Using Blend Modes in Photoshop-- Part III

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

www.ronbigelow.com

Photoshop CS or Photoshop CS2 Used in this Tutorial

Soft Light Blend Mode

The Soft Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and darkens or lightens the consequential color in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are lightened. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are darkened. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Soft Light Blend mode.

The Soft Light Blend mode is fairly gently. Even if the blend color is black, the image will only be somewhat darkened, but it will not result in black. Similarly, even if the blend color is white, the image will be somewhat lightened, but it will not result in white.

The Soft Light Blend mode can be used to dodge or burn areas of an image. For this purpose, a 50% gray layer is added, and the blend mode is set to Soft Light. Since the Soft Light Blend mode is neutral for 50% gray, this layer will have no effect when it is first added. A brush can then be used to paint on the gray layer. Painting with white will dodge the area. Painting with black will burn the area.

Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate the use of the Soft Light Blend mode for burning an image. The scene has some beautiful greens and blues, but the red of the riverbed is too light. A small amount of burning in of the riverbed would greatly improve the image. For this purpose, a 50% gray layer was added (labeled as the Burn layer) with the Blend mode set to Soft Light. Painting on the gray layer with a black brush burned in the riverbed the desired amount. Figure 1 shows the image before the burn step, Figure 2 shows it afterwards. Figure 3 shows the Layers Palette with the Burn layer set to the Soft Light Blend mode.

Figure 1: Image before Adjustment
Figure 2: Riverbed Adjusted with Soft Light Blend Mode
Figure 3: Layers Palette with Soft Light Blend Mode on Burn Layer

 

Table 1 summarizes the Soft Light Blend mode.

 

  Table 1: Soft Light Blend Mode
What it does
To create the result color, the Soft Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and darkens or lightens the consequential color in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are lightened. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are darkened. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Soft Light Blend mode.
Uses
Used for making tonal and color adjustments that are dependent on the tonality of the blend color.

 

Hard Light Blend Mode

The Hard Light Blend mode is kind of like a Soft Light Blend mode taken to extremes. The Hard Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and darkens or lightens the consequential color in relation to the tonality of the blend color. In addition, the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are lightened, and the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are darkened, and the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Hard Light Blend mode.

The Hard Light Blend mode is fairly intense. If the blend color is black, the image will be black. Similarly, if the blend color is white, the image will be white.

As with the Soft Light Blend mode, the Hard Light Blend mode can be used to dodge or burn areas of an image. For this purpose, a 50% gray layer is added, and the blend mode is set to Hard Light. Since the Hard Light Blend mode is neutral for 50% gray, this layer will have no effect when it is first added. A brush can then be used to paint on the gray layer. Painting with white will dodge the area. Painting with black will burn the area. There is one caveat to using this technique. Painting on the gray, blend layer will leave different tones of gray on the layer. Since the base and blend colors are being blended, the dodging and burning using this hard light approach will add gray to the result color (except for where the blend layer is 50% gray). This will desaturate the result color (saturation is a function of how much gray a color has; more gray means less saturation) and is particularly noticeable with burning. Therefore, this method may be a good choice when it is desired to desaturate some colors along with the tonal corrections. For images where the color saturation needs to be maintained, other methods of dodging and burning should be used. Theoretically, this desaturation of the result color also occurs with dodging and burning with the Soft Light Blend mode. However, since the Soft Light Blend mode is so gentle, it is not generally noticeable.

As with the Overlay Blend mode, the Hard Light Blend mode can be used for producing glows in images. Glows produced with the Hard Light Blend mode have more contrast than those produced with the Overlay Blend mode. For this effect, the image is duplicated into a new layer. The new layer is blurred with the Gaussian Blur filter and set at the top of the layers. The Duplicated layer is then set to the Hard Light Blend mode and the Opacity adjusted to produce the desired effect.

Figures 4 and 5 demonstrate the use of the Hard Light Blend mode to produce a glow effect. For this image, the image was duplicated into a new layer. The new layer was blurred (the layer were renamed Blur). The Blur layer was then set to the Hard Light Blend mode. Figure 4 shows the image before the glow effect was created. Figure 5 shows it afterwards. Figure 6 shows the Layers Palette with the Blur layer set to the Hard Light Blend mode.

Figure 4: Image before Adjustment
Figure 5: Image after Blur Effect with Hard Light Blend Mode
Figure 6: Layers Palette with Hard Light Blend Mode on Blur Layer

 

Table 2 summarizes the Hard Light Blend mode.

 

  Table 2: Hard Light Blend Mode
What it does
To create the result color, the Hard Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and darkens or lightens the consequential color in relation to the tonality of the blend color. In addition, the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are lightened and the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are darkened and the contrast is increased. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Hard Light Blend mode.
Uses
Used for making tonal and color adjustments that are dependent on the tonality of the blend color and adding glow effects to images.

 

Vivid Light Blend Mode

The Vivid Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and burns or dodges the consequential color, by adjusting the contrast, in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are dodged by decreasing the contrast. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are burned by increasing the contrast. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Vivid Light Blend mode. The Vivid Light Blend mode tends to produce a more intense result than either the Soft Light or Hard Light Blend modes.

