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  #1  
Old September 13th, 2007, 03:46 AM
Tim Armes Tim Armes is offline
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Default TIPS & TRICKS No. 7 - Adjustment Layers

This thread is part of the Tips & Tricks problematics. See here for more information.

Hi all,

With this thread I'd like to try to introduce Photoshop's adjustment layers to the uninitiated. Adjustment layers are essential to good photographic retouching skills, and I feel that even beginners should learn how and why we use them before bad skills get en-grained.

Most resources follow the logic of teaching layers first, then masks, and then adjustment layers. This is a reasonable approach, however, as we'll see, for photographers the adjustment layers are more important than normal layers, and by leaving them until last the learner is often suffering from information overload by the time the important stuff gets explained.

I'm going to take a different approach. I'm going to move right along to the stuff that we find really useful, and let normal layers fall right into place in their own time.

I'll leave the thread open for questions, however I'll probably update this post with more information if I feel that it's necessary. This will ensure that the tutorial information is easy to find.

THE WHY

The bane of my life when I teach Photoshop is the Image->Adjustments menu. Most self learners discover this menu by themselves, and the proceed to use it without further consideration; this is very unfortunate. Follow along with the following to understand the problem:

1) Open up a picture
2) Choose Image->Adjustments->Levels
3) Move the black slider to the right for a dark image, and click OK.
4) Choose Image->Adjustments->Hue/Saturation
5) Add a little saturation, and click OK.

Now imagine that you decide that your levels adjustment wasn't quite right it's way too dark. How are you going to change it without altering the work that you've done since then (in this case, changing the saturation)?

You could try doing another levels adjustment, but it's too late - you've already lost all your shadow detail. The only solution is to undo to that point (if you can go back that far), redo your change and then redo all your work. This is because the change that you made was destructive - it's actually changes the values of your pixels.

Adjustment layers solve this problem by allowing you to do non-destructive editing. As a further bonus, they also allow you to apply your adjustment to just part of the image, rather than the whole thing. Let's take a look:

THE HOW

Most of the adjustments found in the Image->Adjustments menu can be achieved using an adjustment layer. The best way to understand them is to create a couple. Follow me along with this:

1) Open up the image that you had opened previously
2) Ensure that the layers palette is open (Windows->Layers should have a tick next to it)
3) At the bottom of the layers palette, click the black and white circle (see image below), and choose "Levels" from the menu. This will pop up the level dialog.
4) Move the black slider to the right for a dark image, and click OK.
5) Click the black and white circle again, and choose "Hue/Saturation" from the menu.
6) Add a little saturation, and click OK.

You've now created two adjustment layers that apply your desired changes to everything underneath them. The layers window should look like this:


The important thing to realise is that your base image hasn't been changed, the adjustments are placed "on top" of it. We can modify the adjustments at any time. For example, double click on the icon for the "Levels" adjustment layer that you've created, and you'll be able to change the settings. You can do the same for the Hue/Saturation layer. This is what we mean by "non-destructive" editing - your image hasn't been touched.

You can turn off each of the layers by clicking their associated eye icon. Click again to turn it back on. If you turn both layers off, you'll only see your original image, unchanged. You can delete a layer entirely by clicking on the layer to select it, and then clicking on the dustbin icon at the bottom of the palette.

MASKS

The true power of adjustment layers lie in the use of masks. You'll see that each layer has a little white square next to it - this is a reduced picture of its mask. The mask allows you to choose the parts of the image that the adjustment is applied to. Let's try:

1) Click in the white mask square of your "Levels" adjustment layer.
2) The double border around the square tells you that you're now working with that mask. Note that your foreground and background colours are now black and white. Masks can only contain shades of grey.
3) Choose a fairly big soft edged brush, and make sure that you're painting in black.
4) Paint over parts of your image.

Wherever you paint, the effect of your adjustment layer disappears! You can see a reduced version of the mask that you're creating in the layer's mask square. Where you paint in black, you conceal the effect of the adjustment layer. Paint in white to get it back again. By using a soft edged brush the edges of your strokes fade off through grey, which stops the effect from having obvious edges.

