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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Photoshop Lesson - Adjustment Layers - Basic
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07/11/2005 12:54:16 AM · #1
** This topic generated for the Post Processing mentorship group, feel free to use it, whether you are in the group or not **

ADJUSTMENT LAYERS - BASIC

Whew! Well, there are so many topics to cover in Photoshop, and all of them are important. I'm was going to start with a really basic overview of layers and selection, but changed my mind because I believe THIS topic is immediately helpful to everyone and easy to comprehend.

One thing to know about Photoshop is there are about 10 ways to do anything, and none of them are particularly right or wrong. I'm going to cover many of MY ways. Trust me, there are many others.

Adjustment layers one of those skills that once you know them, you're going to say "How did I EVER get by without knowing this?" Why? Because they allow you to edit your photo non-destructively. Don't like what you did? Undo it and everything reverts back to normal. Some of the better adjustment layers you will probably find yourself using on nearly every photo:

-Levels (adjust brightness/contrast, reduce severity of blown highlights or shadows, etc.)
-Curves (same as levels with more granular control)
-Hue/Saturation (change individual color, selectively desaturate, super color-saturate, sepia effects, black & white, etc.)
-Photo Filter (warm filter, cool filter, etc.)

Let's try a simple lesson to learn how to use them. Open jrtodd's beach photo in Photoshop,
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and then find your "Layers" window. If it's not visible, go to the Window | Layers menu or simply hit F7.

At the bottom of the layers window are several tiny icons. One looks similar to the "Yin/Yang" symbol - it's a circle with a light and dark half. Click and HOLD your mouse button on that icon and you should see a list of adjustment layer selections. Select "Levels" and a normal "Levels" dialog box will appear.

If you're familiar with "Levels", you might be saying "so what, I can get this by hitting CTRL+ALT+L on my keyboard?!" You're about to see what is different. Go ahead and change some settings. Don't worry if you don't understand "Levels" yet, just slide a couple sliders around so you can see the image change (if you aren't seeing anything change, make sure the "preview" box is checked).

Go ahead and click the "OK" button on the "Levels" window. Notice something new on your Layers window? You should see a new layer called "Levels 1". It will have 2 icons - the one on the right is meaningless for our purposes. Double click the left "Levels 1" icon and the "Levels" dialog box will re-appear. The changes you previously made are exactly in the same position where you left them, ready to be altered. If you like, alter your changes and click "OK" again.

Super-quick "Levels" starter guide
Need to learn how to use the basics of Levels? Open that dialog box again by double-clicking the "Levels 1" icon. Ignore everything except the "histogram" in the center. Just below the histogram are 3 tiny triangular sliders - black, grey, and white. To make your shadows deeper (blacks blacker), slide the LEFT (black) slider to the right. To make your highlights brighter, slide the RIGHT (white) slider to the left. Don't overdo it, small movements translate to a lot of change sometimes.

OK, back to business. We'll get back into the "Levels" dialog box later on. The thing to take away from all this is you can go back into your Levels adjustment layer and make changes to it - any time you want. You can even turn it off without deleting it: find your "Levels 1" layer in the Layer window and click the little "eyeball" to the left of the layer to make it invisible. Any changes it was making to your image disappear. Click where the eyeball WAS and your changes re-appear. This is a GREAT way to do before/after views of your changes.

During this ENTIRE time, your original image has been COMPLETELY untouched. This is known as "non-destructive editing".

Homework Assignment
Of course, this is not mandatory - I know some of you already understand adjustment layers and am not trying to insult anyone's intelligence. For those of you who need to practice, do the following:

1. Find any one of your own photos that you are dis-satisfied with. Open it in Photoshop and apply what you've learned in this topic.
2. Add a Levels adjustment layer and play with it until you like what it has done to your photo.
3. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and play with it. Don't worry if you don't really comprehend how it works at this point. See if you can figure out how to:
-Make your photo black & white
-Make your photo sepia
-Intermediate: Change the hue of a color range (make a purple banana, etc.)
-Advanced: Selectively desaturate your photo so that it is B&W except for an isolated color.
4. Add a Photo Filter Adjustment layer (if your version of PS supports it) and see if you can remove an annoying color cast.
5. Play with the visibility of each adjustment layer (the eyeball), taking note that you can turn each of your 3 adjustment layers on and off at will to get a "before/after" view of what the adjustment layer is doing to the source image.
6. Alternately double-click each adjustment layer you already created and note that you can go back to the setting of each adjustment layer any time you want to. You can add 10 more layers and make 500 changes and STILL go back and change the settings to the adjustment layer.
6. Post your interesting result (good or bad) along with the source photo so we can comment on your work.
07/11/2005 02:47:24 PM · #2
Teacher! Teacher! Do I get extra credit for being first to turn in an assignment? Huh, huh... can I, can I? I wanna gold star...

