But I’ll show you a different way to use layers with a photo editor.
I’ll use Paint.NET because it’s free so anyone, who uses Windows and doesn’t have an editor, can go get it.
The first thing you should do is gather together the pictures you want in your collage. It’s easier if you copy them all into a folder somewhere and then open them all at once into the software. For the demonstration, I’ll make this simpler by using only 3 pictures.
The pictures will line themselves up in a photo bin in the upper right corner of the program.
One of the pictures may be your background. Otherwise go to File/New and define a size for a blank ‘page’. You can fill this page with color or a gradient as you please. All your other pictures will be layered on top. Some of the language is similar to text; select, cut, copy, paste. Select All is Ctrl+A. Deselect is Ctrl+D. So if you get lost, just revert to that way of thinking.
In the Tools bar, on the left side, there are 3 selection options; rectangle, lasso and ellipse. If you don’t want any of these just Select the whole picture. (Ctrl+A)
I want to make a selection of the white flower and paste it on top of the first picture, the background. In the photo bin I click the white flower to bring it onto the main screen and scroll it down in size so I can work with it more easily. Then I choose the lasso tool and drag my cursor around the part I want, as defined by the dotted line.
All I have to do now is click either Cut or Copy. Then click on my background picture in the photo bin and click Edit/Paste in to New Layer. Choose this option instead of straight Paste so you keep your layers separate.
While the flower is still highlighted I can drag the handles to make it smaller. If I hold down the Shift key and drag one of the corner points, I can change the size without disturbing the proportions. Then I can pick it up and move it wherever I want. Another thing I can do is apply an Effect to it or make other Adjustments.
Notice also, over on the right side is a box called History. This keeps track of every move you make so to undo your history, just go back and click on the last move you liked. It will wipe out everything you did after that. You’re not committed to anything yet.
In the meantime, down below that box is another one called Layers. This will show you the layers you’re creating, and also gives you the ability to work on one at a time. Until you Flatten the image, all the layers are still separate and can be worked on separately.
The tick marks on the right refer to Visibility. If you only want to see one layer at a time you can un-tick the others. At the bottom of this box are arrows for moving the layers. If you would rather have one layer ahead or behind another one you can change the order. For instance:
If you want to add a new layer for text or anything else, Deselect (Ctrl+D) everything on the screen and then click Layer/Add New Layer. There’s a lot of tools at your disposal, so just jump in and have fun. The nice thing about graphics software is that while you can make an unattractive mess, you can’t really make a mistake.
You can add other effects as well as frames, but these are the basics. Presumably, you’ll be using pictures of ancestors not flowers, but you get the drift.
When I’m ready to finish my collage I always save it in its layered state so I can come back later and make changes if I want to. In Paint.NET it will save in its native format which is PDN. Then I will also (as if I’m finished) click Image/Flatten which brings all the layers down into one, and save it again in a usable format, JPG or TIFF.
There are hundreds of plugins that add functionality to Paint.NET. Have a look.