To help you, remember this mantra:

White reveals, black conceals


A CONCRETE EXAMPLE

Let's use this technique to apply a little dodging and burning to an image.

1) Open an image of your choice
2) Create a "Levels" adjustment layer, and move the center point to the right to darken the image. Click OK.
3) Double click on the name of the layer and rename it "Burn"
4) Click in the layer's mask square.

Since the mask is all white, the entire image is being darkened; this isn't what we want. We'd rather that the image remained unchanged and that we paint over the parts that we want to darken. In other words, we want the mask to start off black (concealed).

5) Choose Image->Adjustments->Invert

Since we've previously clicked on the mask, the inversion is applied to the mask, and the mask turns black.

6) Paint in white where you want to burn the image. If you make a mistake, simply paint in black. If the effect is too weak or too strong, open up the adjustment layer's dialog box and move the center point to taste.

7) Create a new "Levels" adjustment layer, and move the center point to the left to lighten the image. Click OK.
8) Double click on the name of the layer and rename it "Dodge"

Now repeat steps 4-6 on the new layer to lighten part of your image.

CONCLUSION

Adjustment layers allow you to apply adjustments non-destructively to the parts of the image that you want to change. They allow you to experiment and to make changes at any time, without worrying about destroying work that's already been done.

These techniques will give you a base upon which to build your Photoshop skills. Good use of Photoshop is based on layers. Starting with adjustment layers will allow you to make the sorts of modifications that you will want to do whilst building good Photoshop habits for the future.

We can do lots more with layers, but start with this and build up slowly.

Tim
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  #2  
Old September 14th, 2007, 11:36 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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This Tim, is a magnificently helpful, clear and easy to follow description of layers and most importantly, Masks!!

New to Layers and Masks? If you use Tims tutorial/tips please comment on how it works for you and any new insight!

Asher
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  #3  
Old February 20th, 2008, 12:47 PM
Phil Marion Phil Marion is offline
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Default I am new to using masks

I've been using layers for a while now, mainly for editing jpegs. The last year I have been shooting only in RAW. I found myself using layers less as I was using ACR to do my adjustments. I never really used masks until recently when I decided to get out of my comfort zone and try to learn more about doing selective localized edits to certain images, all the while using ACR for my global edits. So I now find myself doing some localized post-production in CS3 using layers and masks. Rudimentary masks. Tim’s tutoril is great. I wish I’d come across it sooner as it would have tempted me to do yet even more to my images. If I knew then what I know now….
It would be of great benefit to people reading the tutorial if there be a list of potential applications for the mask and layers technique. It helps to know HOW to do it but it is equally important for people to realize when they should use them.
For example, layers and masks come in handy when one wants to apply noise reduction exclusively to a certain portion of the photo since noise reduction could be destructive to the parts of the image that are not noisy. What really spurred me to delve it to learning masks was their application in selective denoising.
It would benefit learners if they had ideas of when these techniques would come in handy.
So perhaps people could list types of image manipulation, that a new learner may not have thought about, when layers and masks would be a good technique. Sure it helps to use the layers for global edits but new learners also need to know what kind of local edits the masks are useful for. Localized denoising is one.

Just my 2 cents worth.
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  #4  
Old November 29th, 2009, 04:42 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Ok, so what do you do after you paint in black (or white)?
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  #5  
Old November 29th, 2009, 06:11 AM
Mike Shimwell Mike Shimwell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
Ok, so what do you do after you paint in black (or white)?
Rachel,

If you have a black mask then it prevents the layer affecting the image underneath. When you paint it white (or grey using a low flow or opacity) then it starts to impact on what's underneath. You don't need to do anything else.

