One simple skill makes the difference between amateur and professional image editing.

This stunning video was created entirely from still images in the World Wildlife Foundation‘s archive of nature photography.

These images became a full cinematic experience through an image editing called technique called 2.5D animation, also called the parallax effect.  The trick that makes that animation work is the same trick that moves image editing to professional status: working in layers.

The Difference Layers Can Make

In the '90s, image editing meant we made our own coloring books.If you’re anything like our creative team, you may have gotten your start in image editing with Microsoft Paint.  Remember booting up the old Windows ’95, and the first thing you did was make one of these?

Microsoft Paint has gotten a lot smarter since ’95, but it’s still meant to be a lightweight image editor for simple applications.  It may come as a surprise, but most mobile apps for image editing (like Nokia’s Creative Studio or Apple’s Photos) are very similar to Paint in this respect.  While they can change color and contrast, even crop and collage images, by and large they all tend to treat images as a two-dimensional “grid” of pixels.

This “flat” mindset causes a lot of problems.  Every new element obscures part of the image.  Once a pixel is added to the grid, it can’t be moved without shifting or changing everything else.  Text and other elements can become fuzzy and out of focus as the image is scaled.  In other words, every edit destroys a part of the image.

Layers in image editing work like transparencies on a projector.

Layers are the solution to this problem.  Essentially, each layer is another image in the stack, like transparencies on a projector.  The final exported image is what’s visible from the top down.  This is the layers pane from GIMP, the free image manipulation software we recommend as part of the Hoboshop suite.  Each of those layers can be edited on its own without affecting the rest of the image.

The “WWF Parallax Sequence” is the best way I can think to explain layers.  Animator Joe Fellows of the London-based studio Make Productions split the images into background, mid-ground, and foreground in a layer-based editor, and added subtle movement to those layers in Adobe After Effects.

Fellows explained his process in a video interview with the Creator Project.  It’s worth a watch if you want to get a high-level understanding of layer-based editing and studio work flow, and it shows just how powerful layer-based editing can be.

Layers in Image Editing - Pin me!Thinking of images as layers is the first step to successful image editing. What simple facts changed your outlook on graphic design? Let us know in the comments, and subscribe for more how-to articles from The Spare Room Project!



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The Spare Room Project is a community of artists dedicated to helping people realize their creative potential with the resources and space they already have. Some have found their voice again as we collaborate on music and audio production. Many have benefited from honest and practical articles about how to live a more creative life. All it takes to pursue your passions is to carve out a physical space for them – a bedroom, a corner, even a card table.

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