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Adjustments using Photoshop Layers

Photoshop Layers is one of the most powerful tools in both Photoshop and Photoshop elements. With the advent of Photoshop elements 9 we saw new features in layers that were previously only found in the full version of Photoshop.

Photoshop layers is usually something most users place in the reserve in the to learn later box, but by doing so they are missing out on some really powerful editing features.

To show what can be done by a few simple adjustments using Photoshop layers here is a before image of a view towards the Cairngorms. You will see that the image is slightly over exposed and the sky is a bit blown as a result of shooting at too close an angle to the sun.

Example image - aligned to the right

And here is the after image. All the processing was done with a few simple steps using adjustment layers.

Example image - aligned to the right

Using multiply as a duplicate layer adjustment

The first step is to open the image in Photoshop then click LAYER > DUPLICATE LAYER and then click OK.

Example image - aligned to the right

This creates a new layer called Background Layer. Normally we would rename it. This is especially a good idea if you are working with lots of layers but for this tutorial we will stick with Background layer.

Now that we have a duplicate layer open, in the layers palet click the drop down menu and select MULTIPLY

This has the effect of darkening the image by the equivalent of about 2-3 F stops. The image here was too dark with the opacity at 100% and so the opacity was reduced to 30% - the equivalent of about 1 stop. Once that is done we now select LAYER > FLATTEN IMAGE and we are now back to a single layer.

Although we are going to do further work on this image, as detailed below, I should point out that there is actually no need to flatten the image at this stage. We could simply continue with the following adjustments and then flatten the image when we have completed the entire set of adjustments. The reason I have kept the adjustments separate is highlight the effect of multiply, which could be all the adjustment required is some cases.

Using Soft Light with a new layer adjustment

Example image - aligned to the right

The first step is to click on the New Layer icon at the foot of the layers palet or select new layer from the Photoshop menu bar. A blank layer called layer 1 is created directly above the background image.

Click on the gradient tool in the Photoshop toolbar then select the FOREGROUND TO TRANSPARENT gradient. The section of the gradient is usually located just in from the top left of the screen. The gradient colours should be set to black and white, if this is not the case click the black/white box just below the Set Color icon at the foot of the main toolbar.

Once the gradient tool is selected, drag a line from the top to the bottom of the image to mark the gradient position.

Now select SOFT LIGHT using the layers palet drop down menu bar.

In many cases this will be enough to correct the sky exposure. Adjust the luminosity as required.

If more adjustments are required continue as detailed below.

Using Overlay with a new layer adjustment

Example image - aligned to the right

Should the image require further adjustment of the sky then click on the New Layer icon at the foot of the layers palet or select new layer from the Photoshop menu bar. A blank layer called layer 1 is created directly above the background image.

Click on the gradient tool in the Photoshop toolbar then select the FOREGROUND TO TRANSPARENT gradient once more. The section of the gradient is usually located just in from the top left of the screen.

Once the gradient tool is selected, once again drag a line from the top to the bottom of the image to mark the gradient position.

Now select SOFT LIGHT using the layers palet drop down menu bar.

In many cases this will be enough to correct the sky exposure. Adjust the luminosity as required.

The image is almost complete now only one last part to do.

Using adjustment layers in Photoshop

Example image - aligned to the right

Continuing on from the step above. Select an adjustment layer by clicking on the adjustment icon (shaped like a ball with one half shaded in dark grey). From the drop down menu box select HUE and SATURATION. The image can now be adjusted in the MASTER mode (highlighted with the red pencil) or you can adjust individual colours using the drop down menu box.

Once you have a completed image, click on the layers blending modes (highlighted by the blue pencil) and select opacity. Adjust the saturation and watch what happens. Opacity is a very useful tool just to give a brighter sharpening effect.

Now we are almost finished, we can click on the eye symbol on each layer and view the effect it has.

Once you are happy with the image flatten the image (select LAYER > FLATTEN IMAGE) and sage the image.

Main layer adjustment modes

Darken Layer Group

The principle modes in this group are Multiply, and Darken. Other modes like Color Burn, Linear Burn, and Darker Color are also part of this group but they are more specialist and not used as often.

Lighten Layer Group

The main mode in this group is Lighten. Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, and Lighter Color are the more specialist modes.

Overlay Layer Group

The Overlay, Soft light followed by Hard light are the most important modes of operation in this group. Vivid Light, Linear Light, Pin Light and Hard Mix again are more specialist and seldom used modes

Color and Luminosity Layer Group

The last blend mode in this group, Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity all have something to do with either the color or luminosity and are usually used when making final touches to your images using Photoshop Layers.

Luminosity is the exact opposite of the Color mode. Whereas the Color mode blends the colors of a layer while ignoring lightness values Luminosity blends the lightness values and ignores the color information.