Mike
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Old November 29th, 2009, 06:14 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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I've been trying to figure out how to get to the end product. How do you get the "final image?"
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Old November 29th, 2009, 06:20 AM
Mike Shimwell Mike Shimwell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
I've been trying to figure out how to get to the end product. How do you get the "final image?"
You have the final image - you can flatten the layers if you want, but that will prevent you making future changes, or just save it.

Mike
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Old November 29th, 2009, 06:25 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
Ok, so what do you do after you paint in black (or white)?
Hi Rachel,

It's more about what you've done before painting White in the layer's mask (you did select the mask to paint in, didn't you?). If you created e.g. a "dodge adjustment layer", then only the area where the mask was painted White will show the effect in full. One can also paint in the mask with shades of gray for partial application of the intended effect.

Cheers,
Bart

P.S. I just saw you're looking for the steps following the successful creation of a masked adjustment layer. As Mike said, it's up to you, flatten or just save with the possibility to adjust further. Maybe you're looking for something else?
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Old November 29th, 2009, 11:00 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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That's just it, Bart...I don't know what I"m looking for. What I generally do is fumble around til something works!
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Old November 29th, 2009, 11:00 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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So, you make the layer mask and then save?
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Old November 29th, 2009, 12:01 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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I think I have it! "Merge down."
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Old November 29th, 2009, 01:23 PM
charlie chipman charlie chipman is offline
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I think your final steps depends on your final output.

You can save it without merging down or flattening the layers and then you can come back at a later time and further make adjustments. If you merge down or flatten all the layers and then save it you have to live with the adjustments that you have made or start from scratch from the original file.

So basically it depends on the final output which will determine if you flatten then save or not, in my work flow anyway. I usually save the full sized image with all the layers, adjustments layers, masks, etc as a psd so I can come back at a later time to readjust anything. Then after it is saved as a psd I will flatten all of the layers and save it as a jpg or tiff and make adjustments (resize for example) based on whether or not it is going to web or to print.

Are these the steps that you are referring to?
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Old November 29th, 2009, 01:24 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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I was trying to figure out how to combine the layers.

I should say that I started out with no knowledge at all. Photoshop has, for some reason, proved one of the most difficult tasks I've attempted. And I can program a VCR without breaking a sweat!
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Old December 5th, 2009, 01:59 PM
David Thomasson David Thomasson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
I was trying to figure out how to combine the layers.

I should say that I started out with no knowledge at all. Photoshop has, for some reason, proved one of the most difficult tasks I've attempted. And I can program a VCR without breaking a sweat!
It's a common misconception that you have to flatten a file before saving it as a jpeg or a tif. You don't. Just use "Save as" or "Save for Web." Photoshop will temporarily merge all layers, save in the format you choose, and leave all the layers separate and intact in the PSD file.
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  #15  
Old December 5th, 2009, 04:57 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
I was trying to figure out how to combine the layers.

I should say that I started out with no knowledge at all. Photoshop has, for some reason, proved one of the most difficult tasks I've attempted. And I can program a VCR without breaking a sweat!

Hi Rachel,

Command-A selects "all".

Shift-Command-C copies everything that is visible. If a layer is switched off, it wont be copied. Now you can post this layer on top of everything else.

A step I always suggest and always use myself: It's optional but forces a real assessment in the end of what of all the changes you made you wish to use. Sometimes you will be surprised that you only need 7-70% of all the labor you devoted. But that's far better than over-processing!

So, now shut off everything except the base layer and decide what percentage of all the changes you made you would like to contribute to the base layer or else use the top layer only. Save you have everything there and you can make any changes you might imagine up in the future.

If you merge down before savings, then all is lost.

Asher
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  #16  
Old December 5th, 2009, 08:14 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Thanks! I'm slowly but surely getting a little of this.
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  #17  
Old December 6th, 2009, 01:49 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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Tim,
An excellent and lucid explanation. Bravo.

Rachel:

Maybe you are trying to do too much at one time. One step at a time. ps is a behemoth. As Tim says
masks are the key to ps. spend some time with them. You will be richly rewarded.

Help is very near too!

Best.
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