How to use Layers to rescue exposure
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.
07 Adjust the blend and opacity
The gradient is too black. To get it to darken the colours in the Background layer’s sky, change the Gradient Fill layer’s Blending Mode from Normal to Overlay. For a more subtle effect, reduce the Gradient Fill layer’s Opacity value to 75%. This Adjustment Layer darkens the over-exposed sky and restores its colour.
08 Selective saturation
Choose Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation. Click OK. Set the Channel to Reds and push the Saturation slider to +70. Set the Channel to Yellows and drop the Saturation to -30. Boost the Cyans Saturation to +20. Finally, set the Master Saturation to -30 for less vibrant colours overall.
09 Edit the mask
The colours at the top of the cathedral look garish and may not print correctly. To stop the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer from changing these areas, grab the Brush tool. Set the foreground colour to black. Click on the white mask. Set Size to 45px, then spray over the building’s top section.
10 Stamp Visible
Click on the top layer. Press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt +E to perform a Stamp Visible command. This creates a merged version of all the stacked layers. Set its Blending Mode to Multiply to increase contrast and saturation. Choose Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All. You can edit this mask to dramatically darken the corners.
11 Create a vignette
Choose the Elliptical Marquee tool and set its Feather to 150. Alt-click and drag the mouse from the centre of the image to create an elliptical marquee. Click on the white layer mask and choose Edit>Fill Selection. Set Contents to Black and click OK. Now only the corners will be darkened.
12 Remove the plane
Press Cmd/Ctrl+D to deselect the marquee. Choose Layer>New>Layer and click OK. Grab the Spot Healing Brush. In the options bar, select Proximity Match. Tick Sample All layers, then click and spray over the plane to replace with sky. By healing onto a separate layer you can restore hidden content.
Extra layer tools in Photoshop CS6
Photoshop CS6 users now have even more ways to take full control of their project’s layers. For starters, you can colour code your layers to make them easier to identify, which is very handy if you are working on a large document.
For example, in our Layers palette, pictured right, we’ve given all of our Adjustment Layers a blue label, while image layers have all been assigned their own unique colours. If you want to assign a colour, simply right-click on a layer to access the pop-up menu.
To save space in the Layers palette, Shift-click on similar layers and choose Group Layers. This collapses multiple layers into a single folder that you can toggle open when required.
Perhaps the most useful feature is the option to filter layers. This drop-down enables you to display layers via criteria such as Name, Effect or Blending Mode, which is a great way of managing large, multi-layered documents.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at 4:41 pm and is filed under Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a comment. Pinging is currently not allowed.