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Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer

From: Photoshop Elements 11 Essentials: 02 Editing and Retouching Photos

Video: Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer

Often when you're shooting landscapes, you'll end up with a photo like this that looks good in one area, but that needs an adjustment in another. Here I'm happy with the exposure of the sky. There is lots of beautiful detail in these clouds. But I think the foreground looks kind of dull, and it really needs some more contrast. So I'll use a Levels adjustment layer to add contrast to the foreground. I'm going to show you how you can limit that adjustment so it doesn't affect the sky part of this image. To do that, I'll go up to the Create Adjustment Layer icon at the top of the Layers panel, and I'll choose Levels.

Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer

Often when you're shooting landscapes, you'll end up with a photo like this that looks good in one area, but that needs an adjustment in another. Here I'm happy with the exposure of the sky. There is lots of beautiful detail in these clouds. But I think the foreground looks kind of dull, and it really needs some more contrast. So I'll use a Levels adjustment layer to add contrast to the foreground. I'm going to show you how you can limit that adjustment so it doesn't affect the sky part of this image. To do that, I'll go up to the Create Adjustment Layer icon at the top of the Layers panel, and I'll choose Levels.

That adds a new Levels Adjustment Layer, and it opens the Levels controls. As I showed you in an earlier movie about using a Levels Adjustment layer, I can increase contrast by setting a new black point, and a new white point. I'm going to take the Blacks slider, and I'm going to drag it in under this mound of black pixels. I'll take the Whites Slider, and I'll do the same thing. Then, I might adjust the midpoint by dragging that slightly over to the left to lighten the photo. I really like what that's doing in the foreground of the photo.

But look what's happened to the clouds. I've now lost all that beautiful detail in the brightest parts of the clouds. So let's limit this adjustment to just the foreground of the image. I can close my Levels dialog box, and I'm going to come up to the Levels Adjustment Layer. I'll make sure that I have the white layer mask on that layer surrounded in blue-- which means that it's highlighted-- and I'm going to add black paint to this layer mask to hide part of the adjustment from the image. There are three ways to add black paint here. I could go over to the toolbox, get the Brush tool, make sure that my foreground color is set to black, and then start painting on the Layer Mask.

And wherever I'm painting on the layer mask with black paint, I'm hiding my Levels Adjustment. That would work well if I just had a small area to cover, but I want to cover the whole sky here. So, I'm looking for a faster method. I can see that there is a good edge between the sky and the mountains, so I'm going to try to select the sky and then fill the selected area with black on this layer mask. I'll get the Quick Selection tool from the Toolbox. I'll come into the image, and I'm just going to click-and-drag over the sky. I can see that I've included a bit of the mountains in the selection too.

So as I showed you how to do in an earlier movie about the Quick Selection tool, I'll go down to the options for the Quick Selection tool at the bottom of the workspace, and I'll choose Subtract from Selection. And then I'll come in and run my cursor over the areas that I want to subtract from the initial selection. If I go too far and mistakenly remove part of the sky from the selection, I'll go back to the Add to Selection option, and I'll paint the selection back over that area of sky. Now that I have the sky selected, I'll make sure that I still have the Layer Mask on the Levels Adjustment Layer selected, and I'll fill that selection with black by going up to the Edit Menu, and choosing Fill Selection.

In the Fill Layer dialog box that opens, I'll go to the Use Menu, and I'm going to use Black and click OK. Now, if you take a look at that Layer Mask, you can see that it's filled in with black in the area of the selection. And that black paint on the Layer Mask is hiding my Levels Adjustment from the sky. So now the only part of the image that's being affected by that Levels Adjustment is the foreground. I'm going to press Ctrl+D on my keyboard-- that's Command+D on a Mac keyboard--to deselect, and there is the resulting image.

To compare a before and after view, I'll click the eye icon on the Levels Adjustment Layer. So that's where I started, and that's where I am now with just the foreground adjusted. Now there is one more way to add black paint to a Layer Mask like this. If I wanted to soften the edge between the part of the adjustment that's applied in the part that's hidden, I could use a Black to White Gradient. To show you that, I'll undo: pressing Ctrl+Z--Command+Z on the Mac-- several times until I no longer have a selection in the sky.

