We've played with Levels and Hue adjustment Layers to change the overall contrast, brightness and colour of our images, so now lets explore what happens when we vary the blend mode of those layers.
Here's a simple before and after of a shot improved with different blend modes:
Fire up Elements or Photoshop, open up your image, and apply a new levels adjustment layer (the little circle with black and white in it, at the bottom of the layers palette).
In my image there's a pretty clear black point near the middle of the flower, so I grab the black point colour checker and sample in the bit that should be black. You may have a true black, white or grey point, so use the colour pickers to set those points. Remember, if you're not happy with the change, simply press your "alt" key, and "cancel" will turn to "reset", so you can start again.
Adjust the black, middle and white point sliders to add a little more contrast. When you're happy press OK.
Before we go any further, a quick explanation of layers and blend modes. Layers are like simple clear plastic acetates that we put over our starting image, so we can make changes that are editable and don't ruin the original.
The real clever bit is that we can change how those layers interact or "blend" with each other - we can have "normal" where its a simple adjustment, or "luminosity" where our adjustment layer only works on the brightness, not the colours (important for faces or colour-critical photos.)
Where we can get artistic is with some of the other blend modes - in this photo I'm going to change the levels adjustment layer blend mode to "overlay". Look for the blend modes drop-down box at the top of the layers palette, then select "overlay":
Wow! What a great change, and so simple to do.
Another cool thing about adjustment layers is that you don't have to play with the sliders to have an effect - just change the blend mode, but you can go back and change things if you want to.
Also remember that we can change the opacity of the adjustment layer (top right of the layers palette) to tone down the effect.
Let's apply a hue / saturation adjustment layer, and change the blend mode to soft-light:
This is probably too strong, so I can adjust the strength by changing the opacity of the layer.
I'm not happy with the loss of detail in the middle of the flower, so we're going to paint on the layer mask, to hide the adjustments. (Don't panic - its simple!)
A layer mask is automatically added to each adjustment layer - its that white box to the right of the icons in the layers palette:
When a layer mask is white, it allows the adjustment layer to effect the image below. If its black, it blocks the effect of the layer mask. To show this, select the layer mask by clicking it, then press "ctrl I" on your keyboard - the layer mask with turn black, and the image will change. Press ctrl I again to get the layer mask back to white.
So, if we select the paint brush tool, make sure the foreground colour is black, then click on each layer mask and paint black where the centre of the flower is in the photo (not on the layer mask in the pallete!), we can block the adjustment layers effects, and let the original image shine through:
How cool is that!
So, next time you apply an adjustment layer in Photoshop or Elements, whether it be levels, contrast, curves, hue, etc, try a different blend mode - you'll be amazed by the richness and saturation you can achieve.