OnOne Software Perfect Layers

Layers without Photoshop: Perfect Layers in action

It’s all very well talking about life after Photoshop, and there are plenty of programs and plug-ins which can do magical things with your images… but you still need Photoshop (or Elements) to create layer montages. Don’t you?

Actually, no. OnOne’s Perfect Layers, part of its Perfect Photo Suite, can manage layers, and layer masks too.

Perfect Layers blend modes

Here’s a quick guide to how it works, using a landscape shot on Dartmoor at the end of the day. The landscape is fine, but the sky is blown out, so I need to merge in a new sky.

01 Add the sky

Perfect Layers blend modes

You can use Perfect Layers as a plug-in within Lightroom and Aperture (and Photoshop), but here I’m using it as a standalone app. You start by opening the base layer – the landscape in this instance – and then using the File > Add layer(s) from file command. Now I can open the separate ‘sky’ picture.

02 Mismatched sizes

Perfect Layers blend modes

The sky I’ve added is one I shot years ago on a much lower-resolution camera. But I can resize it to fit the current image by selecting the transform tool from the panel on the left.

03 Resized to fit

Perfect Layers blend modes

I’ve now enlarged the sky to cover the landscape. This does affect the quality, but it doesn’t matter much with skies where you wouldn’t expect to see any fine detail anyway. You can now see both image layers in the Layers panel on the right of the screen. If you’re used to layers in Photoshop or Elements, this doesn’t look much different.

04 Mask Bug

Perfect Layers blend modes

Now we need to mask the sky layer in such a way that the landscape shows through underneath. You can use two tools for this. There’s  a simple masking brush in the tools panel on the left, but I’m using the ‘Mask Bug’, which has control handles for adjusting the mask area ‘live’. I’ll save the details about precisely how this works for another time – I simply want to show the basic principles here.

05 Blend modes


At the moment the new sky is covering up the top branches of the tree. One solution would be to create a tricky mask outline to let the tree show through, but I’m going to use a clever but effective trick to save all that effort – I’ve switched the sky layer’s blend mode to Multiply, so that it’s added to the details in the layer below rather than simply replacing them. It’s a handy trick you can use time and again for landscapes with new skies.

06 The finished picture

Perfect Layers blend modes

This is the final result. I’m not completely happy with it – I’m more used to Photoshop’s layering and masking tools and I need to spend more time getting to grips with these. There’s something odd going on with the cloud detail mid-way between the horizon and the top of the frame, too, so I think my gradient blend isn’t quite right.

Nevertheless, this shows how Perfect Layers works, and it’s not a million miles away from the techniques you’d use in Photoshop.

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