Photoshop fun: Layering creates alternate realities


As I was sipping my early morning coffee and preparing my Quest class notes on my iPad, I glanced down at the coffee cup and noticed a surface reflection of my desk light bouncing at me.

I was preparing for the third class session and the students were mastering the basics of light, reflections, and composition, so I thought it was time to add one additional element that I normally do not teach in this class.

This was a class that loved to participate and have fun, so I knew that introducing one aspect of Adobe Photoshop involving "layers" they would enjoy.

Six of the 19 students were returning from the spring Quest class and five had experience with Adobe CS6, so I asked if I could have a volunteer. A rare moment occurred as a student in the front row raised his hand.

Not revealing what my intent was I only mentioned that we would have a surprise element on our upcoming field trip to Klickers.

Arriving at the farm, I guided the class through a sea of colorful Halloween pumpkins of all sizes until we reached the destination I had preselected.

At the base of a giant pile of hay bales surrounded by pumpkins was a small, gray boat in a storybook setting for children to play on, but large enough for adults to enter.

I assembled the class near the wood boat and asked for three volunteers; one would be captain and the other two would be crew members. Since the class did not know exactly what they were volunteering for there was a momentary pause, then three hands went up.

Once the volunteers were inside the boat I asked the student crew to relax. I gathered the rest of the class near the boat, where the sunlight and shadows were perfect to photograph the next scene.

At this point I asked the crew to look happy and pretend they were on a Caribbean cruise having "lots of fun" while the class photographed them. Then I asked the student crew to pretend there boat was about to be attacked by a killer whale. I asked the crew to look "very scared," and again the class camera shutters were in motion, capturing every gesture and facial expression.

I had two volunteer groups participate in this exercise, then asked one of the students, Bob Goranson, who was already familiar with Photoshop, to put the group out to sea.

Bob did a great job not only placing the boat in the ocean, using Photoshop layers, but also adding a killer whale in the background in one picture. In a second picture he placed the little boat in the path of a cruise ship, to the horror of the frightened student crew.

This real-life demonstration illustrated to the students how easy it is to not only take a picture in this digital age, but also to "make a picture."

This exercise which started with a cup of coffee reflection proved to be a fun learning exercise and one that I may introduce again in future Quest classes.

Don Fleming can be reached at


Log in to comment