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One of my favorite times of the year and favorite places to be in Seattle is spring time, specifically the cherry- blossoms on the University of Washington campus. This is a shot of one of those trees up close, and the problem though is that the image doesn't quite capture the intensity and warmth of those particular cherry tree blossoms. So, I want to boost the contrast and make those colors pop, and really make this image look a little bit more dynamic. Now, of course, there are lots of different ways to do that. You can use Curves, and Levels, and Hue/ Saturation, and all sorts of different adjustment layers to improve the overall color and tonal quality of this image, but I want to teach you a way to use blending modes to do this.
So, to begin, we're going to go ahead and duplicate this layer. We're going to go ahead and just drag it down to the New layer icon in the Layers panel, or I can do Command or Ctrl+J to call it Background copy. I'm going to go ahead and double-click on that name and call this Blur Glow. And as the name implies, we're going to go ahead and use one of our favorite filters, the Gaussian Blur Filter. We go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. I'm going to use a pretty high amount. Let's go with 15 pixels. That looks good. You can make it 10, 15, 20. It doesn't really matter. What you're trying to do is just diffuse the details and get a nice, soft blur here on this particular layer.
Now, what I can do is, with my Move tool selected, press the V if it's not already active. I can play around just by changing the transparency of this particular layer. So, if I press the number 5, I get a kind of soft, diffused glow here, but it still doesn't have the contrast and the pop I'm looking for. All I've done is taken a Blur version of this particular original layer and blended it back down on top of itself. What I want to do is make these colors pop and increase the contrast. So, what I'm going to do is go to the blending mode list in the Layers panel and choose one of those contrast blend modes.
The first one to choose is Overlay. I'm going to go ahead and choose Overlay. Now you can see what I mean. It's really making those colors a lot more saturated, and it's increased the contrast of those particular pixels as well. Now it's not 100% intense, because we had lowered the Opacity of that layer to 50%. So, I'm going to press 0 on the keyboard, because I still have my Move tool active to increase the Opacity of the Blur Glow layer. Now, you can see it's really popping and looking really great. As a little bonus though, there is a problem with this particular image.
Now I'm losing too much detail in the center of that flower. There is actually a third type of Blending tool available to you inside Photoshop. There is the Opacity, which we talked about already. There is the Blending mode, and then there is also the Advanced Blending sliders. What I want to be able to do is not lose so much detail in the center of this flower, in the shadow areas. Now, yes, I could add a layer mask to the Blur Glow layer, get my Paintbrush tool, and paint out the center of the flower on that layer mask, but that's just too much work.
I don't want to actually do that. So, instead, I'm going to take advantage of the secret layer mask built into every single layer inside Photoshop. To get there, you just double-click on the thumbnail of the layer in the Layers panel. This brings up the Layer Style dialog box. You may have seen this before, when you've added things like Drop Shadows, or Glows, or Strokes, or whatever. At the top of the list over here on the left though are the Blending Options. And then in the center of the dialog, specifically, are the Blend If sliders. What we want to do is move this Black slider where it says This layer.
We want to move it over to the right. What we're telling Photoshop to do is punch a hole in all the dark areas of this layer and make them go transparent. Now there are 256 shades of Gray in a particular channel, in this case the Gray Channel where all the detail is, and what we've told Photoshop is every pixel that has a total value of zero, which are the absolute blacks to 74, so 0 through 74, you should just pretend you don't exist. You are transparent.
To kind of show this off a little bit better, I'm going to go ahead and click OK, and turn off the Background layer. You can see I've literally punched a hole through those dark areas on this Blur Glow layer, and made them go transparent without actually having to paint anything on a layer mask. So, let's go ahead and double-click on that layer again to reopen the Layer Style dialog box, and you can see that slider remembers where it was last left. So, you've just learned this is a nondestructive edit. You're never damaging anything. You can always go back and adjust the slider again to bring those pixels back.
Now there is a problem here. When I take this back to say 70, I'm getting a very hard transition between opaque and transparent. It's just a line in the sand, so to speak, where it's punching a hole at a specific value. What I want to do is create a blend between opaque and transparent. I want to create a nice feathered edge, a soft transition zone between on and off. To do that, what you need to do is split the slider. You can see there is a little, tiny white line between down the center of this slider.
To split these into two separate sliders, you hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on Windows, and that lets you split apart these two sliders. You can see now I can create a nice soft transition zone between opaque and transparent. Now to actually see this in action, let's go ahead and click OK and turn back on the Background layer. We'll go ahead and double-click on the Blur Glow thumbnail again. Now I can play around with just how much shadow detail I want to cover up with this Blur Glow set to Overlay, or how much of the original detail I want to bring back by punching a hole through those dark areas in the particular image.
So, 50 to 117 for this particular image. That's looking about right, go ahead and click OK. Here is before, where we started; here is after, where we ended up. Again, all we did was duplicate the layer, blur it a certain amount, change the Blend mode to Overlay, and then we double-clicked on the thumbnail to bring up the Blend If sliders to limit where that effect was taking place in either the dark or light areas of the particular image.
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