Selective editing in Photoshop

I learned a new technique today for adjusting selective parts of an image.  This is very useful for directing the viewer’s eye through a picture so they see what you intend in the order you want.  It plays with Photoshop’s blending modes as well as the brush tool, both used in layers.

Here’s my original image:

 

ISO100, 400mm, 13 sec., f/22

I like the color palette and the horizontal lines created by the wave action, shore line and distant horizon.  What I want to do is enhance some of these lines to make them more distinct.  I’ll do this by making the dark areas darker and the light areas lighter using the technique I learned today.

First, duplicate this layer, on the new layer change the blending mode to Overlay, and then fill the new layer with 50% Gray (Edit>Fill>Contents>50% Gray):

Duplicate Layer

Change Blending Mode to Overlay

Fill with 50% Gray

At this point the image on your screen should not look any different.  The Overlay blending mode works like this – any pixels that are more than 50% gray become darker; any pixels that are less than 50% gray become lighter.  Since the new layer is exactly 50% gray it has no impact on the layer below it.  That will change as we edit the new layer.

Using the brush tool and the default colors (white/black) I can now brush directly on the image (keeping the new layer active) to darken (brush with black) or lighten (brush with white) selective areas in the image.  Set the brush itself to 20-40% opacity (each image will be a little different) and use a soft brush.  When I’m through with my brushing the thumbnail in the layers palette will look like the following – note the different lines of darker and lighter grey:

Edited Layers Palette

And my final image will look like the following, with the darker and lighter gray areas in the new layer affecting the original image to give me the desired result:

 

Final Edited Version

By the way, you can get this same result using layer masks and levels adjustments.  As with any Photoshop technique, there are at least three other workflows that will arrive at the same result.  I like this one because it’s pretty simple and in keeping with non-destructive editing of the original image.  If I don’t like what I get I just delete the new layer and start over.

The webinar I attended was taught by Joe Brady, a member of the MAC Group and longtime photographer, and sponsored by X-Rite.  You can see Joe’s image galleries and get information about his workshops here.

Combined with the NIK software I use and other Photoshop tools I can see where this technique will be a wonderful addition to my toolbox as I continue learning both what I want my landscapes to represent and how to create them.

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