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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.
So here is a great shot taken by one of our producers here at lynda.com, Carmel, California. And it's really nice, it's got great color, but I think we can just do a few things to make it really pop. One of the things that a photographer has in their bag of tricks is they have something called graduated density filters or graduated neutral density filters. These are literally pieces of glass that are graduated from dark to light on the surface of the glass, and you can hold that in front of your lens to change the contrast of the picture you are taking.
Most common use of a graduated filter is to darken the sky, when you are shooting a landscape scene like this. Well the cool thing is that Photoshop has this concept of graduated neutral density filters as well, after the fact and they are much more versatile inside Photoshop of course. So let's play around with these. Let's go ahead and begin first by just making the image pop a little bit in color. We are going to use one of the new adjustment layers in Photoshop CS4 called Vibrance. Look at our Adjustments panel and then I click on the Vibrance adjustment and we are just going to push up the Saturation of some of these muted colors. Just to make it more of the sunset color palette there in the scene.
So I just pump that up a bit and make those colors pop and get some more orange into the water. But we still want that blue sky to be a little bit darker and moodier, have a little bit more contrast, maybe darken the foreground as well. So let's close the Adjustments panel here by collapsing it and we are going to create a new adjustment. Down the bottom of the Layers panel, the little black and white cookie icon is what I call it, the Adjustment Layer menu. Towards the very top is the Gradient adjustment layer, I'm going to go ahead and choose that. And it brings up a Gradient Fill. Now at first it's looking like it's making the image look worse. That's okay. We'll play around with some of the options here.
If you are following along, you want to make sure that your Gradient is from black to transparent. You can click on little pop menu. It's the second one from the left. The default is black to white; you want the black to transparent. And we'll double-click to make that active. For Style, this is one of the great things about Photoshop digital version of these, Linear just means from light to dark in the angle that you specify. So the default is 90 degree, so it's light at the top and dark at the bottom. If you want to lighten both the top of the image and the bottom of the image at the same time or darken the top and the bottom at the same time, you can choose a different style. Instead of Linear change it to Reflected and here you'll see you get a dark strip in the middle, where it's light at the top and the bottom.
Now this is actually doing the opposite of what I want. I don't want it dark in the middle. I want to keep the middle light and bright and darken the top and bottom. So I'm going to choose the Reverse check box and you'll see I'm getting much closer now to what I want. This is looking pretty good. Now I can also Scale this gradient. If I want to widen the gap in the center so that more of it is left alone, I can use the Scale slider. Now Photoshop has this concept called scrubby sliders. And I'm going to hold down the Command key or the Ctrl key and you'll see when I put my mouse over the 100%, holding down that modifier key, I get a little special cursor, the scrubby slider cursor. And that just makes it easier instead of having to deal with this pop-up slider. I can just click on the number, holding that key down, Control on Windows, Command on Mac, and just drag to the right to scale up or down this particular gradient. So I'm just opening that up so more of the center of the image is exposed through this graduated density filter.
All right, so let's go ahead and I'm going to click OK. Now the problem though is that I'm adding black to the image. I don't want to darken the colors with black. I want them to be get richer in their own color. So I want this to be a darker blue, not black. So what we need to do? We need to change our blend mode. What blend mode is going to ignore gray and darken the dark pixels and lighten the light pixels? That would be Overlay, right, one of those contrast blend modes. Really with this technique you can choose any of these different blend modes within the contrast group. We'll start with Overlay. Oh, wow, see? Look at that pop, the blue sky looks great and looks moody. I've got real nice pretty blue there.
But now I can play around and choose a different blend mode if I wish. I have my Move tool selected. If you don't, you press the V key for move and then you do a Shift+Plus and Shift+Minus. So Shift+Plus will go to the next blend mode in the list and look that's Soft Light. It's just a little bit softer, as the name implies, than Overlay. If I do Shift+Minus I go back to Overlay, and I can kind of see the difference before and after. So there's Overlay, there is Soft Light. Overlay, Soft Light. Let's take it one step further and take it to Hard Light and you could see it's a completely different look and feel. Shift+Plus to Vivid Light and if you really want a strong mood, then Linear Light. And last in the group is Hard Mix.
That does a little bit of posterization. So I tend to not use that blend mode very often. I don't like that it's posterizing it. So we are just going to cycle through them. I'm going to do Shift+Minus to go backwards within the list and I'm probably going to settle on Overlay because that's what I wanted to start with to begin with. So let's do a before and after. Let's real quickly and easily do that by Shift-clicking on the two layers to select them and then grouping them. Command+G or Ctrl+G on Windows will put them in a group. And now I can just click on the one eye to see the before and the after. So that's how you can use graduated density filters. The trick is to create a Gradient adjustment layer and set the blend mode of that adjustment layer to Overlay and then you can reposition the Gradient anywhere you want and mask it, do whatever you want to. Lower the opacity if the strength is too strong, whatever. Very handy tip and it can really make your images pop and look beautiful.
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