Open multiple images as layers in Photoshop

Open Multiple Images As Layers In Photoshop

Learn how easy it is to open multiple images at once into a Photoshop document, with each image placed on its own layer, and how to add more images to the document as you need them!

Written by Steve Patterson.

Whether we're compositing images, creating collages or designing layouts, we often need to load multiple images into the same Photoshop document. And each image needs to appear on its own layer within that document. But that's not how Photoshop works when we open multiple files. Instead, each file opens in its own separate document, forcing us to move the images ourselves from one document to another.

But there is a way to open multiple images at once into the same document using a command called Load Layers into Stack. And we can add more files to the document as we need them using a different command known as Place Embedded. In this tutorial, I'll show you how both of these features work. We'll also look at a few options in Photoshop's Preferences that make placing images into your document even faster. And as a bonus, I'll finish things off by blending my images into a simple double exposure effect.

I'm using Photoshop CC 2020 but you can follow along with any recent version.

This tutorial is lesson 6 in our Layers Learning Guide. Let's get started!

How to load multiple images as layers in Photoshop

Let's start by learning how to load multiple images as layers into the same Photoshop document. For that, we use a command called Load Files into Stack. And not only does this command load your images, but it even creates the Photoshop document for you! Here's how to use it.

Step 1: Choose "Load Files into Stack"

In Photoshop, go up to the File menu in the Menu Bar, choose Scripts, and then choose Load Files into Stack:

Selecting the Load Files into Stack command in Photoshop
Going to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack.

Step 2: Select your images

Then in the Load Layers dialog box, set the Use option to either Files or Folder. Files lets you select individual images within a folder, while Folder will load every image in the folder you select. I'll choose Files.

Then click the Browse button:

Setting the Use option to either Files or Folder and clicking Browse in Photoshop's Load Layers dialog box
Setting Use to either Files or Folder and then clicking Browse.

Cloud documents or local files

If you're using Photoshop CC 2020 or later, Photoshop may ask if you want to load a Cloud document or files stored on your computer. I'll click the On your computer button:

Clicking the On You Computer button to load local files into Photoshop
Choosing to load files on my computer.

Selecting your images

Then navigate to the folder that holds your images and choose the files you need. In my case, I'll select all three images in the folder.

Notice the names of my images. We have "texture.jpg", "portrait.jpg" and "sunset.jpg". Photoshop will use these names when naming the layers, so it's a good idea to rename your files first.

Once you have selected the images, click Open:

Selecting the images to load into Photoshop
Selecting the images to load into Photoshop.

And back in the Load Layers dialog box, the name of each file appears in the list:

Photoshop's Load Layers dialog box listing the names of the images that will be loaded
The names of the images that will be loaded into Photoshop.

How to remove an image

If you selected an image by mistake and need to remove it, click on its name in the list and then click the Remove button:

Selecting an image to remove in Photoshop's Load Layers dialog box
You can remove any images you don't need.

Step 3: Click OK

Leave the two options at the bottom of the dialog box ("Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images" and "Create Smart Object after Loading Layers") unchecked.

Then click OK to load your images:

Clicking OK to load the images into Photoshop and close the Load Layers dialog box
Clicking OK to load the files.

Photoshop creates a new document, and after a few seconds, the images are placed into it:

A new Photoshop document is created to hold the images
A new Photoshop document is created.

And in the Layers panel, each of your selected images appears on its own layer, with each layer named after the name of the file:

The Layers panel showing all images loaded as layers in Photoshop
The Layers panel showing each image on its own layer.

You can turn each layer on or off by clicking its visibility icon:

Clicking the layer visibility icons in Photoshop's Layers panel to show or hide the images
Use the visibility icons to show or hide layers.

How to place an image into a Photoshop document

So that's how to create a new Photoshop document and load multiple images into it. Now let's learn how to add more images to the document using the Place Embedded command.

In the Layers panel, I'll delete my "portrait" layer by dragging it down onto the trash bin:

Deleting a layer in Photoshop's Layers panel
Deleting one of the layers.

Step 1: Choose "Place Embedded"

To add a new image to your document, go up to the File menu and choose Place Embedded.

There is also a similar command called Place Linked which will simply link to the file on your computer. But to load the image directly into your document, choose Place Embedded:

Choosing the Place Embedded command in Photoshop
Going to File > Place Embedded.

Step 2: Select your image

Select the image you want to add to the document and then click Place.

I'll choose my portrait image:

Selecting the image to place into the Photoshop document
Selecting the image to place into the document.

Step 3: Accept and close Free Transform

Now before Photoshop places the image, it first opens the Free Transform command so you can resize the image if needed:

Photoshop opens the Free Transform command before placing the image into the document
Photoshop opens Free Transform before placing the image into the document.

But in most cases, you can just click the checkmark in the Options Bar to accept the current size and close Free Transform. You can also press the Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) key on your keyboard:

Clicking the checkmark to accept and close Free Transform
Clicking the checkmark.

The image is placed as a smart object

Photoshop places the image into the document. But notice in the Layers panel that the image appears not as a normal layer but as a smart object, indicated by the icon in the lower right of the thumbnail:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the image placed as a smart object
Photoshop places the image as a smart object.

Smart objects are very powerful. But they also have limitations, and the biggest one is that a smart object is not directly editable.

For example, I'll select the Rectangular Marquee Tool from the toolbar:

Selecting the Rectangular Marquee Tool in Photoshop's toolbar
Selecting the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

And then I'll drag out a selection around the woman's eyes:

Drawing a rectangular selection around part of the smart object in Photoshop
Selecting part of the smart object.