Before: ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/202652.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/202652.jpg', '/') + 1) . '... After: ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/202653.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/202653.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Processing:
1-Create duplicate of background layer... +2% burning of smoke in new layer
2-Adjustment Layer - Hue/Sat... +6%, master +10% blue
3-Adjustment Layer - Levels... RGB outer triangles in, middle to right
4-New Overlay layer with 50% greyscale... blue and green added, some burning in of smoke
5-Flatten, Crop, resize, USM and save for web

I created my "before" image AFTER I finished post processing!

How, you ask? Because I perform all post processing in layers other than the original background layer which I leave untouched. Then all I have to do is click the little "eye" icon next to all layers other than the background layer to turn them off and I can see the unmodified image. Cool, huh?

Clicking the little "eye" icons on and off is a very powerful method to quickly review an image to see if your post processing is doing more harm than good. If you have a lot of layers you can click just one layer on and off to see its net effect on the final image at the end and maybe tweak that adjustment layer a little more as a result of all your other changes.

In review, use of "adjustment layers" has these main advantages:
1-They non-destructively change the image. That means you do NOT change any actual pixels in an image data layer.
2-All the adjustments in "adjustment layers" are preserved with the layer so you can go back at any time and tweak them later, even long after you "finished" and saved the image.
3-They work the same as regular "Image-->adjustments-->". If you know "Image-->Adjustments-->" already, you know most of what you need to use "Layers-->New Adjustment Layers-->".
4-There are other interactive adjustments between layers, like opacity, that you can apply to improve your image. This is another more advanced topic we will have to cover later.

Oh... this is important... the order of adjustment layers(And all other layers) makes a difference in the final appearance of the image on the screen.

What you see is as if you are looking 'down' on all the layers from 'above' the top layer. In other words, you start with the bottom or background layer and apply effects over and 'above' it. Then when you add a third layer it is applied above the combined background layer and the first adjustment layer, and so forth, and so forth. Therefore, if you change the order of the layers you change their net effect on the overall image. Try creating multiple adjustment layers then use the mouse to drag them to a different order to see how it affects the appearance of the image.

Question:
Are we going to learn post processing techniques for nudes?

If so, we will have to have a model to capture appropriate images, in-camera, in order to try out specific post-processing techniques. I'll volunteer to use fees collected from other members of this group to "hire" a model for a night to get the needed photos. I mean it, I'll do whatever it takes to help make this focus group a success.

Message edited by author 2005-07-11 15:02:23.
07/11/2005 02:49:55 PM · #3
Originally posted by stdavidson:

Question:
Are we going to learn post processing techniques for nudes?

If so, we will have to have a model to capture appropriate images, in-camera, in order to try out specific post-processing techniques. I'll volunteer to use fees collected from other members of this group to "hire" a model for a night to get the needed photos. I mean it, I'll do whatever it takes to help make this focus group a success.


LOL! Way to take one for the team.

Message edited by author 2005-07-11 14:50:18.
07/11/2005 03:32:36 PM · #4
Originally posted by stdavidson:

Question:
Are we going to learn post processing techniques for nudes?


Count me out of this

Message edited by author 2005-07-11 15:38:02.
07/11/2005 09:19:33 PM · #5
Originally posted by janruss:

Originally posted by stdavidson:

Question:
Are we going to learn post processing techniques for nudes?


Count me out of this

Janine... I was just joking. :)

This post processing stuff can be complicated and boring. That was my sad little attempt to add some humor. Don't take it serious. I'll try to do better next time.

OK... how is this?

How do you post process a unique image?
..."unique" up on it!

How do you post process a tame image?
... "Tame" way, "unique" up on it!!

All right, I know, shut up! :)
07/11/2005 09:37:58 PM · #6
Thanks, Steve

Originally posted by stdavidson:

Originally posted by janruss:

Originally posted by stdavidson:

Question:
Are we going to learn post processing techniques for nudes?


Count me out of this

Janine... I was just joking. :)

This post processing stuff can be complicated and boring. That was my sad little attempt to add some humor. Don't take it serious. I'll try to do better next time.

OK... how is this?

How do you post process a unique image?
..."unique" up on it!

How do you post process a tame image?
... "Tame" way, "unique" up on it!!

All right, I know, shut up! :)
07/11/2005 09:39:38 PM · #7
OK here we go, learned some new stuff already...COOL

Before' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202395.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202395.jpg', '/') + 1) . '
After' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202771.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202771.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

It's a little light, but much improved and with more work (have some honey dos tonight) that can be fixed.

