Adjustment Layers

The versatility that adjustment layers afford Photoshop users is such that they should be used and used often. However, Photoshop beginners see these as ‘new territory’ to be entered into with trepidation – absolutely not so!

This tutorial will show the effect of each of the available adjustment layers.

One of the best things about adjustment layers is that they are not ‘permanent’ changes until you want them to be, unlike adjusting the layer itself.

Selective Color and Brightness/Contrast

Selective Color & Brightness/Contrast

I have decided with this image that the blue of the sky is too dark, and the owl and the perch need brightening.

Download the Owl image from sxc and open it in Photoshop. Image>Image Size – set the width to 800px, auto height, click OK

– I have made this the size as you should be able to view at 100% and see all of the image on the screen.

There are two ways of creating a new adjustment layer in Photoshop: Layers>New Adjustment Layer – then select the type of adjustment layer you require, or click on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and click on the required adjustment layer:

Adjustment Layer Icon

So, by whichever method you prefer, select ‘Selective Color’ from the drop-down list.

Apply the following settings:

Selective Color Settings

Click on the mask that is automatically applied to the adjustment layer

Layer Mask

Select the Brush tool and a soft, round brush. Set black as the foreground colour.

Paint the owl and the perch – check on the mask in the layers palette to make sure you haven’t missed any. If you go over the edges, change the foreground colour to white and paint those parts back in.

– Always with masking in Photoshop painting with black masks out (those parts won’t be affected by the effect being applied), and white erases the mask.

Create another adjustment layer, this time selecting Brightness/Contrast

Apply the following settings:

Brightness/Contrast Settings

Ctrl + Click on the MASK of the selective color layer – this will select the sky – the parts we didn’t mask out.

Make the mask of the brightness/contrast layer active, and with black as the foreground colour, Edit>Fill – Foreground Color, now the sky should be masked out so the effect is only active on the owl and the perch.

Use a soft round brush to touch up any edges if necessary

Now I can show you some of the versatility of using adjustment layers.

Let’s say I am now not happy with the colour of the sky – if we had made the sky and the owl two separate layers and simply applied adjustments, without stepping back to where I applied the selective color adjustment, I am a bit stumped, other than trying to make further adjustments – admittedly in this instance it probably wouldn’t be too difficult, but when the work is more intricate it throws up a real problem.

But, we didn’t do that – so now we can double click on the selective color layer in the layers palette and lo and behold – not only can we make any required adjustments, but all the settings applied are still there – nothing has reverted to the default settings!

Adjustment Select

The other thing we can do at this point is turn off the visibility of the two adjustment layers, and there is the image, just as it started – this is not a recommendation to not have a duplicate of the original image – that is an absolute must, no exceptions!

Black & White and Exposure

Black & White and Exposure

With this image, I want to set the centre part of the flower as the focal point

Open the Orchid image from sxc

Image>Image Size – set width to 750, auto height.

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Black & White

Apply the following settings:

Black & White Settings

Click on the mask in the adjustment layer to make it active

Select the Brush tool, a soft round brush and set black as the foreground colour

Paint out the centre part of the flower

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Exposure

Apply the following settings (or something similar):

Exposure Settings

Ctrl + Click on the MASK of the black and white adjustment layer

Select>Inverse

Click on the mask of the exposure adjustment layer

Edit>Fill>Foreground Color (assuming black is set as the foreground)

Solid Color, Photo Filter and Color Balance

Solid Color, Photo Filter and Color Balance

I would like the balloon to be red, the wall to be blue-tinged and the teddy bear to have a slightly richer colour tone.

Open the Teddy Bear image from deviantart.com

Image>Image Size – set the height to 600, auto width

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Solid Color

Apply the following settings:

Solid Color Settings

Set the layer mode to Color

Click on the mask in the layers palette to make it active

Select the Brush tool, a soft round brush, foreground colour set to black

Paint over everything except the balloon

– This masking can also be done using the Pen tool – create a path around the balloon, right click within the path and click Make Selection – Feather 0. Select>Inverse, Edit>Fill – Foreground Color

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Photo Filter

Apply the following settings:

Photo Filter Settings

Using black as before, paint out the balloon and the teddy bear

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Color Balance

Apply the following settings:

Color Balance Settings

On this layer we want to mask out everything except the teddy bear – the pen tool is good for this selection – as described above.

Levels, Threshold and Gradient Fill

Levels, Threshold and Gradient Fill

I want to use this image to create a texture/background

Open the Logpile image from deviantart.com

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Levels

Apply the following settings:

Levels Settings

For this image we will be doing no masking at all

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Threshold

Apply the following settings:

Threshold Settings

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Gradient Fill

Apply the following settings:

Gradient Settings

Set the layer mode to Dissolve and reduce the opacity to 75%

Invert, Posterize and Hue/Saturation

Open a new file, 800 x 800, 72px resolution, white background

Select the Brush tool and a large (approx 300px) soft, round brush

Select any colour of your choice – it will be inverted, so you will end up with the opposite colour.

Click on the canvas numerous times

Reduce the brush size, change the colour and repeat

Continue in this way until you have little white space showing, as my example below:

Circles

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Inverse

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Posterize

Apply the following settings:

Posterize Settings

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Hue/Saturation

Apply the following settings:

Hue/Saturation Settings

Circles

Curves and Channel Mixer

Curves and Channel Mixer

I want to lighten the image and change the colour of the eye

Open the Eye image from deviantart.com

Image>Image Size – set the width to 850, auto height

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Curves

Apply the following settings:

Curves Settings

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Channel Mixer

Apply the following settings to the Blue channel:

Channel Mixer Settings

Mask out everything except the iris in the same way as before, using a soft, round brush and black as the foreground colour.

Gradient Map

Gradient Map Adjustment

Here is where the learning really becomes fun!!

Either open the BlueRedGreen image from deviantart.com, or choose your own image

Create a new adjustment layer, selecting Gradient Map

Now you can select whatever gradient you like the look of on your image, and you can mask out whichever parts of the image you don’t want to have the gradient applied.

This is real fun, and you can achieve many very different effects – just play!!!

Here are a few of the effects I achieved on the image:

Gradient Map Adjustment

Gradient Map Adjustment

Gradient Map Adjustment

For the sake of this tutorial I have purposely used images that have enabled easy masking as I didn’t want to get caught up in the techniques required for more intricate work – that is a whole other tutorial in itself! We have looked into what each of the adjustment layers can do and how they work – obviously, the capabilities are far greater than I have shown here. I am hoping that beginners have learnt that adjustment layers are not to be avoided, rather to be embraced. You can play to your heart’s content with settings and still revert back to the original or the stage you were happy with simply by deleting a layer or two, but most of all, I hope you have learnt that they can be a serious design asset, and also lots of fun to work with!

4 Responses to “Adjustment Layers”

  1. Excellent tutorial, thanks for the share.

  2. This looks like a fantastic site to subscribe to but I’m not sure that i have the right program .
    I have Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 and Paint Shop Pro 9. Am I right or wrong in thinking that I would be able to use this program.

    • Peter – you really need Photoshop to get anything from my tutorials and articles. I started the blog focussing on both Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, but sadly, the audience is just not there for Paint Shop Pro any longer – it is far outweighed by Photoshop, so that is the focus of my attention nowadays.

  3. Thank you nice and simple but enough info to play around whilst doing them. I have learnt alot about the various adjustment layers and what they actually do. I’ve followed much more complex tutorials but just done what I was told and no more, this one allows you to play because one is not trying to create a masterpiece.

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