In the last lesson, we learned how to work with layers using the layers panel. We learned to add new layers, remove layers, interchange layers, add adjustment layers, apply styles, change layer blending mode and opacity level, and much more that can be done by working with the layers panel.
Before we proceed to the further study of what amazing things you can do with layers, we need to consider one particular type of layer – the “Background layer”. The reason why we stop to study the background layer is that some actions cannot be performed with this layer, unlike actions with other layers. If we are not aware of these actions in advance, we can easily get lost in our work and not get the desired result.
Below is a picture of the photo frame, opened in Photoshop. This image I took from the photobank Fotolia:
Whenever we open a new image in Photoshop, it opens in the window of our own document and is placed on a separate layer called “Background”, which we can see on the layers panel. Please note that the word “Background” is in italics. Thus, the program notifies us about some features of this layer:
Photoshop program named the “Background” layer for the simple reason that this layer really serves as a background for our document. Any additional layers that we add to the image will be placed on top of the background layer. Since the main purpose of this layer is to serve as a background image, there are several actions that cannot be performed with this layer. Let’s take a quick look at the simple rules that include these actions that should be remembered. And then, at the end of the lesson, we will learn how easy it is to bypass all these rules.
Rule 1: We cannot move the contents of the background layer.
One of the actions that we cannot perform with the background layer is moving its contents. Usually, when we need to move the contents of a layer, we select the tool at the top of the toolbar. “Moving” (Move):
Then, after choosing the tool “Moving”, we click with the mouse inside the document window and move the contents while keeping the mouse button pressed. Let’s see what happens when in our case I try to move the photo frame to another place. As a result of this action, a dialog box appears where it is written that the content cannot be moved because the layer is fixed:
If we again turn to the layers panel and look at the “Background” layer, we will see a small lock icon on the right side, which tells us that this layer is fixed and cannot be moved by us. There is no way to unlock the “Background” layer, but, as I said, at the end of the lesson, we will look at how this small rule about the impossibility of moving the contents of a layer and other rules can be circumvented:
Rule 2: Lack of transparent pixels
In the near future I am going to import one more image into my document and place it in the photo frame. However, at the moment the inside of the frame is filled with white. This means that I must first clear the white area inside the photo frame and only then place the photo there. Usually, when we remove pixels from a layer, the removed areas become transparent and allow us to see the underlying layer. Let’s see what happens when I try to delete any area on the “Background” layer.
First, I have to highlight the area inside the frame, and since it is filled with color belm, I’ll use the “Magic wand” (Magic Wand). In Photoshop CS2 and earlier, we can select the “Magic wand”, just clicking on its toolbar icon. In Photoshop CS3 and later (in my case it’s Photoshop CS5), this tool is hidden behind the tool. “Quick selection” (Quick Selection), so you must first click on the tool “Quick selection” (hold down the mouse button for a few seconds), wait for the drop-down menu with the list of tools to appear and select the tool from the list “Magic wand”:
Having selected the necessary tool, I will click the mouse button in the center of the frame to quickly select the entire white area. As a result of this action, a selection frame will appear, indicating that the white area is highlighted:
To delete the area inside the frame, I press the Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) key. However, instead of the expected deletion of the area and the replacement of white with transparent pixels, the program opens the parameter dialog box “Fill” (Fill) and offers to fill the selected area with another color:
I will click the Cancel button to exit the dialog box, since this is not the command I wanted to execute. I wanted to remove the white area inside the photo frame, but not fill it with another color. Maybe the Photoshop program messed up something? Well, I will try to remove the area in another way. For this, I will go to the section “Editing” (Edit) in the menu bar at the top of the screen and select the command “Cut out” (Cut):
When working with a regular layer, this action would lead to cutting the selected area out of the layer and the appearance of a transparent part instead, but in our case the result was again unpredictable. This time, as if on purpose, the program filled the area with black:
Where did the black color come from? It turns out that Photoshop filled the area with black, because if we look at the foreground color and background color swatches at the bottom of the toolbar, we see that the background color (on the lower right square) is black at the moment, respectively filled the area with a background color. If the background color was purple, the area would be filled with exactly purple. However, at the moment the background color is black:
So why didn’t Photoshop delete the white area inside the frame? Why did she fill it with a different color instead? The reason is that the background layers do not support transparency. Indeed, since the purpose of the “Background” layer is to serve as a background document, there is no need to make it transparent, because there shouldn’t be anything under this layer to view. After all, the background is still a background! No matter how I try to remove the area inside the frame, I’ll never be able to do this until the image is placed on the background layer. How, then, can I place another photo inside the frame? Let’s put off the solution to this problem for now and come back to it a bit later.
Rule 3: We cannot move the “Background” layer and place it above another layer.
