Home How-To Image Processing Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers
Monday, June 25, 2007

Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers

Get more flexibility and control when you use these specialized Photoshop layers to apply image enhancements

Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers Selective Adjustments
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of an Adjustment Layer is the Layer Mask. Layer Masks allow you to show or hide portions of a layer, and every Adjustment Layer comes with one! Using Painting and Selection tools, you can, with great detail, selectively apply the effects of an adjustment to portions of an image.

The evening sun on a cool, fall day in Vermont created a sort of haze over this field (next page). Additionally, the image does no justice to the vibrant, burnt orange and yellow leaves on the trees. Using a combination of Adjustment Layers and their associated Layer Masks, I depicted the image as I saw it.

• Initial Adjustment. I started by creating an initial Levels Adjustment Layer to increase the contrast of the image (pulling the Black Point and White Point sliders inward).

• Manipulation Of The Mask. This made the trees come to life with color, but oversaturated the field in front and behind the tree line. Using the Layer Mask, I used the Gradient tool to hide the adjustment from the background (field and farm house). Then, with my foreground color set to black, I painted over the foreground (rolling hills) with the paintbrush.

Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers • Secondary Adjustment. This still left the background a bit hazy and with a purple tint. I created another Levels Adjustment layer, this time focusing on the background. I used the Black, Gray and White eyedroppers to address the color cast, clicking on the darkest, lightest and middle-gray tones within the image.

• Manipulation Of The Mask. Once again, using the associated Layer Mask, I started with a gradient to isolate the adjustment to the background. Then, I fine-tuned the mask with the paintbrush to reveal portions of the adjustment that the gradient didn't show.

• Change The Blend Mode. Finally, I changed the Blend Mode of the top-most adjustment layer to Color, which brought back a touch of the saturation.

As you work with Adjustment Layers (and Layer Masks), here are a few management tips to keep in mind:

Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers • Switching Foreground And Background Colors. When painting on a Layer Mask, black conceals the contents of the layer, while white reveals it. Shades of gray vary the opacity of the mask. The X key is a keyboard shortcut to commit to memory as it quickly toggles between your foreground and background color. Note: The foreground and background colors default to black and white when the mask is active.

• Show And Hide Layer Masks. It's sometimes beneficial to view the mask (channel) by itself, for example, to review your brushwork. Option-click (Alt-click for PCs) on the Layer Mask thumbnail in the Layers palette. This reveals the mask in grayscale. Repeat the Option-click process to redisplay the image view.

Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers • Enable And Disable Layer Masks. Another way to track your progress as you paint on a mask is to view the global adjustment of your image without the mask. Shift-clicking the Layer Mask thumbnail toggles the mask on and off. Alternatively, you can manipulate the view of Layer Masks under Layer > Layer Mask Enable/Disable.

• Pressure-Sensitive Control. For an even greater control of Adjustments and Layer Masks, consider using a pen tablet such as those from Wacom. A pen tablet enables you to dynamically control the size and opacity of a brush on the fly, based on how hard you press the pen to the tablet.

An Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and a senior evangelist for a premier imaging technology company, Weston Maggio is an authority on Photoshop instruction. He regularly lectures and instructs experts to enthusiasts alike at photography-related events around the country. See more of his work at www.westonimages.com.


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