Are your portraits looking dull and lifeless? Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers are just what you need. We explain how simple non-destructive tonal changes and Photoshop effects can enhance and transform your people pictures.
Adjustment Layers enable you to correct and enhance your images in a variety of creative ways. You can use them to do everything from lightening and darkening to adding punch, converting to mono, correcting colour casts and more.
As the name suggests, they sit on their own separate Layer in Photoshop’s Layers panel, but unlike image-based Layers, they don’t contain any actual pixels. Instead they work by affecting all the Layers below them in the stack.
This means that, just like any other type of Layer, they stay independent from all the other elements that make up your image.
You could apply adjustments directly to your image, but this makes any changes permanent. Making adjustments on separate Layers means they’re endlessly editable, and you can take advantage of all the features Layers offer, like Layer Masks, Blend Modes and Opacity.
In this Photoshop tutorial we’ll show you how to use a combination of Adjustment Layers to boost a portrait by selectively enhancing different areas, then adding a stylish colour cast.
How to use adjustment layers to lift portraits
01 Improve the tones
Open face_before.jpg. Go to the Layers Panel (Window> Layers). Click Create Adjustment Layer and choose Curves. Drag the bottom sliders to meet the histogram (hold Alt to see clipped pixels), then plot two points on the line to make an S-shape. Set the Blend Mode of the layer to Luminosity.
02 Add a vignette
Add any Adjustment Layer (we’ve used Levels). Change the Blend Mode to Multiply to darken the image. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the Levels layer’s mask to black and hide the effect, then grab the Brush tool, set colour to white and paint over the corners to add a vignette.
03 Boost the eyes
Add another Adjustment Layer and set Blend Mode to Linear Dodge. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+I, then paint with white to reveal the change in just the iris. Set the Layer opacity to 50%. Add a Hue/Saturation layer, set Saturation 35, then Alt-drag the Layer Mask up from the Layer below to copy it over.
04 Lift the skin
Add another Hue/Saturation Layer, then click the Hand icon at the top-left of the settings. This enables you to click on points in the image then drag left or right to increase or decrease saturation (Cmd/Ctrl-dragging alters hue). Drag right over the skin to bring Reds saturation to about +20.
05 Adjust colour brightness
Add a Black and White Layer, then change the Blend Mode to Luminosity. Now you can alter to brightness of different colours in the image by dragging each slider, or using the hand icon to drag over parts of the image. Set Reds 48, Yellows 101, Greens 90, Cyans 50, Blues 0, Magentas 0.
06 Cool the tones
Add a Color Balance Layer to give the image a cool tone. Set Tone: Midtones, Cyan/Red -17. Tone: Shadows, Cyan/Red -21. Tone: Highlights, Yellow/Blue +21. Add a Curves Layer and make an S-shaped curve to boost contrast by plotting two points on the line, one dragged down, the other up.
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