Adjustment layers are the go-to items for making adjustments to images inside of Adobe Photoshop. Back in the day, we used to rely on the Image > Adjustments menu to alter image brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and just about everything else in that realm. But since Adobe came up with a way to apply adjustments in their own layers in a non-destructive manner, adjustment layers have become the standard. The Image > Adjustments menu area should be abandoned and replaced by this new toolset.
With this in mind, allow me to answer the question I posed in the title of this post. When should we use adjustment layers? All the time. Or, whenever adjustments are called for. Personally, I primarily use them to create black and white images and to alter a specific selection. I’ve done this so many times, it’s getting difficult to keep track. I’ve also written about making selections and modifying the area inside of the selection via adjustment layers on this blog before, but honestly, the topic never gets old because there are so many variations one could choose to engage in.
In today’s post, I’m going to go through one more example for when someone might want to utilize an adjustment layer or two. I’ll make a rough selection of an object and then apply the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to that selection. I’ll then clean the resulting mask up with the Brush Tool. Finally, I’ll reselect the original selection (or the modified mask) and use that new selection to apply the Curves adjustment layer for further modification. This will be a fun project and just one more example of how adjustment layers work in Adobe Photoshop and why you should be using them instead of the old tools we used to use (but are still available).
The Demo Photo
I tried to find an image that contained an object in it that wouldn’t take me all day to select. I think this Volkswagen Beetle will do just fine. I’ll tell you though, as I was experimenting with this photo, I found that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to accurately select, so that’s why I’m going to include the section about cleaning up the mask. My hand was forced on that one.
Making the Selection
I’m going to fly through these sections because I’ve already written about these topics a number of times on this blog. If you’re interested in learning about how to make accurate selections in Adobe Photoshop, you can use the search bar up top to locate any number of posts that contain those topics. On those pages, I talk about making selections, modifying those selections, applying the adjustment layers and then modifying their masks. Everything in this post has been done before and each lesson is contained fairly thoroughly on this website.
Anyway, I’ll go ahead and click to activate the Quick Selection tool over in the left toolbar. I’ll size the selection brush and then attempt to select the blue in the car. My goal is to change the color of the car’s paint, so I don’t want to select a window, bumper or anything like that. Here’s my rough selection.
Even though the selection isn’t great, I’m going to keep it as is and apply the adjustment layer.
Applying the Adjustment Layer
My next step will be to apply an adjustment layer. I’ll click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel and from there, I’ll push the Hue slider to the right until the blue from the car turns pink.
This is the resulting image. I’ll play with the color a bit later on after I clean up the selection. I’ll do that now. There’s a lot of stuff in this photo that’s pink and those things shouldn’t be.
Painting the Mask
Since the edges of this selection weren’t great, I’ll fix them now. To do this, I’ll use the colors black and white with the Brush Tool to remove and add areas of the adjustment layer effect. Because of the intricacy of this task, it’ll take a little while. I’ll click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel and begin painting.
Here’s the result of my efforts. It didn’t take as long as I suspected it would. Perhaps ten minutes. I zoomed in a lot to really hit the details. Also, as a quick tip, when you’re doing something like this, you can use the keyboard shortcut of the letter X to switch between black and white colors in the left toolbar. This is so handy to know.
Okay, that looks very good. After brushing the mask somewhat, I held down the Ctrl key on my keyboard and clicked once on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to reselect the area.
Modifying & Applying Another Adjustment
Now, the beauty of adjustment layers is that once a perfect selection is made, any number of adjustments can be applied to that selection. For instance, I’ve already gone ahead and created one selection. That wasn’t great, so I cleaned it up via the Brush Tool and the adjustment layer mask. At this point, I could modify the current adjustment layer any way I wish. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll change the color of the car slightly. As a side note, when modifying an adjustment layer, it doesn’t matter if the original selection is active or not.
I went ahead and added some purple to the paint color. Next, since I’ve got an active selection again, I’ll head back up to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves adjustment icon. After that, I’ll click and drag the center of the curves line upward and to the left to add some mid-tone brightness.
As you can see from the above screenshot, I now have two adjustment layers. I’m happy with how the selection turned out and how the adjustments turned out, so here’s the finished product.
Pretty cool, right? And that’s just one example of when and how you might want to use adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop. In later posts, I’ll show you tons more in all different styles and fashions. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!