Related: How to use the new Object Selection Tool in Photoshop CC 2020

I'll invert the selection by going up to the Select menu and choosing Inverse:

Choosing the Inverse command from the Select menu in Photoshop
Going to Select > Inverse.

And then I'll delete everything around my initial selection by pressing the Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) key on my keyboard.

But instead of deleting part of the image, Photoshop displays a warning that it could not complete my request because the smart object is not directly editable. I'll click OK to close it:

Photoshop's warning that smart objects are not directly editable
Photoshop could not edit the smart object.

Related: Learn how to edit smart objects!

How to convert a smart object to a normal layer

So depending on what you'll be doing with the image, a smart object may not be what you want. In that case, you'll need to convert the smart object back into a normal layer after you've placed it into your document.

To do that, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) anywhere in the empty gray area beside the smart object's name:

Opening the contextual menu in Photoshop's Layers panel
Right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) in the empty area.

And then choose Rasterize Layer from the menu:

How to rasterize a smart object in Photoshop
Choosing the Rasterize Layer command.

The smart object icon disappears from the thumbnail, and we now have a normal pixel layer:

The smart object has been converted to a pixel layer in Photoshop
The smart object has been converted to a pixel layer.

If I press Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) on my keyboard, this time Photoshop deletes the selection as expected:

The selection was deleted after converting the smart object to a pixel layer in Photoshop
The selection was deleted after converting the smart object to a pixel layer.

How to make placing images into Photoshop faster

So now that we know how to place an image into a document, let's look at a few options in Photoshop's Preferences that can help you place images even faster.

To open the Preferences on a Windows PC, go up to the Edit menu. On a Mac, go up to the Photoshop menu. From there, choose Preferences and then General:

Opening Photoshop's General Preferences
Opening Photoshop's General Preferences.

Skip Transform when Placing

To prevent Photoshop from opening Free Transform every time you place an image, turn on the Skip Transform when Placing option:

The Skip Transform when Placing option in Photoshop's Preferences
The "Skip Transform when Placing" option.

Always Create Smart Objects when Placing

To stop Photoshop from automatically converting images into smart objects, turn off Always Create Smart Objects when Placing. You can always convert a layer to smart object yourself when you need to:

The Always Create Smart Objects when Placing option in Photoshop's Preferences
The "Always Create Smart Objects when Placing" option.

Resize Image During Place

And this third option won't speed things up but it's definitely worth looking at. By default, if you place an image into a document and the image is larger than the canvas size, Photoshop will automatically resize the image to fit the canvas. In other words, it will make your image smaller.

If that's not what you want, and you would rather resize images yourself using Free Transform, then uncheck Resize Image During Place. When you're done, click OK to close the Preferences dialog box:

The Resize Image During Place option in Photoshop's Preferences
The "Resize Image During Place" option.

Bonus: Blending the layers to create a double exposure

So we've learned how to load multiple images at once into a Photoshop document using the Load Files into Stack command, and how to add more images using the Place Embedded command. I'll finish off this tutorial by quickly blending my three images together to create a simple double exposure effect.

I'm starting with my portrait image at the top of the layer stack, which makes it the image that's visible in the document:

The original portrait image in the Photoshop document. Credit: Adobe Stock
The portrait image. Credit: Adobe Stock.

Moving the sunset layer above the portrait

In the Layers panel, I'll click on my sunset layer and drag it above the portrait layer:

Dragging the suneet layer above the portrait layer in Photoshop's Layers panel
Dragging the sunset above the portrait.

And now my sunset image is visible:

A sunset photo. Credit: Adobe Stock
The sunset image. Credit: Adobe Stock.

Changing the blend mode

To blend the sunset in with the portrait, I'll change the blend mode of the sunset layer from Normal to Screen:

Changing the blend mode of the sunset layer to Screen in Photoshop's Layers panel
Changing the layer's blend mode to Screen.

The Screen blend mode keeps the white areas of the portrait visible and reveals the sunset in the darker areas:

The result after changing the blend mode of the sunset layer to Screen in Photoshop
The result after changing the blend mode of the sunset layer to Screen.

Moving the texture layer above the sunset

Next, I'll drag my texture layer above the sunset layer:

Dragging the texture layer to the top of the layer stack in Photoshop's Layers panel
Dragging the texture layer to the top of the stack.

And now the texture image is visible:

A texture image. Credit: Adobe Stock
The texture image. Credit: Adobe Stock.

Changing the blend mode and layer opacity

To hide the dark areas of the texture and keep only the lighter areas, I'll change its blend mode to Screen.

I'll also lower the layer's Opacity down to around 70%:

Changing the blend mode and opacity of the texture image in Photoshop's Layers panel
Changing the blend mode and lowering the opacity of the texture.

And here's the result with the texture now blended into the effect:

The result after changing the blend mode of the sunset layer to Screen in Photoshop
The result after changing the blend mode of the sunset layer to Screen.

Related: Learn three easy ways to blend images in Photoshop!

Merging the layers onto a new layer

Finally, to add a bit more contrast to the effect, I'll merge all three layers onto a new layer above them by pressing Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E on a Windows PC, or Shift+Command+Option+E on a Mac:

Merging the existing layers onto a new layer in Photoshop's Layers panel
Merging the existing layers onto a new layer.

Learn more: The essential Photoshop layers power shortcuts!

Increasing the contrast

And then to increase the contrast, I'll go up to the Image menu and I'll choose Auto Contrast:

Selecting the Auto Contrast command in Photoshop
Going to Image > Auto Contrast.

And here is my final result:

A double exposure effect created in Photoshop
The final double exposure effect.

And there we have it!

Check out our Layers Learning Guide to learn more about layers, or our Photoshop Basics or Photo Effects section for more tutorials.


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