Image Menu

 

LayersXXL adds five new menu items to the Image menu of Photoshop Elements.

 

Auto-Align Layers

Requirements: At least two layers have to be selected in the Layers panel.

The Auto-Align Layers function lets you align two or more very similar photos in order to combine them to one image. This is quite useful if you want to combine multiple shots of the same subject, e.g. a group of people, photos taken with different exposure or depth of field or if you want to create a panorama image from multiple shots.

Firstly, you need to place each photo on a different layer (see Open As Layer). Then you select all layers in the Layers panel and run the Auto-Align Layers command. After the layers were aligned, you can use layer masks to only add the best parts of each layer to the final image.

In the Auto-Align Layers dialog you can choose between different options for changing the projection of the images. The Auto option tries to find the best option for the corresponding image layers. It chooses between Perspective or Cylindrical projection. When creating a panorama it may choose the Perspective method, which is not always the best choice, so we recommend activating the Cylindrical option. For stacked images it is best to keep the Auto option.

The Perspective option chooses a layer as the referene image (usually the middle layer) and perspectively stretches the other layers to match it. The Cylindrical option avoid the “bow-tie” distortion of the Perspective option by placing the layers on an unfolded cylinder. The Spherical option is meant for photos with wide fields of view, thus it spherically transforms the layers. The Collage option aligns the layers without changing the shape of the layers. Finally, Reposition makes sure that matching image contents overlap by simply repositioning the layers, so no transformation is applied.

An activated Vignette Removal check box tries to remove shadows at the corners of the layers. Geometric Distortion compensates barrel, pincushion or fisheye distortions.

 

Auto-Blend Layers

Requirements: At least two layers have to be selected in the Layers panel.

The Auto-Blend Layers function enables you to put different images together in order to create either a panoramic scenery with seamless transitions or or to increase the depth of field of macro or other types of photos. The individual photos have to be present as layers (see Open As Layer) and these layers have to be selected for this functionality to work.


  
The left and middle image are two of eight photos that were combined
with the Stack Images feature to create the right image result.


If you are trying to blend panorama photos or want to combine macro shots taken without a tripod it is advisable that you apply the Auto-Align Layers feature beforehand in order to have the layers correctly positioned. Otherwise the result may not be as expected.

The Auto-Blend Layers dialog offers two blend methods to select. If you want to create a panorama images, activate the Panorama option. If you want to increase the depth of field, choose "Stack Images". An activated Seamless Tones and Colors checkbox grants smooth transitions and colors.

 

Auto-Expose Layers

Requirements: At least two layers have to be selected in the Layers panel.

Basically the Auto-Expose Layers feature automatically adjusts the opacity and blend mode of the selected layers in order to produce different effects including denoising and multiple exposure.


The two photos on the left were combined with the Multi-Expose option of Auto-Expose Layers.


The Denoise option calculates the average of all layers thus reducing high ISO noise. The two Multi-Expose options create an effect that is known as multiple exposure in traditional photography. They allow you to combine two or more different scenes into one photo. The Light Trail option adds light trails from photos into one image. It can also be used to combine other night shots. W
hereas the Denoise, Multi-Expose and Light Trail options use predefined blend modes and opacity settings, the Other option lets you freely adjust the Mode combo box and Opacity slider.

The Mode combo box contains all blend modes known from the Layers panel of Photoshop Elements. The Opacity slider represents the option with the same name on the Layers panel. But here you are changing the blend mode and opacity of multiple layers and not just one layer. Nevertheless the bottom layer will always be set to Normal blend mode and 100% opacity to produce an usable effect.

The Brightness slider increases or decreases the brightness of the effect. Usually it is necessary for compensating the brightening or darkening effect of the Exposure option as well as certain blend modes. The Contrast slider adjusts the contrast of the combined layers.

Sometimes it may be necessary to deactivate certain layers to achieve a better effect. But you do not need to exit the Auto-Expose Layers dialog to do that. You can use the Hide slider instead, which lets you exclude certain layers from the effect. For example, a value of 1 hides the top layer and a value of 2 excludes the two top layers. On the other hand a value of -1 ignores the bottom layer and a value of -2 hides the two bottom layers. This slider is only usable if more than two layers have been selected. It can be quite helpful with the Light Trial option for animating the light trail.

The Swap button is meant to be used for creating variations when using the Multi-Expose methods, but can also be used with the other methods. Each time you click the button the layers will be swapped, which, means that their positions will change. The first number of the button text is the current layer position. The second value is the the total number of possible positrons. So for two selected layers with two possible positions, you will see "1 / 2", "2 / 2" and again "1 / 2" when you click the button twice. For three selected layers there are six possible positions, so you have to click the Swap button six times to check them all out. So the button text will display "1 / 6" up to "6 / 6". For n selected layers there are n * (n-1) possible positions, so for 4 layers that means 12 and for 10 layers already 90 possible positions. To restore the original layer position you have to make sure that a "1" is displayed as the first number on the button. The easiest way to do that is to click the Restore button.

The Merge Layers check box combines all selected layers into one layer. This is more or less a convenience option, because you can also do that from the Layers menu later. The Auto-Align button runs the Auto-Align Layers command discussed above. Thus it matches the image content of the selected layers.

Click the Cancel button to end everything. If you want to reset the sliders to their default settings, hold down the Alt key and click the Cancel button.

