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An adjustment layer affects the content of all layers beneath it. If you're building a file with lots of layers, sometimes you don't want to have your adjustment layer affect all the layers. Well, here's how to quickly limit an adjustment to just the layers you want it to affect by clipping one layer to another. In Photoshop CS4, clipping has become a one step easy operation, thanks to the addition of a new Clipping button in the Adjustments panel. I am going to be using a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment layer here, but this technique works with all adjustment layers.
You can see in the Layers panel that this file has two layers. On the top layer are these houses, and if I make that layer temporarily invisible by clicking the Eye icon, you will see that behind it is a photo of some mountains, and I just use that for the gray sky behind. What I want to do is brighten up the buildings on the houses layer, but not brighten up the sky on the layer below. I am going to add a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment layer from the Adjustments panel by clicking the Brightness/Contrast icon.
You can see the new Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer down here in the Layers panel and the controls for that adjustment here in the Adjustments panel. It's really pretty simple. If you drag the Brightness slider to the right, it increases the brightness of the entire image. And if you drag the Contrast slider to the right, you increase the contrast between the light areas and the dark areas. By the way, if you have been using Photoshop for a long time, you may have heard not to use the Brightness/Contrast adjustment. That was true in the past, when this particular adjustment often clipped the highlights and the shadow areas of images.
But that was fixed in the last version of Photoshop, Photoshop CS3. So it's fine to use the Brightness/ Contrast adjustment in Photoshop CS4 too. So now my adjustment is affecting not only what's on the houses layer, but also what's on the sky layer below, and I really don't want to brighten the sky. All I have to do is make sure that my Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer is selected here in the Layers panel and then go to the bottom of the Adjustment panel and click this icon, the one that looks like a black and white circle, and that clips the Adjustment layer to the houses layer below, preventing it from reaching down to the sky layer at the bottom of the layers stack.
You can see that the adjustment layer is clipped to the layer below it because it is indented and it now has this down-facing arrow on it. I could add more adjustment layers on top of this one and clip them to one another just the same way. If I want to unclip the adjustment layer, I just make sure it's selected and I click the Clipping icon one more time. You may remember from previous versions of Photoshop that to make this happen, you had to move your mouse over the border between the adjustment layer and the layer below, hold down the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC, and then click.
You can still do it that way if you like, but having this new Clipping button right here makes this a really easy one-click operation.
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