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Photoshop Video Layer Essentials

Video Layers are great! You can load image sequences into Video Layers, open video files directly with Photoshop or create empty Video Layers inside Photoshop you can draw on. But for some reason, at first glance, it seems not all these Video Layers are created equal.

In this post I’ll try to shine a light on this perceived “inequality” and give a basic notion about how Photoshop handles Video Layers. Starting with…

The Anatomy of a Video Layer

Video Layers are actually two layers in one. Namely a Base Video Layer and an Altered Video Layer. I made up these terms to better explain the way Video Layers are implemented in Photoshop. The Base Video Layer can be an imported video, image sequence or Blank Video Layer generated by Photoshop. The Altered Video Layer is like a transparent film placed over the Base Video Layer on which you can draw, on a frame by frame basis.


View of the exposed Altered Video Layer

The Base Video Layer is represented in the timeline by a blue bar with a filmstrip icon. The Altered Video Layer is nested inside the Base Video Layer and can be exposed by clicking the arrow icon on the left side of the Video Layer. The altered frames of a Video Layer are represented by grey blocks otherwise the space is left empty. Video Layers have their own frame rate which can differ from the timeline. Photoshop will “drop” or “hold” frames of the Video Layer to make up for the difference in frame rate. Like normal Art Layers the Position, Opacity and Style properties can be keyframed/animated over time. For more advanced manipulations and effects the layer can be converted to a Smart Object.

Video Layer Functions


Layers › Video Layer › Fly-out

To create or alter Video Layers, Photoshop has a set of functions that can be found under Layers › Video Layer › Fly-out menu.

New Video Layer from File… lets you import a video file or image sequence as the Base Video Layer.

New Blank Video Layer  Generates an empty/transparent Video Layer to be used as the Base Video Layer. Video Layers generated by Photoshop, inherit all properties like frame rate, number of frames (duration) and size dimensions from the timeline and canvas.

There is a perceived inconsistency of the frame based Video Layer functions but this lies in the fact that these functions only affect Altered Video Layers on Blank Video Layers generated by Photoshop. Duplicating and deleting frames in the source of the Base Video Layer is not possible and can only be achieved by adjusting the speed and duration properties or by editing (e.g. duplicating layers and splitting or trimming in- or out-points).

Replace Footage… This function gives you the opportunity to swap the content of the Base Video Layer with an other video file or image sequence. This option is also available for Blank Video Layers. Beware: replacing the Base Video Layer when there is content on the Altered Video Layer may result in undesirable image artifacts due to transparency issues.

Interpret Footage Window

Interpret Footage Window

Interpret Footage… The Interpret Footage window displays the interpretation options available for the imported or generated video file. The default value for Frame Rate of the footage can be overridden here. This will result in the dropping (higher frame rate) or doubling (lower frame rate) of frames when played back in the timeline. Note: Adjusting duration and speed in the timeline window can be used to achieve the same effect.

The Restore Frame and Restore All Frames functions removes the content of the current frame (or all frames) on the Altered Video Layer while leaving the frame numbering/timing intact. The Insert Blank Frame, Duplicate Frame and Delete Frame functions change the timing of frames on the Altered Video Layer because existing frames are pushed aside when frames are added or removed.

Hide Altered Video does the same thing as the eye icon before Altered Video in the timeline, namely toggle the visibility of the Altered Video Layer and show only the Base Video Layer.

Reload Frame probably has to do with situations when Photoshop’s image cache hasn’t updated as expected. To be honest; I’m just guessing here. I haven’t used or needed it (yet).

Rasterize converts the Video Layer to a normal Art Layer with the content of current frame and maintains its original duration on the timeline. This function comes in handy when you want to hold a single frame for a longer period of time.

Speed and Duration

Speed and duration of a Video Layer can be manipulated by right-clicking a Video Layer in the timeline window. Here in the timeline it is possible to change the (playback) speed of a Video Layer using a percentage slider. This gives the opportunity to tune or feel just the right speed to get the desired result and let Photoshop handle the dropping or doubling of frames. As I mentioned in the interpret footage section above; the speed (and duration) settings of a layer is linked to the layer’s frame rate settings of the interpret footage window.


relation between speed and framerate (interpret footage)


Adding or duplicating frames don’t affect the layer’s out-point in the timeline. This means the last Altered Video frames are pushed from view when new frames are introduced. Another important thing is that the duration of the Video Layer Footage cannot be changed by Photoshop. Since the duration of a Blank Video Layer created inside Photoshop inherits the duration of the timeline you need to make sure the timeline’s duration (number of frames) can accommodate the animation you have in mind.


Altered Frame pushed from view by Insert Frame function

Splitting the last frame from a Video Layer (or any other type) is not supported by default. This is more a timeline quirk but you’re very likely to encounter this problem when you’re editing Video Layers.

Did I miss something?
Do you have a Video Layer related tip to share?
Share your insights in the comments below.

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