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Photoshop adjustment layers


Students will use adjustment layers in Photoshop to improve a photo using non-destructive methods. They will create an argument for or against using each of the Adjustment Layers in normal workflow of processing images.



  • Students will apply adjustment layers to adjust an image.
  • Students will determine whether an Adjustment Layer is useful
  • Students will compare and contrast the usefulness of Adjustment Layers, detailing each’s usefulness to your publication’s photographic workflow


Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.6 Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address.



2 days



Adobe Photoshop on each student’s computer

Image file(s) for adjustment

Slideshow: Adjustment Layers


Lesson step-by-step

Day 1:

Present the slideshow on ldjustment layers. It may be more useful to use these slides as notes for you as you present adjustment layers directly from within Photoshop.

Make three (3) copies of the image you are demonstrating with.

Demonstrate destructive and nondestructive adjustments. Go to Image>Adjustments>Levels. Adjust one of your copies and save it. Reopen it to demonstrate that those changes are now permanent. Perform the same Adjustment using an Adjustment Layer to a second copy of your image and save it. Close it, then reopen it to demonstrate that your adjustments are still editable.

At this point, it may be most beneficial to set students loose on their own image, having them make changes using Adjustment Layer and filling out the chart in the handout as they go along.


Day 2:

Have students spend additional time using adjustment layers on their image, but today have them concentrate on determining whether each adjustment is useful for your publication and WHY. Depending on your publication’s needs, your staff may need or want some of the crazier adjustments to use as art. News photos will not require more than subtle tweaking in a levels or curve. Web art or yearbook theme photos may benefit from some of the other, more dramatic adjustments.

Students completed table on the Handout – adjustment layers is due a the end of day 2, including a couple of sentences describing the usefulness of each Adjustment Layer.



Advanced students should be able to add masks to an adjustment layer, limiting adjustments to only selected areas of a photo.

Lower achieving students can be limited to only adjustment layers that the publication knows it will use: Levels and Curves. Their time can be spent practicing these for best, QUICK results.