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Another basic concept of blending in Photoshop has to do with adjustment layers. The idea is that in addition to using an adjustment layer to modify the luminance or color of an image, you can blend that adjustment layer which has the effect of blending the entire image or composition with itself. Consider this photograph. It's called Friends on chairs.jpg, found inside the 01_intro folder; great energy, wonderful composition as well, but the image is a little washed out. Now there is an old technique that goes like this. You start with your background item here inside the Layers panel and then you press Ctrl+Alt+J or Command+Option+J on the Mac to bring up the New Layer dialog box.
Let's call this layer copy, click OK and now we have two copies of the image. Now if we were to assign a blend mode to that copy, we would effectively blend the image with itself and in our case, we need to darken up the image. So the most obvious example as you'll learn once we get into the Darken modes, is Multiply which is the when-in- doubt darkening mode inside Photoshop. Notice that we end up producing this effect here, which is absolutely great. We are keeping the detail inside of the shadows, we're darkening up the midtones quite nicely and we're doing so without losing any of the highlights.
However, here's the problem. Take a look at these values down here in the lower-left region of the window. You'll see that the original document size, the value before the slash was 6.52 megabytes and the value after the slash is 13 megabytes, it's that second value that's the problem. The second value, the one after the slash shows you how big the image is with all of its layers and so by virtue of the fact that we created this copy layer, we effectively doubled the size of the composition. We just don't have to do that. So what I am going to do is press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac in order to get rid of that copy and instead, we're going to do the exact same work with an adjustment layer.
So I'll go ahead and press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, drop down to the black-white icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Brightness/Contrast. Now really, you can choose anything from Brightness/Contrast down to Channel Mixer as long as you don't modify any of the settings. I tend to work with Brightness/Contrast, however, just because it's an obvious way to go. And because I had the Alt or Option key down that brings up the New Layer dialog box and I'll go ahead and call this layer dummy and then I'll click OK and that tells me that it's just an empty dummy layer, in other words, I haven't modified any of the settings, although I could later on if I wanted to.
Now I am going to double-click to the right of the word Masks in order to collapse the Adjustments panel and I'm going to change the Blend Mode of that adjustment layer to Multiply, and we'll get exactly the same effect. Now you might look at that and say well, that doesn't really make any sense, why does it happen? Why does applying a blend mode to emptiness give you anything? Well, the way Photoshop figures it is when you apply a blend mode to an adjustment layer, you're applying that blend mode to the overall composite image. So in this case, we're multiplying the original photograph by itself and as a result, we get the exact same effect we got a moment ago, except that if you drop down to these values, into the bottom-left corner of the window, you'll see that the first value is as before 6. 52 megabytes and the second value which represents the size of the image with layers is also 6.52 megabytes.
So we created a file that's going to be smaller in memory, more efficient and smaller in terms of file size as well. I'll give you another example here. I have this image called Low contrast butterfly.jpg, again found inside that 01_intro folder. I'll go ahead and once again press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, click the black-white icon, choose Brightness/Contrast, as I say it's my go-to adjustment for this kind of thing. Then I'll enter dummy as the layer name, click OK, go ahead and collapse the Adjustments panel. Whenever you see a washed out image, Multiply is a great place to start.
So I'll go ahead and click on the Blend Mode pop-up menu and choose Multiply in order to darken up that image. The problem is this time around, we are ending up with a pretty dark image and it seems to me that we're losing some of the spark associated with the highlights. So now if I were concerned the image is darkening up too much and I wanted to brighten it overall, then I could switch to the best of the Lighten modes, which is Screen, however that ends up giving us a very washed out effect indeed. What we need is a heightened contrast effect, so I'll go ahead and click in the pop-up menu once again.
This time I'll choose the foremost contrast mode which happens to be Overlay and we end up achieving this wonderful effect again without increasing the size of the file as you can see down here in the lower-left corner of the window. So this is the before version of the image and this is the after version; thanks to your ability to blend an entire image or composition with itself using adjustment layers.
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