Find out how to rescue bad exposures with subtle Photoshop effects by using Layers to process colours and tones in your photos.
Photoshop layers are one of the most fundamental image-editing features in Photoshop Elements’ tool set (which makes it hard to believe that they were unavailable in the earliest versions of the package!).
In this tutorial, we’ll focus on how layers enable you to process a photo’s colours and tones to overcome exposure problems, create more impact and draw the eye to specific subjects in the shot.
You’ll learn how layers and Adjustment Layers give you the freedom to experiment with different looks. Layers are non-destructive, which means you’ll always have access to your unaltered image.
We’ll also show you how to apply selection marquees and brush tools to Layer Masks, so that only certain areas in the image will become altered.
Thanks to layers you can take total control over the colour and tonal changes in any part of your shot, and fine-tune these changes with ease.
When shooting this project’s start image we were pleased to capture the pigeon flying on the left as the girl walked on the right, because it gave balance to our composition.
However, there are plenty of problems with colour and exposure. By metering for the shaded foreground we have over-exposed the sun-lit cathedral and sky.
We’ll show you how to make selective exposure adjustments using layers and masks, and restore missing background detail.
We’ll also selectively warm up the cathedral’s colour temperature while adding a blue-green hue to the sky so that it complements the cooler colours of the bridge.
Using Layers to process colour and tones (Steps 1-6)
01 Arrange your workspace
Open Photoshop Elements. Go to File>Open and browse to your start image. Click Open. In Elements 11, there’s a More icon bottom right. Click on its triangular fly-out icon and choose Custom Workspace. Drag the Layers palette out of the Panel Bin so it floats. Go to Window and untick Panel Bin.
02 Add an Adjustment Layer
We won’t edit the Background image layer directly; we’ll alter its colours and tones using Adjustment Layers. In the main menu bar, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. Click OK. A Levels 1 thumbnail will appear above our Background image layer. A floating Levels panel will also appear.
03 Adjust the contrast
In the Levels panel, drag the black shadow slider to 35. This darkens the shadows on the image layer below. Drag the grey slider right to 0.60 to darken the midtones. This gives the over-exposed cathedral more contrast, and boosts its colours. However, it also plunges the foreground into darkness.
04 Paint on the mask
To protect the bridge from being darkened, grab the Brush tool. Click on the Brush preset picker and choose a soft round brush, size 300. Set the Tools palette’s foreground colour to black. Click on Levels 1’s white mask. Spray on the glass to restore correctly exposed tones. Leave the girl’s face as a silhouette.
05 Try cross-processing
In the Levels Adjustment Layer, set the Channel drop-down menu to Red. Drag the black shadow slider right to 50. This darkens the reds in the shot, adding a cross-processed style blue-green hue to the sky. Click the Levels 1 layer’s eye icon to see a before-and-after version of the adjusted image.
06 Darken the sky
Click on the Create New Adjustment layer icon in the Layers palette and choose Gradient. A Gradient Fill Adjustment Layer will appear. In the Gradient Fill window, click Reverse so the gradient starts at the top of the frame. Click and drag the mouse upwards to push the gradient higher in the frame.
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