Now my Layer Mask will look white. This time, I'm going to go to the toolbox and get the Gradient tool. I'll make sure that the Foreground color box is set to black, and the background color box to white in the toolbar. Then I'll take a look at the options for the Gradient tool. I should see a Black to White Gradient here in this Gradient field in the options. If you don't see that, then click inside of the Gradient, and that will open the Gradient Editor, and choose this first preset, the Foreground to Background preset, and click OK. Now I'm going to come into the image, and starting at the top, I'm going to drag down to add a Black to White Gradient to the Layer Mask on the Levels Adjustment Layer.

If I don't like the result, I can just draw that again. This time maybe I'll drag the line longer. The height and the direction of the line that I draw determines where this adjustment is going to be hidden, and where it's going to appear in the image. Just to show you what the gradient looks like on that Layer Mask, I'm going to hold the Alt key--that's the Option key on the Mac--and that will reveal the gradient here in the document window. So where the gradient is black I'm hiding my Levels Adjustment, and then the Levels Adjustment is gradually appearing until it's completely displayed down here in the area of the mountains.

I'll Alt or Option+Click again on that Layer Mask thumbnail to bring us back to the original view of the image. So, that's how you can use the Layer Mask that comes with every adjustment layer to limit the part of a photo to which an adjustment is applied.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 6m 14s
    1. Welcome
      1m 10s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 30s
    3. Overview of the editing workspaces
      3m 34s
  2. 43m 14s
    1. Touring the interface
      4m 21s
    2. Making the most of the tools in Elements
      4m 6s
    3. Arranging the panels
      4m 32s
    4. Zooming and panning
      4m 3s
    5. Viewing multiple photos
      3m 51s
    6. Undoing
      5m 15s
    7. Cropping
      3m 46s
    8. Resizing
      7m 18s
    9. Saving images and examining formats
      6m 2s
  3. 19m 23s
    1. Understanding layers
      7m 59s
    2. Managing layers in the Layers panel
      4m 33s
    3. Creating new layers
      6m 51s
  4. 38m 28s
    1. Why use selections?
      4m 20s
    2. Selecting with the marquee tools
      3m 56s
    3. Selecting with the lasso tools
      6m 40s
    4. Selecting by color and tone
      6m 22s
    5. Refining a selection
      4m 51s
    6. Selecting hair
      5m 42s
    7. Hiding content with a layer mask
      6m 37s
  5. 46m 54s
    1. Why use adjustment layers?
      5m 15s
    2. Adjusting color with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
      4m 32s
    3. Correcting lighting with a Levels adjustment layer
      3m 32s
    4. Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer
      5m 19s
    5. Exploring auto adjustments
      3m 55s
    6. Improving shadows and highlights
      2m 14s
    7. Removing a color cast
      1m 47s
    8. Fine-tuning with Color Curves
      3m 16s
    9. Converting to black and white
      2m 26s
    10. Correcting camera distortion
      5m 32s
    11. Reducing noise
      2m 56s
    12. Sharpening
      6m 10s
  6. 20m 51s
    1. Creating a panorama
      5m 6s
    2. Merging bracketed exposures
      6m 0s
    3. Removing people from a scene
      5m 25s
    4. Combining group shots
      4m 20s
  7. 29m 24s
    1. Removing blemishes
      3m 42s
    2. Reducing wrinkles and circles
      4m 16s
    3. Enhancing eyes
      5m 19s
    4. Removing red-eye
      3m 15s
    5. Adjusting skin tone
      2m 21s
    6. Removing dust spots
      4m 7s
    7. Removing content
      6m 24s
  8. 52m 36s
    1. What is Camera Raw?
      5m 18s
    2. Using the latest Camera Raw controls
      3m 16s
    3. Camera Raw basics
      6m 22s
    4. Making use of the histogram
      3m 45s
    5. Setting white balance
      3m 44s
    6. Adjusting lighting
      4m 28s
    7. Adjusting color saturation
      2m 9s
    8. Cropping and straightening
      3m 58s
    9. Reducing noise
      3m 33s
    10. Sharpening
      3m 38s
    11. Synchronizing edits to multiple photos
      3m 36s
    12. Outputting from Camera Raw
      6m 14s
    13. Using Camera Raw with JPEGs
      2m 35s
  9. 48s
    1. Next steps
      48s

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