

Open the selected picture. Look for one with some clear space at the bottom or top to drop type over.

Under Window, choose Show Layers. On the toolbar, select the color button, and choose the color black.


Choose the Text tool, and click down where you want the type. Note the Layers pop-up menu with only the background layer.


The Type Tool pop-up menu will appear and you can choose the size of your type, the font, and extra features such as bold or italic. Type in the title you selected.

When you hit enter, the type (in the color you chose, or red) will appear on top of your picture in a separate layer. Look at your layers menu to make sure the type is selected.

To create a drop shadow

For a dropped shadow, choose red from the color button, and click down the Text tool again within the drawing. Press enter and a layer of red type will be created (You do not have to retype).

Deselect all “eye icons” except for the black type layer. (The eye icon, when selected, makes the layer visible.) Choose Layer/Transform/Skew to create a slant on the selected type.

Choose the Filter menu, choose, Blur/Motion blur. A pop-up menu will appear that reveals a small picture of the results of the blur.

This is what the results should look like.

Other layers tips
If students are afraid of losing their original drawing, have them choose Duplicate Layer in the Layers pop-up menu. This gives the student a copy to work with so that if he likes the changes, he can drag the original version to the trash and save the file. If he doesn't, or if he makes a serious mistake, he still has the original to make another copy of and begin again.
When the class is over, students will not have you to advise them, so one of the most valuable skills they can learn from you is not a Photoshop technique, but how to follow a tutorial and find answers in the Help sections of a program.
Photoshop has many tools to apply color, including the Paintbrush, Airbrush, Pencil, Gradient, and Paint Bucket tools. The Eyedropper tool samples colors, and the student can see what color he has selected by looking at the Foreground Color box.

Color correction
Color correction is a major function of Photoshop, and it can be a lot of fun. Find some sample files and let your students experiment with Image/Adjust/Curve, ColorBalance, Brightness/Contrast, and Hue/Saturation. Point out how using these tools can enhance a dull photograph quickly and easily.

Channels is another handy feature. You can use it to make corrections if one channel has a massive error while the others are OK. You can also use this feature to move, copy, or paste channels. It is possible to create a new element of the file and save it as a new channel. Masks are saved in the channels area as well.
How do you go about teaching this application? Do you have a stash of sample files that you give to students to work on or that you use to illustrate certain techniques? Send us your tips for teaching Photoshop so we can share them with other readers.

Marilyn J. Ellis, MCSE, has a master's of science in occupational education with a specialization in training and development. Her experience also includes classroom and online instruction of data communications courses at Tomball College in Tomball, TX.

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