So what do you think.....
07/11/2005 10:33:38 PM · #8
Here's my go at it. The individual versions are relatively small but the filmstrip version is about 300kb so those on dialup may want to forego that version.

This is a church sanctuary where I will be photographing a wedding a few weeks from now. This photo was one of a series that will go into my file for future ideas on how to shoot this location so the image isn't inspiring or anything but it could definitely use some help to bring out anything other than the perfunctory in it.

Original image
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202792.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202792.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Basic layers (Levels, Hue/Saturation, Selective Color)
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202793.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202793.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Grayscale (checked Channels to see what I wanted, then used a Channel Mixer layer to dial red to -10, green to +120 and blue to +20 which yields a brighter image than the one I started out with but I think that's probably for the best based on the original image)
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202799.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202799.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Color Replacement (Selected the teal color in the carpet and then did an Image - Adjustments - Replace Color. I know it wasn't a layer but I just didn't like the Selective Color layer that I tried on this one)
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202800.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202800.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

The whole kit & kaboodle if anyone wants to see them together.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202791.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/9232/thumb/202791.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Good start to the classes from my standpoint.

Kev
07/11/2005 10:36:34 PM · #9
I'll pose nude.

You just gotta make sure to get the lighting right -- I don't want my schlong posted all over the internet.
07/12/2005 01:36:59 AM · #10
For my homework, here's the original photo
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Here's the original cropped
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202858.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202858.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Here's the edited photo. I'm not sure I like the end result. I'm having trouble with the "blown-out" highlights on the chickadee. I think the end result looks a little muddy.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

I did adjustment layers of levels, brightness +10, saturation +9, lightness -11, background copy to burn the white, background copy for unsharp mask, background copy to crop, background copy to resize
07/12/2005 10:03:59 AM · #11
Originally posted by jrtodd:

OK here we go, learned some new stuff already...COOL

Before' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202395.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202395.jpg', '/') + 1) . '
After' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202771.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/33515/thumb/202771.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

It's a little light, but much improved and with more work (have some honey dos tonight) that can be fixed.

So what do you think.....

Agreed that the image is light but it is an improvement. If you haven't worked with adjustment layers much I'd keep playing around with them on this image. I'm certain it will make you a lifelong devotee to layers. They are the most powerful tools in photo editing.
07/12/2005 10:42:56 AM · #12
Originally posted by janruss:

For my homework, here's the original photo
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Here's the edited photo. I'm not sure I like the end result. I'm having trouble with the "blown-out" highlights on the chickadee. I think the end result looks a little muddy.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

I did adjustment layers of levels, brightness +10, saturation +9, lightness -11, background copy to burn the white, background copy for unsharp mask, background copy to crop, background copy to resize

Agreed the result looks "muddy". I'm guessing all the adjustments you did was attempting to preserve lost detail. True?

We get so tied up in image processing that we sometimes lose the big picture. Trying to fix one problem generates others that we might not notice. "muddy" is one of those.

There are a few things you might consider when working with an image to keep a reality check on the big picture.

Often before anything else I do an autolevels, autocontrast and/or autocolor check of the image right off the bat. That isn't necessarily because I want to keep the results, but it gives me an idea of the kinds of things that need adjustment in the image. Sometimes I keep the result, but usually I undo it. In yours, for example, it looks a lot more vivid with just an autocontrast adjustment. That indicates you have issues with black point, white point or a combination of the two settings.

You can verify that by looking at the histogram display. Generally speaking you want light distribution all the way across the the full spectrum. When looking at your image's histogram you clearly see that it does not get to either end. That means that both your white point and black point settings need to be set.

One way is an adjustment layer for just levels can that can fix this up in a jiffy. Just drag the left and right triangles until they both just touch the light curve on either side. That is what establishes the white and black points. That is usually about right. In addition to that I dragged the center triangle just a little to the right and it made a huge improvment in the overall contrast and color of the image without any other additional changes.

Now you can go on and make all the other adjustments you might need to make.

When I'm "done" with all my changes after I've cropped an image for output to web or print I do another autocontrast, autolevels and/or autocolor check. If it doesn't change I'm OK. But there are many things, not the least of which is cropping, that affects how the autofunction checks work, so it is not unusual for there to be a difference. Sometimes I might go back and do a little reprocessing, sometimes I might accept what PS says and go on and sometimes I ignore and undo it. But for the most part if PS autofunctions suggest that an image needs a change, it probably does. :)

Message edited by author 2005-07-12 10:44:37.
07/12/2005 03:27:49 PM · #13
Thanks for your help and suggestions, Steve. Here's my adjusted image. The whites still appear to be too bright, but overall, I think it looks a lot better. What do you think?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Originally posted by stdavidson:

Originally posted by janruss:

For my homework, here's the original photo
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202467.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Here's the edited photo. I'm not sure I like the end result. I'm having trouble with the "blown-out" highlights on the chickadee. I think the end result looks a little muddy.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/202857.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

I did adjustment layers of levels, brightness +10, saturation +9, lightness -11, background copy to burn the white, background copy for unsharp mask, background copy to crop, background copy to resize

Agreed the result looks "muddy". I'm guessing all the adjustments you did was attempting to preserve lost detail. True?

