RSS & Email Feeds - The Easy Way To Keep Up To Date With The Blog


Tech Podcast Network
« The Power Of Local Adjustments: Layer Masks In Photoshop And Elements | Main | Photowalk 29 - Early Morning At Priddys Hard »

Achieve More Richness and Saturation Through Layers Blend Modes In Photoshop and Elements

Ultra VioletLayers are the most powerful tool in Photoshop and Elements - they allow non-destructive editing that can be tweaked and changed until you're happy, with no worries about damaging the original image.

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.

Thanks, Rob.

References (5)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (2)

Great tutorial, I'm off to try this right now. I have never been able to make any sense out of the Blend Mode names. Do they really mean anything?

May 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Waldo

Hi Paul,

A few of the blend mode names relate back to film processing - the easiest way to learn them is by playing around with images and by seeing how different blends change your image, or different parts of it, especially if you mask out the parts you don't want.

Cheers, Rob.

May 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.