Blend modes offer the quickest and easiest way to combine images creatively. Discover our 7 best tips for using them to create professional-looking images.
Blend mode tips: 01 Experiment with Blend modes
Blend modes use mathematical algorithms to combine the pixels on the active layer with all the layers below it.
Most work by multiplying, subtracting or dividing colour and brightness values.
Some Blend modes are more useful than others, and many have a companion that creates the opposite effect.
For example, Multiply darkens the tones in an image, while Screen lightens them.
Overlay calculates both Multiply and Screen in one go, darkening the darker tones and lightening the lighter ones.
Knowing exactly what each Blend mode does isn’t really necessary because their effects depend so heavily on the images you’re applying them to.
The best approach is to experiment until you find one that works with your images in the way that you want.
Blend mode tips: 02 Add texture with Blend modes
Interesting textures such as rough paper, rusty metal or walls covered in peeling paint can be used to add depth and character to photos if they are blended creatively.
Load the image you want to texture, then load the texture image and cut and paste it into the main image at the top of the layer stack. Set the Blend mode to Multiply.
If the result is too dark, use a clipped Levels or Curves adjustment layer to brighten the texture.
Try other Blend modes, too, such as Overlay or Linear Burn.
To quickly cycle through them, place the mouse on the menu and press Shift and + or —.
Shutter blending: how to combine images taken at different shutter speeds
Double exposure portraits: a simple tutorial for making striking, surrealist images
Multiple exposures in-camera – how to get long exposure effects in bright light
How to replace a sky: Photoshop effects to make your landscapes more attractive
Photo to cartoon effect – how to use Photoshop to turn images into drawings or paintings
Blend mode tips: 03 Colour grade an image with blur
If you cut out an element from one image and place it in another – to replace the background in a portrait, for instance – the composite may suffer from variations in the lighting or white balance of the combined images.
To create more convincing blends, create a colour grading layer.
Duplicate the background, move it to the top of the layer stack and select Filter>Blur>Average. This creates an averaged colour for the background.
Clip the layer to the cut-out layer and set the Blend mode to Overlay. Lower the opacity until it looks right.
How to blend two photos for perfect exposures
Montage photography: how to make dramatic landscapes using compositing techniques
Camera composition tips: shoot one subject six different ways
Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)
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