We get so tied up in image processing that we sometimes lose the big picture. Trying to fix one problem generates others that we might not notice. "muddy" is one of those.

There are a few things you might consider when working with an image to keep a reality check on the big picture.

Often before anything else I do an autolevels, autocontrast and/or autocolor check of the image right off the bat. That isn't necessarily because I want to keep the results, but it gives me an idea of the kinds of things that need adjustment in the image. Sometimes I keep the result, but usually I undo it. In yours, for example, it looks a lot more vivid with just an autocontrast adjustment. That indicates you have issues with black point, white point or a combination of the two settings.

You can verify that by looking at the histogram display. Generally speaking you want light distribution all the way across the the full spectrum. When looking at your image's histogram you clearly see that it does not get to either end. That means that both your white point and black point settings need to be set.

One way is an adjustment layer for just levels can that can fix this up in a jiffy. Just drag the left and right triangles until they both just touch the light curve on either side. That is what establishes the white and black points. That is usually about right. In addition to that I dragged the center triangle just a little to the right and it made a huge improvment in the overall contrast and color of the image without any other additional changes.

Now you can go on and make all the other adjustments you might need to make.

When I'm "done" with all my changes after I've cropped an image for output to web or print I do another autocontrast, autolevels and/or autocolor check. If it doesn't change I'm OK. But there are many things, not the least of which is cropping, that affects how the autofunction checks work, so it is not unusual for there to be a difference. Sometimes I might go back and do a little reprocessing, sometimes I might accept what PS says and go on and sometimes I ignore and undo it. But for the most part if PS autofunctions suggest that an image needs a change, it probably does. :)
07/12/2005 04:26:35 PM · #14
Originally posted by janruss:

Thanks for your help and suggestions, Steve. Here's my adjusted image. The whites still appear to be too bright, but overall, I think it looks a lot better. What do you think?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Janine... Please... PLEASE don't hit me again...

It still looks weak to me. Here is my take with just one added "adjustment layer" for Levels - Input Level: 10, .69, 186 for RGB only
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203071.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203071.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', '/') + 1) . '



Message edited by author 2005-07-12 16:42:38.
07/12/2005 08:25:01 PM · #15
Originally posted by stdavidson:

Originally posted by janruss:

Thanks for your help and suggestions, Steve. Here's my adjusted image. The whites still appear to be too bright, but overall, I think it looks a lot better. What do you think?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203050.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Janine... Please... PLEASE don't hit me again...

It still looks weak to me. Here is my take with just one added "adjustment layer" for Levels - Input Level: 10, .69, 186 for RGB only
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203071.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203071.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', '/') + 1) . '


Hi Steve - I won't hit :) I like the white on your editing, but the brown seems too saturated and seems to have lost some of the detail. I've done a compromise. What do you think of this?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Message edited by author 2005-07-12 20:25:38.
07/12/2005 08:50:01 PM · #16
Originally posted by janruss:

Originally posted by stdavidson:


' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', '/') + 1) . '


Hi Steve - I won't hit :) I like the white on your editing, but the brown seems too saturated and seems to have lost some of the detail. I've done a compromise. What do you think of this?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Good job! Mine was was only a suggested starting point to show what can be done with only one little adjustment layer and moving a couple triangles. I naturally expect you to make it better. :)

Here is a post processing rule you can live by...

Golden Rule: What looks right IS right!

The trick is to get everyone else to agree with you. :)
07/12/2005 11:41:18 PM · #17
Originally posted by stdavidson:

Originally posted by janruss:

Originally posted by stdavidson:


' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/5792/thumb/203069.jpg', '/') + 1) . '


Hi Steve - I won't hit :) I like the white on your editing, but the brown seems too saturated and seems to have lost some of the detail. I've done a compromise. What do you think of this?

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35317/thumb/203141.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Good job! Mine was was only a suggested starting point to show what can be done with only one little adjustment layer and moving a couple triangles. I naturally expect you to make it better. :)

Here is a post processing rule you can live by...

Golden Rule: What looks right IS right!

The trick is to get everyone else to agree with you. :)


Thanks :)
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