Alisen Hazzard

the Blog

Creating Effects with Photoshop Blending Modes

Posted on December 2nd, 2014

A great, simple way to adjust photos is with Photoshop layer blending modes. You can dramatically change the look of a photo in four steps.

  1. 1. Add a layer above your image layer (Command > Shift > N).
  2. 2. Giving the new layer a fill color using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).
  3. 3. Make sure the Move Tool (M) is selected, and hold Shift and use (+) and (-) to switch between blending modes in the Layers Panel. Use this to easily click through the blending modes to test them out.
  4. 4. Find a blending mode that works with your fill color and image, and then adjust the opacity of the layer.

My Original Image

Here are some examples of each blending mode available in Photoshop CS6. I won’t go into detail about what each blending mode does, but I do include the color of the new layer and the opacity the layer is set to so you have some idea of what is creating each effect.

Many different results are created, ranging from subtle to vivid, depending on the combination of color and blending mode. This is definitely a technique that benefits from experimentation, so get used to using the keyboard shortcuts so you can easily switch between modes.

Darken Modes (Make the Image Darker)

  1. Darken
    Darken
    #EC0084 - 12%
  2. Multiply
    #2B3176 - 33%
  3. Color Burn
    #8E82BD - 53%
  4. Linear Burn
    #009BAF - 18%
  5. Darker Color
    #A2459A - 19%

Lighten Modes (Make the Image Lighter)

  1. Lighten
    #D42B8E - 30%
  2. Screen I
    #590E0C - 100%
  3. Screen II
    #00B098 - 29%
  4. Color Dodge
    #D9E021 - 33%
  5. Linear Dodge
    #00679C - 32%
  6. Lighter Color
    #FCB770 - 18%

Contrast Modes (Darken and Lighten to Create Contrast)

  1. Overlay I
    #FFFFFF - 28%
  2. Overlay II
    #000000 - 71%
  3. Soft Light
    #F47F61 - 66%
  4. Hard Light
    #EDC7DE - 37%
  5. Vivid Light
    #EDC7DE - 24%
  6. Linear Light
    #948632 - 26%
  7. Pin Light
    #7FA23E - 39%
  8. Hard Mix
    #9671B2 - 7%

Comparative Modes (Compare Pixels Between Layers)

  1. Difference
    #120B36 - 67%
  2. Exclusion
    #A55825 - 34%
  3. Subtract
    #005830 - 34%
  4. Divide
    #007741 - 30%

Composite Modes (Affect Color and Luminosity)

  1. Hue
    #FBBA99 - 45%
  2. Saturation
    #EF473F - 20%
  3. Color
    #F16791 - 26%
  4. Luminosity
    #53ABDF - 30%

I really liked the effect using Overlay with pure black or white. With black, and set to about 70% opacity, lots of other colors came out in the photo that weren’t as obvious in the original. The white overlay made the flowers bright white without washing out the rest of the photo, which seemed to happen with some of the other blending modes.

Before I really experimented with blending modes, my favorites were Soft Light and Screen, which I love with pastel colors. There are so many great combinations, and it's really fun to add multiple layers, each with a different color and blending mode, to bring out new ranges of colors in your photos.

Multiple Blending Mode Layers

  1. Color Burn and Screen
    Screen #2965B0 - 100%
    Color Burn #F58362 - 100%
  2. Linear Burn and Vivid Light
    Vivid Light #E696C1 - 50%
    Linear Burn #732B90 - 20%
  3. Lighter Color and Divide
    Lighter Color #00673D - 56%
    Divide #BAD86B - 50%

Try out a few different colors with each blending mode to see what cool things turn up!

Also, check out the Photoshop documentation on descriptions and more information about each blending mode, as well as additional blending modes in newer versions.

Tagged in: Photoshop