First and foremost, I’d like to thank TipSquirrel.com for asking me to come back and present another series of tutorials for you! [Welcome back Mike! (TS)]
For the next several weeks, I’ll be working through some of the weird and mysterious capabilities of Photoshop: the blending modes. We’ll see how they can be applied to layers to change their appearance, and we’ll explore the nooks and crannies where blend modes are scattered throughout Photoshop. Although seemingly mysterious, the blend modes are actually easy to understand, and even simpler to use! And there’s no reason to be frightened – blend modes can become your friend, expanding your capabilities and offering new sources of inspiration.
We’ll start with an overview of the blend modes.
At its core, blending modes offer a way to use the colored pixels of one layer to affect the color and brightness the layers below it. Some of the fundamental adjustments you can apply in Photoshop, such as Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation, etc, are used to make image adjustments, but sometimes there are easier or more versatile ways to make interesting changes to your images.
Blending modes combine a layer with underlying layers using math formulae, which you’ll be pleased to know I don’t have the slightest intention to cover! We just need to understand the categories of blending, and a few basic colors that have special properties in the blend categories, and we are ready to start experimenting. Blend modes can be accessed from the top of the layers panel, in the dropdown list as shown:
By pulling down the list, we see the full range of blend modes available. Note that they are split into sections with dividers; this is a great help in understanding the major categories of blends. I’ve annotated some of them below:
I’ve skipped several of the modes; we’ll come back to those later – but we’ve got plenty on our plate for now! Here’s a brief summary of the key mode categories on which we’ll focus for the time being:
The Darken Category – The modes in this category will use the colors of the current layer to darken the layers below in various ways. The special color for the darken modes is white – anything white will have no effect on the layers below when a darken category mode is selected.
The Lighten Category – The modes in this category will use the colors of the current layer to lighten the layers below in various ways. The special color for the lighten modes is black – anything black will have no effect on the layers below when a lighten category mode is selected.
The Contrast Category – The modes in this category will use the colors of the current layer to add contrast to the layers below in various ways. The special color for the darken modes is 50% gray (128, 128, 128) – anything 50% gray will have no effect on the layers below when a contrast category mode is selected.
The Tonal Category – The modes in this category will use the colors of the current layer to affect the Hue, Saturation, or Luminosity of the underlying layers in various ways.
Now, that’s as technical as I’m going to get!
Using the Screen blend mode
Let’s start with the Lighten category, and investigate the Screen blending mode, which is one of the most commonly used lightening modes. Screen is appropriately named; think of it as having two projectors shining on a single screen. The light from the two projectors blends together, and all the colors except black are lightened overall, so the result is lighter than either of the two original sources.
We can use this to brighten an image by opening up the shadows. Let’s take this too-dark image as an example:
If we simply make a copy of the background layer (Press Ctrl-J in Windows or Cmd-J on a Mac) and change the copy layer’s blend mode to screen, we see things brightening up immediately:
In fact, we can now copy the “Background Copy” layer two more times, and the image brightens quite a bit. Note that when you copy the layer that has screen mode set, the new copy will also have screen mode set for you.
In comparison to an adjustment made using curves or levels, I like the results here better – a little more realistic, and definitely very fast!
Let’s look at another application of screen mode: to combine images in a way that automatically masks out some of the image – without having to create a complex mask at all. We’ll start with this image of a chalk board, upon which we wish to write a message:
Now, how to get realistic chalk writing? I simply wrote this text with a black crayon and scanned it in:
However, the color is all wrong – we need a whitish text to place on the board. Now worries, just go to Image > Adjustments > Invert and we have this:
Now, do we use the tragic wand, or some other tool to mask away the back? I think not! Remember that black is the special color for the lightening mode category. If we set the blend mode to “screen,” anything that is black has no effect (essentialy becomes invisible) and anything else lightens the image underneath:
You can adjust the opacity to taste, in this case I left it at 100%.
We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the power of using the Blending modes in Photoshop! Stick around, and each week we’ll continue to explore the world of blend modes.
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