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Mode-us Operandi

February 8, 2010

One of the simplest processing tricks you can use is this:

Open your picture and add a levels adjustment layer.  BUT ~ don’t adjust anything.  Just add the layer.

Now, go to the Layer Mode drop-down box (at the top of the layer palette, Normal is the default).  There are several different choices but I’m going to show you three I use all the time.

This is the picture with nothing done to it:

This is the picture with the mode set to Multiply, and the Opacity taken down to 25%.  Multiply makes the image darker.

This is the picture with Screen selected and the Opacity taken down to 25%.  Screen makes the picture lighter.

And this is the picture with Soft Light as the mode, taken down to 25% opacity.  Soft light adds contrast.

You can also use Overlay to add contrast, it’s just harsher.

Using an adjustment layer in this manner makes it easy for you to fine tune your processing.  If you continue on and decide you need the picture lighter you just increase the opacity of the screen layer.  If you want less contrast you reduce the opacity of the soft light.  And of course, you can use the layer mask attached so that it only effects the part of the picture you want it to (make the background darker with a multiply layer and make the face lighter with a screen).

So go play with your modes! 🙂

(This was my final version of the picture, with some toning added, which I’ll write about at another time…)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2010 12:01 pm

    Love this! Thank you so much!

  2. Jim permalink
    February 8, 2010 2:03 pm

    Thanks very much for sharing these tips. I’ve never really used layer modes before, so I will now go and experiment! Just one question though if you have a moment, what’s the difference / advantage of using this technique to darken, lighten, add contrast etc over using a curves layer?

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 8, 2010 3:13 pm

      Hi there,

      Yes, all of these things are easily done with curve adjustments but many people are intimidated by curves (even to open a layer and choose a preset). These offer alternatives, and also get people experimenting with the different modes. I plan on expanding on the modes so I wanted to begin with something very basic. And I plan on doing a whole thing on curves at some point 🙂

  3. February 8, 2010 3:13 pm


  4. February 8, 2010 5:51 pm

    Thank you! I am off now to play!

  5. Ken Robinson permalink
    February 8, 2010 6:07 pm

    Thanks Lauren, this is a good step I never thought about just adding the layer, but I will try it. Have you ever used Capture NX or NX2? I have the NX and for most of what I want to do it is quick and easy though it is limited somewhat. Just wondering.

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 8, 2010 7:05 pm

      I did use Capture NX a few times and it seems like a good program (I don’t know what you call it but I liked the whole dropping pins kind of thing). I decided to just stick with Photoshop because I know how to use it and I didn’t want to have to relearn a whole new program (I’m super lazy :)).

  6. February 8, 2010 9:57 pm

    I know you have just started this blog, but honestly, it’s one of the best, clearest blogs on PS I’ve ever seen (and I’ve searched around!). Please keep up this awesomeness! I’m looking forward to more of these tutorial posts. 🙂

  7. LoBess permalink
    February 9, 2010 1:55 am

    I’ve just found your blog. And your idea is so wonderfull.
    I am a young female professionnal photographer (I am 39) and I’m starting to learn Ps…alone. I was looking for something like this…but, here, it’s far more interesting and beautiful than what I dreamed of.
    I hope you’ll be around a long time. I’ll be here often!
    I am getting Ps Design Premium next month.

  8. Gigi permalink
    February 9, 2010 12:51 pm

    Wow! Thanks!

    Can you show how you processed this one?:


  9. minhapequenagaleria permalink
    February 11, 2010 6:31 am

    Hi Lauren!

    I’ve been a visitor of your photostream for some time, and I’m really enjoying your blog! I hope Meg is feeling better!

    take care,

  10. February 12, 2010 3:58 am

    just wanted to say thank you, I’ve used this technique a couple of times now & really like it as a processing step 🙂

  11. February 13, 2010 11:42 pm

    At one point I think you mentioned you’re a big fan of the ‘apply image’ function. Can you highlight the difference between ‘apply image’ and ‘levels’? I especially like the ‘soft light’ option for both and from what I can actually see, they do the same thing.

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 16, 2010 8:55 am

      When I use apply image I choose the green channel and softlight ~ this uses just the green channel, which then mutes the colors. If you do a straight soft light on a levels adjustment layer it pops the colors. I generally prefer the muting for portraits.

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