Every so often, I think each and every one of us suffers from some type of…what’s the word here…clicking around while not having any idea what we’re doing. I know I do this in Adobe Photoshop from time to time. There are areas of that program that I don’t use often and that I haven’t committed to memory. I usually click around in those areas the most in an effort to find something that I’m interested in or that makes whatever I’m working on look good. For example, I hardly ever use the Styles panel. Off the top of my head, I don’t have any idea what each preset style looks like and I have no idea what they would look like when applied to an object. Because of this, I usually click one, look at the result and undo it if I don’t like what I see. Then, I’d repeat that process until I land on the one I’m looking for. I know we all do this, but we shouldn’t. There are some areas of Photoshop that we should familiarize ourselves with, especially when they are simple to grasp.
In today’s post, I’d like to quickly discuss one area that’s really easy to experiment with and memorize inside of Adobe Photoshop. I’m referring to the blending modes drop-down and really, all I’d like to do is demonstrate what the three primary sections of this drop-down can accomplish. The way I’ll do this is to place two black-to-white rectangles on top of a photograph. Then, after discussing what each section of the blending mode drop-down does, I’ll show you how each can affect the colors or shades in an image. It’s all rather simple and what I’ll cover down below won’t take long at all.
Today’s Demo Photo
I’ll be using a picture of some colored pencils for this post. The photo could have been of almost anything, but I wanted to use one that was colorful and vibrant to show off the blending mode effects. Something too dark or too light wouldn’t have worked as well as this one.
The Three Primary Sections
Before I go any further, I’d like to let you know that I’ve already written a few posts on the topic of blending modes. You can click through the links below to visit these posts. The reason I mention this is because today’s post is going to be rather rudimentary in nature. I’m not going to offer specifics and details regarding the blending modes themselves. What I’m going to do is give you block level information that should help you remember what each of the three sections does.
Okay, let’s take a look at the demo black and white bars I made to cover part of the image I’m using. As you can see, the top bar transitions from black to white in steps and the bottom bar transitions with a smooth gradient.
Now, let’s take a look at the three sections, or groups, I’m referring to in the blending modes drop-down.
If you look at the above screenshot, you’ll see three red boxes. These boxes surround the groups I’m referring to. The top box surrounds the Darken group, the center box surrounds the Lighten group and the bottom box surrounds the Contrast group. Each mode inside of these three groups is related. While they don’t do exactly the same thing as one another, what they do is similar to those around them. So I guess if I had to make one point in this entire post, it would be, “When dealing with blending modes, remember Darken, Lighten and Contrast for the first three sections in the drop-down.” The point of remembering what each of these three groups does is that you’ll have the ability to fly through your work, if you work with blend modes frequently. This is one of those areas that you shouldn’t need to click around until you find something you like. If you want to add contrast to an image, apply the Overlay blend mode. If you want to make the underlying image appear darker, apply the Multiply blend mode and so forth.
A Few Examples
In this final section, I’m going to offer you a few examples, just to show you the general effect each of the blend mode groups has on an image beneath the layer the mode is applied to. As you’ll quickly find out, the blend mode affects lighter and darker shades quite differently. I’ll explain what each group does in the most general sense possible.
The first blending mode group darkens an image. The way it does this is that it removes whites from the image that’s on top of the one that will be affected. So, if I go ahead and apply the Multiply blend mode to both of my shade rectangles, we can easily see the result I’m talking about. The whites were removed from both rectangles.
Again, all blend modes in this group are related, but offer slightly different effects.
The next group lightens an image in much the same way the first group darkens it. This time though, all blacks are removed from the layer the blend mode is applied to. So, if I go ahead and apply the Screen blend mode to both rectangles, we can easily see that the blacks are gone and the whites have their intended effect. For more on what each of these blend modes actually does, please click through those links I left for you up above.
This final blend mode is interesting in that it removes all midtones from a layer. So, if you wanted to add contrast to a layer, all you would need to do is apply one of the contrast group’s modes and that’s the result you’d get. To show you what I’m talking about, I’ll apply the Overlay blend mode to the rectangles and we’ll find that the grays in the rectangles have been completely removed from the center areas and some of the whites and black have been removed as well. I can only assume that those areas contained midtones as well.
The Final Word
Really, if you need one of these effects applied to an image quickly, you should be able to jump into the blend mode drop-down and choose one of the modes without thinking too much about it. I know this type of thing comes with practice and that a lot of this stuff is easily forgotten if not used often, so I welcome you to bookmark this post for layer use.
I hope I clearly explained how to go about identifying and memorizing the three primary groups of blend modes in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them for me in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!