When it comes to applying blending modes in Adobe Photoshop, there’s a huge problem. Oftentimes, people wonder what in the world they’re doing. I wonder this all the time. No, seriously – what in the world are they doing when applying blending modes? Exactly? If someone were standing over your shoulder and asked why you chose the blending mode you just clicked on, would you have a good answer for them? Personally, I’d probably make something up. “Uhhh, yeah. I like to click through these to make sure there’s nothing that I like.” I’d try to sell it to them. They most likely wouldn’t buy it, especially if they knew Photoshop.
I already know I can place one layer on top of another layer and choose a blending mode to apply to the top layer. This will affect the style of my photos. I talked about this in my previous blending mode post. After that, what I usually do is hit the down arrow until something looks appealing. Unfortunately, this method is the equivalent to hopping in a car in an attempt to get to the grocery store while wearing a blindfold. It’s stupid.
To overcome this stupidity, in this post, I’ll discuss three blending modes. They are Multiply, Screen and Soft Light. If you remember back to my previous post, I told you that each of these three modes reside in a group that is unique from one another. Multiply sits under Darkening Modes, Screen sits under Lightening Modes and Soft Light sits under Contrast Modes. Well, today we’re going to look at how each of these modes affects a photograph. I’ll show you, in no uncertain terms, what happens when each of these modes is applied. Hopefully it’ll open your eyes to what you should be doing when editing and designing – taking action with purpose as opposed to taking action by guessing. Ugg – I’m thinking back to all those years of clicking on things haphazardly. What a nightmare.
My Example Photo
I’ve got a really nice example photo for today. This will perfectly demonstrate the changes I’d like to show. It’s got good color and a great range.
Multiply Blending Mode
Each color that lies on top of another color affects the bottom color when it has a blending mode applied to it. The trick is, you need to learn which color (or shade) has which effect when a specific mode is applied. To discover the effects, we’ll use a simple tool. I’ve created a new layer and drawn a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool inside of it. After that, in the Properties panel, I applied a gradient to the layer. The gradient goes from black on the left to white on the right. Here’s what that looks like.
Let’s take a look at what Adobe has to say about the Multiply blending mode:
Multiply – Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The result color is always a darker color. Multiplying any color with black produces black. Multiplying any color with white leaves the color unchanged. When you’re painting with a color other than black or white, successive strokes with a painting tool produce progressively darker colors. The effect is similar to drawing on the image with multiple marking pens.
Now, let’s apply the Multiply blending mode to the gradient layer to see the effect.
I’d like to see what happens if I duplicate the photo layer and apply the same blending mode to the duplicate. I’ll give you a half-and-half example. The original photo is on the left and the blended portion is on the right.
As we can see, by using the Multiply blending mode, Photoshop strips the white from the layer that has the mode applied to it. This is why the result is a darker image. The gradient layer says it all.
Screen Blending Mode
Now, we’ll go through the same process as we just did above, but this time, we’ll apply the Screen blending mode. First, I’ll apply that mode to the shape layer with the gradient.
Interesting. It looks like Screen gives us exactly the opposite effect that Multiply did. Instead of removing the white from the layer, Photoshop removed the black. Let’s see what Adobe says about the Screen blending mode:
Screen – Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The result color is always a lighter color. Screening with black leaves the color unchanged. Screening with white produces white. The effect is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other.
Now, I’ll give you the half-and-half example. Remember, the original is on the left and the Screen mode is on the right. We should see a lighter right half.
Wow. The blending mode does just what Adobe says it should do.
Soft Light Blending Mode
Finally, let’s take a look at the Soft Light blending mode. First, we’ll see what Adobe says about this mode:
Soft Light – Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened as if it were burned in. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area, but does not result in pure black or white.
Now, I’ll show you how the gradient is affected when I apply this blending mode to it.
It appears that what Adobe said this mode should do is true. What was dark, was made darker. What was light, was made lighter. The mid-tones were completely removed from the image. I’ll show you the half-and-half example photo with the Soft Light blending mode applied now.
Since it was only mid-tones that were removed, there isn’t really a huge visible difference, but if you look closely, you can see one.
To learn about the effects blending modes have on images in Photoshop, it’s important to experiment. You can create a gradient, just like I did, and go through all the modes. You can also read about each mode straight from Adobe and try to predict what the effect will be before you apply it. That should give you good practice.
I’ve worked like this for a while and I can tell you that by studying the tools that Photoshop gives me, I’m much faster and wildly accurate with my edits. It just takes time and patience.
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