Recently I was introduced to Perfect Layers, an add-on or stand-alone program that gives layer functionality to photo editing software like Lightroom and Aperture. Now I’m a Photoshop guy and don’t use either programs often, but I do enjoy the clean workflow that both Lightroom and Aperture provide (especially for high-volume projects) and see why many photographers love them to pieces. However, the biggest complaint I've come across is that they lack the ability to work with layers – a huge drawback and sometimes a deal breaker, making photographers opt for the much more expensive Photoshop instead.
If you’re not familiar with layers or how they can benefit your photography workflow, consider the following:
Layers are reversible. When you duplicate your image layer, you’re making edits onto an entirely independent copy, allowing you to reverse what you did at any point by deleting that layer and reverting to the one below – even after you save and close.
Not only is this great for composite images (as seen below), but this also works well for any kind of editing you want to apply but may have to reverse later on down the line.
Clonal pluralization of the self by eqqman, on Flickr
Layers can be transparent. The ability to adjust the opacity (transparency) of your layer is a huge asset to photographers. Not only can you adjust the visibility of your entire layer, you can poke holes in it with your masking brush, allowing only a certain part of your top layer to show with varying degrees of transparency.
For example, let’s say you want to increase the contrast of a photo with a shallow depth of field, but only apply it to the area in focus. With Perfect Layers, you can use your masking brush and paint where you want your contrast to go. This feature is incredibly versatile, and one of the biggest attractions to the more expensive Photoshop.
Exposure blending. Another fantastic benefit that Perfect Layers gives to you is the ability to blend exposures – which is something that I use often in my own work and advocate strongly for. The ability to replicate the effects of a GND filter and blend different exposures in your darkroom is an invaluable addition to any photographer's tool belt.
Exposure blending is not just good for landscapes, but can find a place in any style of photography as it can be used to recover blown highlights and blocked shadows.
As I said, I've only recently discovered Perfect Layers and don't have much experience with the program, but am quite impressed with what I've seen so far. With that in mind, I decided to ask a veteran onOne Software customer who’s been using Perfect Layers since the beta stages to see what his thoughts are.
Peter James Zielinski, Broadway photographer of countless celebrities and an HDR enthusiast, was kind enough to share his experience with using Perfect Layers:
“Be it a red carpet, curtain call, or even brackets for an HDR image, Lightroom is the centerpiece of my workflow. Adding layer functionality to that along with features like blend modes, opacity, and masking …it turns an application that was already powerhouse into one that I honestly can't live without. “
Photo by Peter James Zielinski
Photo by Peter James Zielinski
For more fantastic examples of Peter's work, you can visit his portfolio or follow him on Google+.
There are many other benefits to Perfect Layers that I can't possibly get into here – such as blending modes, photo filters, etc. If you want a bit more information on what Perfect Layers can do for you, head on over to their How To section for some great tutorial videos that cover much more on the versatility of this program.
I don't advocate many programs, but Perfect Layers is one of the best examples Ive seen of when talented photographers collaborate with computer programmers to create a stand-out product. While Perfect Layers doesn't replace every functionality of layers that Photoshop offers, it does incorporate the most popular among photographers. This can benefit many who don't want to go all-out and purchase Photoshop, or who just enjoy the sleek workflow of Lightroom and Aperture.
You can download a 30-day free trial of Perfect Layers by visiting their website – make sure to view all of the helpful tutorial videos to get a full grasp as to what Perfect Layers can bring to your photography workflow.
Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell on his website or follow him on Google+ and Facebook. You can also find him on Twitter and 500px.