While the Vivid Light Blend mode can, theoretically, be used to dodge or burn areas of an image using the same procedure covered in the Soft Light and Hard Light Blend mode sections, the color desaturation, due to the addition of gray to the result color, is too much for most applications (see explanation in the Hard Light section). A more logical use of the Vivid Light Blend mode is to add some punch to flat images. This is done by duplicating the image and setting the mode of the duplicated layer to Vivid Light.

Figures 7 and 8 demonstrate this technique. This image is of a canyon formed of beautiful, red rock. Unfortunately, the image came out flat. To improve the image, the image was duplicated into a new layer (the new layer was labeled as the Contrast layer). The Blend mode of the Contrast layer was set to Vivid Light, and the Opacity was set to get the desired effect. Figure 7 shows the image before the Vivid Light step, Figure 8 shows it afterwards. Figure 9 shows the Layers Palette with the Contrast layer set to the Vivid Light Blend mode.

Figure 7: Image before Adjustment
Figure 8:  Image Adjusted with Vivid Light Blend Mode
Figure 9: Layers Palette with Vivid Light Blend Mode on Contrast Layer

 

Table 3 summarizes the Vivid Light Blend mode.

 

  Table 3: Vivid Light Blend Mode
What it does
To create the result color, the Vivid Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and burns or dodges the consequential color, by adjusting the contrast, in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are dodged by decreasing the contrast. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are burned by increasing the contrast. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Vivid Light Blend mode.
Uses
Used for making tonal and color adjustments that are dependent on the tonality of the blend color.

Linear Light Blend Mode

Linear Light is very similar to Vivid Light except that it changes the brightness of the image instead of the contrast. The Linear Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and burns or dodges the consequential color, by adjusting the brightness, in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are dodged by increasing the brightness. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are burned by decreasing the contrast. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Linear Light Blend mode.

The caveat that was stated with respect to dodging and burning with the Vivid Light Blend mode also applies to the Linear Light Blend mode. Although, theoretically, the Linear Light Blend mode can be used to dodge or burn areas of an image, the color desaturation, due to the addition of gray to the result color, is too much for most applications (see explanation in the Hard Light section). Instead, the Linear Light Blend mode can be used to add punch to flat images in the same manner as is done with the Vivid Light Blend mode.

The Linear Light Blend mode was used to spice up the image shown in Figures 10 and 11. The image has some fall colors (especially the bright yellow against the dark green forest). However, the image lacks enough contrast to make the colors stand out. To improve the image, the image was duplicated into a new layer (the new layer was labeled as the Contrast layer). The Blend mode of the Contrast layer was set to Linear Light, and the Opacity was adjusted to get the desired effect. Figure 10 shows the image before the Linear Light step, Figure 11 shows it afterwards. Figure 12 shows the Layers Palette with the Contrast layer set to the Linear Light Blend mode.

Figure 10:  Image before Adjustment
Figure 11: Image Adjusted with Linear Light Blend Mode
Figure 12: Layers Palette with Linear Light Blend Mode on Contrast Layer

 

Table 4 summarizes the Linear Light Blend mode.

 

  Table 4: Linear Light Blend Mode
What it does
To create the result color, the Linear Light Blend mode blends the base and blend colors and burns or dodges the consequential color, by adjusting the brightness, in relation to the tonality of the blend color. Areas where the blend color is lighter than 50% gray are dodged by increasing the brightness. Areas where the blend color is darker than 50% gray are burned by decreasing the brightness. Areas where the blend color has a tonality of 50% gray are not affected by the Linear Light Blend mode.
Uses
Used for making tonal and color adjustments that are dependent on the tonality of the blend color.

 

Pin Light Blend Mode

The Pin Light Blend mode is a bit unusual. The Pin Light Blend mode replaces the base color with the blend color depending on the tonalities of the blend color and the base color. Table 5 shows the rules that the Pin Light Blend mode follows:

  Table 5: Pin Light Blend Mode
Base Color Lighter than Blend Color
Base Color Darker than Blend Color
Blend Color Lighter than 50% Gray
No change in base color
Base color replaced with blend color
Blend Color Darker than 50% Gray
Base color replaced with blend color
No change in base color
The Pin Light Blend mode is used mostly for special effects. Figures 13 -- 15 show the use of the Pin Light Blend mode for one type of special effect. Figure 13 shows a close-up of a dessert plant. Figure 14 shows the image after the Find Edges filter was run. The Background layer was then renamed as the Original layer, and a Solid Color Fill Layer was added below the Original layer. Finally, the Bend mode of the Original Layer was set to Pin Light. The result is shown in Figure 15. Figure 16 shows the Layers Palette with the Original layer set to the Pin Light Blend mode.
Figure 13: Image before Adjustment
Figure 14: Image after Find Edges Filter
Figure 15: Image Adjusted with Pin Light Blend Mode
Figure 16: Layers Palette with Pin Light Blend Mode on Original Layer

 

Table 6 summarizes the Pin Light Blend mode.

 

  Table 6: Pin Light Blend Mode
What it does
To create the result color, the Pin Light Blend mode replaces the base color with the blend color depending on the tonalities of the blend color and the base color as shown in Table 5.
Uses
Used mostly for special effects.

 

Articles

Blend Modes -- Part II     Blend Modes -- Part IV