Below is a photo that I want to put inside the photo frame. I also took this image from the Fotolia photobank:
Currently, the image is open in a separate window, so I quickly copy it to the document window with the photo frame by pressing Ctrl + A (Win) / Command + A (Mac) to select the entire photo. Then I press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + C (Win) / Command + C (Mac) to copy the image to the internal buffer. After that, I will go to the document window with the photo frame and press the key combination Ctrl + V (Win) / Command + V (Mac) to insert the image into the document. The program will put a new image on a separate layer called “Layer 1” (Layer 1), located above the “Background” layer with the photo frame:
It can be seen that the new photo appeared in front of the photo frame in the document window:
In order for my second image to appear inside the frame, I need to change the order of the layers – put a layer with a frame on top of the layer with a photo. Usually, swapping layers is easy, you just need to select a layer to move and drag it over another layer, but not in our case when we want to move the Background layer. When I click on the “Background” layer and try to move it over the photo layer, a small icon appears in the form of a crossed out circle (international prohibition sign), indicating that for some reason this action is impossible:
The reason for not allowing me to move the “Background” layer is that this layer must always remain the background of the document. Photoshop does not allow you to move this layer on top of any other layers.
Rule 4: We cannot move other layers under the “Background” layer
Well, if we can’t move the “Background” layer on top of another layer, what will happen if we try to move another layer under the “Background” layer? I will click on “Layer 1” and try to move it under the “Background” layer, but this is not working either. Again there is a small icon in the form of a crossed out circle, which means that it is impossible to perform an action:
Again, the reason for this is that the “Background” layer must always remain the background of the document. We cannot move this layer on top of other layers and also move other layers under the “Background” layer.
A simple solution to the problem
Let’s summarize the above. We learned that Photoshop does not allow us to move the contents of the “Background” layer using the “Moving”, because the layer is fixed. We also learned that the background layer does not support transparency, so there is no way to remove any area on the layer. Finally, we learned that the “Background” layer should always remain the bottommost layer on the layers panel. We cannot move this layer on top of other layers and also move other layers under it.
Since the main purpose of the “Background” layer is to serve as a basis for a document, each of these rules makes sense. However, as with most other rules, sometimes we need to break them. In our case, getting around all these rules is easy! All we need is to rename the “Background” layer otherwise! To rename the “Background” layer, you can go to the “Layers” (Layer) at the top of the screen, select “New” and then – “Layer from the background” (Layer From Background):
A faster way is that you can simply double-click the word “Background” in the layers panel:
In any case, after these actions, the dialog box opens. “New Layer” (New Layer) where you can enter a new name for the layer. By default, the program suggests the name “Layer 0” (Layer 0), which suits us. Since we can use any other name except “Background”, simply click OK to confirm the new name “Layer 0” and exit the dialog box, provided that you do not want to give the layer any specific name:
Tip: To rename the Background layer even faster, double-click the Background word while holding down the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key. The program immediately renames the layer, giving it the name “Layer 0” without opening the “New Layer” dialog box.
Now we can see that the name of the background layer has changed to “Layer 0”:
Just renaming the background layer, we turned it into a regular layer, as a result of which the rules that we reviewed above, no longer apply to it! Now we can safely move the contents of the layer using the tool “Moving”, delete the area on the layer, replacing it with the transparent part, and freely move our layer relative to other layers!
For example, I still need to move the photo frame on top of the image to Layer 1. Now it is easy to do, since the photo frame is no longer on the “Background” layer! I can just click on “Layer 0” on the layers panel and drag it upward so that a thin light bar appears above “Layer 1”:
After that, I will release the mouse button, and Photoshop will place “Layer 0” over “Layer 1”, as I need:
Previously, I could not remove the white area inside the frame while the image was on the “Background” layer, but now, after I renamed the “Background” layer to “Layer 0”, this was easy to do. I will highlight the area inside the frame using the tool. “Magic wand”, as I did for the first time:
Then I press the Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) key and this time the program will do everything exactly as I expected – instead of opening the “Fill in” dialog box, it will delete the area from the layer and display the photo under it:
Next, I press the key combination Ctrl + D (Win) / Command + D (Mac) to remove the selection from the area inside the frame and remove the selection line. Then to successfully complete the work, I will click on “Layer 1” on the layers panel and make it active:
On the toolbar, I will choose a tool “Moving” (Move), click on the photo and move it inside the photo frame, as I need. Although Layer 1 is currently the bottommost layer in the document, it is not fixed because it no longer serves as a background layer. I can freely move it where I want:
As we considered, the background layers are a special type of layers in Photoshop, with restrictions imposed on them. We cannot move their contents, remove anything from them, and they must always remain among the layers of the document at the very bottom. In most cases, these restrictions do not cause us any special inconvenience, because usually we do not work directly with the “Background” layer. But if you need to remove the restrictions, just rename the “Background” layer and give it any other name. This action will lead to the fact that this layer will immediately become a normal layer, with which you can work without restrictions!
And here we are done! Check out the full list of lessons on working with layers in Photoshop or visit our section “Basics of Photoshop” to learn selection tools, font principles and other useful skills!