 

HDR-Combine Layers

Requirements: One, two or three layers have to be selected in the Layers panel.

The HDR-Combine Layers feature combines two or three photos of the same scene taken with different exposure settings. You get the best HDR results if you shoot three photos of the same scene with -2/+2 or -3/+3 exposure adjustment and then use HDR-Combine on these three photos. But you can also use single photos, preferably a raw file. So here is a ranking ranging from best to worst results:

1. Three raw files of the same scene taken with different exposure.
2. Three jpeg files of the same scene taken with different exposure.
3. One raw file
4. One jpeg file

However, sometimes you may get a slightly better result with number 3 than number 2. You may get a very similar result with all four approaches, if the photographic scene is not illuminated by an extreme light source like the sun or a lamp at night, which is when HDR makes the biggest difference. You usually get better results with raw files than with jpegs or tiffs, because raw files have a higher dynamic range, so when LayersXXL automatically produces exposure variations it extracts all details from shadows as well as highlights of the raw data.


 

The left image is a standard raw conversion. The right image was produced
by combining three exposure variations of the same raw file.


Instead of combining images to a 32-bit HDR image and tone mapping them back to 8-bit, this feature takes a different approach. It omits the 32-bit step and combines the images directly with the help of layer masks. As a result you get more a natural looking image that provides a higher dynamic range. Additionally you are also able to improve the result by manually editing the layer masks.

If only one layer is selected in the Layers panel, two other layers with -2/+2 EV exposure variations are automatically created. We only recommend taking this approach if you do not have differently exposed photos or do not have at least a raw file. Otherwise please use the Open as Layers command to open the photos or to automatically create exposure variations from a raw file. This certainly produces better HDR results.

If you have two or three layers selected, they are sorted and named "HDR Shadows", "HDR Midtones" and "HDR Highlights". The brightest layer is named "HDR Shadows", because it offers the most shadows details, and the darkest layer is called "HDR Highlights", because it contains the most details in the brightest image areas. After this first processing step, the HDR-Combine Layers dialog appears.

The Shadows and Highlights sliders adjust the opacity of the shadows and highlights layers. They control the intensity of the effect. The Width sliders adjust the masks of the shadows and highlights layers. The higher the value of the sliders, the more image areas from the shadows or highlight layers are introduced in the combined image. The Anti-Halo sliders enable you to remove halos in the shadows or highlights if necessary. For some images you have to use positive slider values, for others you need negative values in order to remove halos.

The Contrast and Saturation sliders control the general contrast and saturation. The Merge Layers check box combines all selected layers into one layer. This is more or less a convenience option, because you can also do that from the Layers menu later.

The Auto-Align button runs the Auto-Align Layers command discussed above. Thus it matches the image content of the selected layers. Usually it is better to auto-align layers before using the HDR-Combine Layers command. If the necessary alignment is not to extreme, it will also work fine from this dialog.

After you clicked the OK button, you can still go back to the HDR-Combine Layers dialog and change its settings. To do that make sure that you have all two or three HDR layers selected and choose Image > HDR-Combine Layers from the menu again. If you activated the Merge Layer check box before clicking OK, you have to undo the HDR-Combine Layers step in the History panel before you can enter the dialog again.

Click the Cancel button to stop everything. If you want to reset the sliders to their default settings, hold down the Alt key and click the Cancel button.

 

Remove Transparency

Requirements: At least one layer has to be available

The Remove Transparency command is meant to remove the transparent areas that are created by the Auto-Align Layers command. It takes the transparent areas of all layers in the current document including their layer masks and vector masks into account.

Remove Transparency either crops the transparent areas of all layers or fills a new layer with image content that hides the transparent areas. However, filling only works in Photoshop Elements 13 and higher.

If you use Remove Transparency for cropping the image, it spares you the work of manual cropping with the crop tool, which often requires multiple cropping steps, because transparent areas of one layer may be hidden behind other layers. Unlike the Trim command of Photoshop and ElementsXXL it removes not only rectangular areas but all transparent areas including irregular ones. If you use Remove Transparency for filling the image with the content-aware feature, it still saves you several clicks compared to doing it manually.

Remove Transparency offers two cropping methods. The Panorama option works best on layers that are horizontally aligned as a panorama image. The Stacked Images option is meant for stacked layers that are used e.g. for increasing the depth of field, creating HDRs and denoising. With “Stacked Images” it crops the smallest inner rectangle of all visible layers, because stacked image overlap mostly. With “Panorama” it crops the combined inner rectangle of all visible layers, because a panorama is distributed over multiple layers that only overlap very little. If there is only one layer, both options produce the same result.


   

The left image shows eight layers that were
auto-aligned, which resulted in very different transparent areas.
The middle image shows the eight layers on top of each other. After applying the Remove Transparency
command with the "Stacked Images" method (and deactivated "Content-Aware Fill" checkbox),
the image on the right was the result.


The Content-Aware Fill check box, which only works in Photoshop Element 13 and higher, adds a new layer with image content that hides the transparent areas. Content-aware Fill works nicely if the image borders contain textures with little details, e.g. clouds, still water, grass, earth, plain walls etc. It does not work very well if there are very fine details in the border areas, e.g. wires, tiles, people. In such cases it is usually better to either crop away the transparency (by deactivating the Content-Aware Fill check box) or to manually fill in the details with the clone stamp or healing brush tools.