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Use Color Fill For Mood Modifications

I regularly add a subtle color overlay to my images in order to help influence the mood of the finished photo. For a portrait in which I want to convey a sense of warmth and comfort, for instance, I’ll use a warm color like yellow, red or orange, applied ever so lightly. I like to use an adjustment layer in Photoshop in order to add this hint of color because it’s so quick and easy.

To do this, simply open Photoshop’s Adjustments palette and look for the Photo Filter icon. It looks like a camera with a circle in front of it. Simply click the button and a new layer appears with a warming filter applied. To change the color of the filter, click the name of the filter in the adjustments palette to select a different filter. You can also choose any color you’d like by clicking the radio button next to the Color heading in the palette and then using the color picker that pops up to choose any color you’d like. To change the intensity of the filter, grab the Density slider and move it left or right (the default starting point is 25%) until it looks just as you’d like it to.

The nice thing about an adjustment layer such as this is you can always come back and adjust the intensity, or the layer opacity, or even by painting on the layer mask in order to modify what parts of the image have the effect applied. It’s an effective, simple and straightforward approach to toning images.

Another way to add a color overlay to an image, and gain any number of controls that allow for practically infinite variations on the color, is to use the Fill method from Photoshop’s Edit menu. I especially like to do this when I’m working with a black-and-white image.

With any image layer active you can use the Fill tool to add color directly to the image. Done with the blending mode set to Color and a low opacity of, say, 50%, you’ll get a strong color but the image details will still show through. The problem is, you lose any real editability with this approach. Instead, if you first create a new empty layer above the image layer, you can then add the fill color and modify it ad infinitum without ever impacting the original, unmodified image on the layer below.

In the example here, I simply overlaid the color onto its own layer by clicking Fill from the Edit menu, then choosing the Color option from the Contents drop-down, and then clicking the color I wanted on the color library window that pops up. For Blending Mode I used Color, but Normal also works when the opacity is adjusted. I like this approach for the complete control it provides and because of the variety of looks—some of them quite bizarre—that can be created by simply changing the layer mode in the Layers palette.

The red example below shows the result of combining multiple blending modes—such as “color” in the Fill palette with “multiply” from the layers palette. You can make color effects from subtle to dramatic this way. And if you don’t want something nearly this dramatic or funky, just keep it simple, set the mode to color and dial back the fill layer’s opacity until it’s as subtle as you’d like. It’s just that easy.

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