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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's a nice picture of the fall colors in beautiful Seattle and, of course, it was a rainy morning. I want to make these raindrops pop off the leaf. I want them to be really, really sharp. So, of course, we're going to use our sharpening ability in Photoshop to make these water drops have a little bit more depth and be a little bit crisper. As usual, what we'll typically do when we do any kind of filter in Photoshop is you duplicate the layer first, so you protect your original, Command+J, Ctrl+J, and there is a duplicate layer. Now, when you sharpen an image, let's talk about that real quick. Sharpening is increasing the contrast of edge pixels. Now Photoshop thinks an edge is a light pixel next to a dark pixel. It doesn't really know anything else is an edge. So it doesn't necessarily know that this edge of the leaf, meaning in real life that's an actual edge, as we perceive it, is the actual edge. It just knows that is a dark pixel next to a light pixel.
So when you increase the sharpness, you're making the dark half of an edge darker, and the light half an edge lighter. So you're increasing the contrast of edge pixels. Now there are lots of different ways to sharpen an image here, let's go to Filter > Sharpen and we'll use Unsharp Mask. I'm just going to go with an exaggerate Amount. You'll see what the problem is right away, hopefully, you're seeing that the sharpening is producing some halos. We'll take a look at that little area right there. You can see the dark half of the edge is getting darker; the light half is getting lighter. Overall the image is getting sharper, but I'm introducing these artifacts. I'm going to go ahead and go with this value, 200%, 1 and 4 for the Amount, Radius and Threshold and click OK, because I want to reinforce how blend modes can actually help you with sharpening.
So if you remember what happens when you sharpen an image, you're increasing the contrast of edge pixels. What we need to be able to do is split the result of that sharpening up into its component parts. So there is the dark part of the edge and there is the light part of the edge, and if we could split the edges, we could control the each one separately. I could keep the darkening part of that edge, but maybe downplay the lightening part of it, so that I don't get such a strong halo. So let's rename this Layer 1 to Darken and that's your clue there that if I choose the Darken blend mode, that's only going to keep the dark stuff.
It's going to ignore the light stuff, because you remember, the Darken group ignores white. So if I choose the Darken blend mode, and look at that, all those light halos, those white halos disappear. They go away as if they are transparent. If I turn the Darken layer off, there is before and there is after. You can see the image actually already look sharper. If all I do is the dark half of the edge enhancement, my image does look sharper. Now I do want to have a little bit of a pop on the highlights. So to do that, we're going to duplicate the Darken layer, Command+J, Ctrl+J.
It's now called Darken copy. Let's rename this. What do you think we're going to name it? That's right, Lighten, the opposite of Darken. Because if I change the blend mode now from Darken to Lighten, I'm going to get the light half of the edge back. So now I can control that separately. If that's too strong, which I think it is, I then can just lower the Opacity of the Lighten layer. To do that, I just need to have my Move tool selected. So V for the Move tool and I'm just going to type a number to lower the Opacity. I'm going to start with say 30%. So I'm just going to type a 3.
So, let me turn the layer off, the Lighten layer, there with no highlight adjustment. Turn it back on. You can see I'm getting a little bit of a bump there. If I take it back to 100% by pressing 0, you can see it's really severe. So, by splitting the edges of sharpening, you can control the dark half separate from the light half. Well, it's simple as duplicating a layer, running the sharpen on that duplicate, changing that blend mode to Darken for that layer, duplicate that, change the blend mode to Lighten. And now you have a way to control both the light half and the dark half of the edge independently through the power of blend modes.
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