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The blend modes in Photoshop offer incredible creative options for designers and photographers wanting to enhance images. In Photoshop Blend Mode Magic, Michael Ninness shows Photoshop users how to access and apply blend modes efficiently to achieve an aesthetic vision. He explains the building blocks of layer blending and demonstrates how blend modes can be used for color correction, sharpening, blending images together, adding dramatic glow, applying custom edge treatments, and many other creative effects. Michael also introduces advanced blending options for more experienced Photoshop users. Most of all, he demystifies this essential feature in plain, easy-to-understand terms and inspires photographers to use blend modes in ways they may have never considered before. Exercise files accompany the course.
Here is an image that needs a little bit of tonal correction, it's a little bit too dark on the outside edges here, and little hot spots or the lights could be a little bit brighter as well. One thing you may not have realized when you are doing tonal correction to an image is that you can actually introduce false saturation, when you are doing something like Levels or Curves or any of the other type of adjustments that you might make. Instead of just opening up the detail of the image or affecting the detail, you are also affecting the color when you are using something like Levels or Curves. Let me show what I'm talking about. So I'm going to go to the Adjustments panel and we'll just do a Levels adjustment to get things started here, and we are just going to bring the sliders in, when we go right sliders to the left here, the white slider.
And we'll open up the midtones just a little bit. And sure, that looks good there. I am going to zoom up to Actual Pixels. Command+1 or Ctrl+1 and what we are going to do is take a look at the color values here by changing the blend mode. So this is the Normal blend mode, meaning just take this 100% Opaque layer and blend it down to the layer underneath. If we change the blend mode to Luminosity, what ends up happening is that the tonal adjustment you are making is only happening to the detail of the image, not the color of the image. I'm going to just quickly Undo and Redo this, Command+Z, Ctrl+Z and pay attention to, say, the eye or one of the feathers or the blue of his chest and neck here.
So Command+Z, Undo, and Command+Z again, Redo. Do you see the difference? When you have the Normal blend mode turned on, you are really seeing the blues get bumped up, increasing their saturation and the greens as well. Now that may be what you want. That's fine, but if you don't want to introduce a false saturation to your images when you are just trying to do tonal correction in the details, meaning the grayscale data of the image, then you might consider changing your blend mode to Luminosity when you make these adjustment layers. So things like Curves, Levels, any of the other adjustment layers that you might be using.
Now for this particular image, I want to kind of go on a tangent and show you another bonus tip here. I'm going to delete the Levels layers. I'm going to go ahead and hit the Delete key after selecting the layer. Since this image is really dark in certain areas and not bright enough in other areas, it really means two different kinds of correction I need to focus on. I need the shadows and the highlights. So sometimes I find that using Shadow/ Highlight, the actual image adjustment called Shadow/Highlight, is a much better tool because it lets me address both at the same time as oppose to having to create different Levels adjustments and masking them off and what not.
So let's go, look for our Shadow/ Highlight adjustment layer. Hmmm. Yeah, it's a trick question; it doesn't exist. If you go to the bottom of the Layers panel to the Adjustment Layer icon here as well, again, I do not see Shadow/Highlight available. Well, if I go to Image > Adjustments, there it is, the Shadow/Highlights. But this is a destructive command; it's actually affecting the pixels on the layer. So what you want to do is a trick here. If you want to make Shadow/Highlights adjustment non-destructively, you need to convert your image to a Smart Object first. Now we know that about Smart Filters where you can apply Smart Filters to Smart Objects, and layer adjustments are always non-destructive, but Shadow/Highlight can be that way to if you just convert this.
So I'm going to right-click on the Background layer and say Convert to Smart Object. It turns to Layer 0, I'm going to go ahead and rename this Peacock, and we'll go back to Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlights and you'll see, it's still available. Everything else is grade out because you can't apply these adjustments to a Smart Object but for Shadow/Highlights, you can. I'm going to choose Shadow/Highlights and we are just going to play with these settings a little bit. I'll bring the Amount just down a little bit and make the Tonal Width down a little a bit and the Radius up.
Again, these values are different for every single image. I'm just looking visually to what I think looks good for this particular example. I'm just bumping up the Highlights a little bit and toning them down, and I'm going to do a little bit Midtone Contrast as well, pretty good. And I think I can even make this just a little bit lighter in the darks, like so. Okay, good enough. Go ahead and click OK. The good news, again, if it's not perfect because it's a non-destructive filter now on top of the Smart Objects, you can always go, double-click on Shadow/ Highlights and just adjust the sliders later on.
Now because it is a Smart Filter, Smart Filters can also have their blend modes changed as well. So let's zoom in again, Command+1. I'm going to pan around just holding on the Spacebar to see a representative area like this. If you double-click on the little slider icon to the right of the Smart Filter name, I'm going to double-click on that. That brings up the Blending Options for this Smart Filter. And just like we saw earlier, I'm going to change the blend mode from Normal to Luminosity. So there the false saturation isn't happening anymore. This Shadow/Highlights is only impacting the grayscale data, the detail of the image as oppose to saturating the color.
So here is before, here is after. We are just turning the Preview on and off so that you can see Normal blend mode versus Luminosity blend mode. So it's a little geeky kind of, I promised not to be geeky in this title but just a nice little tip there; when you don't want to introduce false saturation, change your adjustments. Use your adjustment layers or your Smart Filter adjustments to the Luminosity blend mode to restrict the tonal corrections to just the detail of the image and not the color.
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