Elements Blend Modes


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The Elements Blend Modes are right on top of the Layers Palette in a drop-down menu.  When you open a new document it defaults to "Normal".  

They were somewhat of a mystery to me for some time until I started learning just how awesome, amazing, useful and powerful they are.

Like you, I was using them from time to time when some tutorial instruction said to use them but I had no real understanding of what was happening.

First of all - just what the heck are the Blend Modes? 

What they do is determine how two layers interact.  By default the top layer will hide everything on the layers below but that can change by changing the blend mode.

This tutorial will take a look at the five most useful Elements Blend Modes and you are going to absolutely love what you learn and your digital imaging projects will go to a new level.

There are 6 different main categories and 25 Elements Blend Modes in total. You'll find that 5 of them will get the most use in your digital editing projects with Elements. The 5 most useful ones are
  • Multiply
  • Screen
  • Overlay
  • Color
  • Luminosity
Now we can look at each of them in turn but first - this is how to change the Elements Blend Modes ...

Changing Blend Modes


elements blend modes blend modes







Changing the Elements Blend Modes is easy.

Click the down arrow to the right of Normal and this is the list that will appear.

There are six main categories separated by horizontal lines.

Roughly speaking, the main categories are ...

  • Normal
  • Darken
  • Lighten
  • Contrast Adjustment
  • Difference/Exclusion
  • Other







Multiply Blend Mode


Multiply is part of the darken group in Photoshop Elements Blend Modes and what it does is - well - darken!

The most widely used analogy to describe Multiply blending is to imagine two identical slides pressed together and placed in a slide projector.  Because there are two slides the light has to penetrate twice as much as it would if there is only one slide.

This makes a light image darker and it's dead simple to do!

Some things to consider when using the Multiply  ...

  1. You can duplicate the original layer and change the blend of the new layer to Multiply, or
  2. You can add a Levels and click OK without making any adjustments and then change the blend to Multiply.  The result is the same but having the Levels Layer means you can make further adjustments.
  3. If the change in the blend mode does not produce the results you want then Ctrl-J/Cmd-J the top layer to double the effect.
This really works well with underexposed pictures - here's an example - it's a scan of an image from my darkroom many years ago ...


elements blend mode boat
The original scan - washed out an flat.
elements blend modes background copy
The background layer copied and the blend mode changed to Multiply.

elements blend modes layer 1
elements blend modes levels
A Levels Adjustment layer added on top of the Background Copy and the blend mode was changed to Multiply.

The blend mode change darkened the image and the Levels were adjusted to improve the contrast.

elements blend mode levels layer set to multiply


Of course, this works with color shots as well.  Here's one for your approval ...


elements blend modes building interior
elements blend modes multiply
As Shot
After Multiply Blend Mode

This one would probably benefit from the addition of a Layer Mask to lighten up the lower third of the image.

Screen Blend Mode


The second one we will look at is Screen.  The analogy for this one is the same slide in two different projectors being projected onto a screen.  Twice the light will make a lighter image, right?  That is what will happen - a dark image will become much lighter.

Screen is the opposite of Multiply and that means it makes a dark image lighter.  

The same considerations from the Multiply hold true for the Screen ...

  1. You can duplicate the original layer and change the blend of the new layer to Screen or
  2. You can add a Levels and click OK without making any adjustments and then change the blend to Screen.  The result is the same but having the Levels Layer means you can make further adjustments.
  3. If the change in the blend mode does not produce the results you want then Ctrl-J/Cmd-J the top layer to double the effect.


elements blend mode hot dog cart
The original image off of my Digital Camera - much too dark.
elements blend modes background copy
The background layer copied and the blend mode changed to Screen.

elements blend modes layer 1
elements blend modes levels
A Levels Adjustment layer added on top of the Background Copy and the blend mode was changed to Screen.

The blend mode change darkened the image and the Levels were adjusted to improve the contrast.

elements blend mode levels layer set to screen


Screen Blend Mode Video


Screen Blend Mode
plus
Some Dodging and Burning

The video demonstrates the use of the Screen Blend Mode as well as some dodging and burning and Layer Masks.  The dodge and burn and masks are included because these techniques do not work in isolation - the best results are achieved when a couple of different techniques are combined.

Overlay Blend Mode


Overlay is kind of a cross between the Multiply and Screen Elements Blend Modes.

What it does is
  • Lighten dark areas ,and
  • Darken light areas
It is especially useful with an image that is kind of flat with poor contrast..

Overlay is applied exactly the same as the previous two ...

  1. You can duplicate the original layer and change the blend of the new layer to Overlay or
  2. You can add a Levels Adjustment Layer and click OK without making any adjustments and then change the blend to Overlay.  The result is the same but having the Levels Adjustment Layer means you can make further adjustments.
  3. If the change in the blend mode does not produce the results you want then Ctrl-J/Cmd-J the top layer to double the effect.
I was on the top level of a parking garage with my trusty Olympus camera and found the roofs of the row houses quite intriguing - plus - there was a fake owl on one of them - bonus. I shot the picture (actually a bunch of them) but they were flat and lifeless when they were downloaded to my computer.

The Overlay blend mode quickly brought back some contrast ...


elements blend mode owl on roof
The original image off of my Digital Camera - much too flat and lifeless.
elements blend modes background copy
The background layer copied and the blend mode changed to Overlay.

elements blend modes layer 1

See the little owl on the left side of the picture - where the dark roof and the reddish roof meet.  It's a fake owl, by the way.

Color Blend Mode


Color has nothing to do with shadows and highlights - it has to do with color.

When a layer is set to Color you can paint on the layer and the underlying texture will show through.  This mode is particularly useful when colorizing a black and white image.

If you have Elements Version 7.0 or later then you really don't need to use this method because the latest versions of Elements include the Smart Brush and you can use the color modification category.  However - it6's good to know how to use the Color Blend mode because there are time when you will want to use it.

This is the image that will be used ...


elements blend modes black and white


Now I really like this black and white but it's also a good candidate for demonstrating the elements blend modes, in this case, the color mode.

Here's the colored Hibiscus.  I painted it with my Intuos4 and it looks pretty darn good, don't you think?


elements blend modes color blend mode


It took four layers in total and each one of them had the Blend Mode changed from Normal to Color.



Luminosity Blend Mode


The last of these really cool Elements blend modes is Luminosity and it generally works in conjunction with a Levels Adjustment layer.

When a Levels Adjustment layer is applied to an image the overall contrast will change and it may affect the color of the image as well - more contrast equals more color saturation.

Changing the blend mode to Luminosity after the adjustment layer is applied tells Photoshop Elements to ignore the color information while keeping the change in contrast.

In a nutshell - Luminosity blends the lightness without changing color.

This is a difficult thing to show on a webpage but lets take a shot at it ...

elements blend modes crane
The original picture of the Crane.
elements blend modes levels adjustment
A Levels Adjustment layer was added and the black and white points were moved into the edge of the histogram.
elements blend modes luminosity blend mode
The Blend Mode of the Levels Adjustment layer was changed to Luminosity. 

It's difficult to see any changes but there is one  for sure ...




The Elements Blend Modes are really useful in so many different situations.  They are used extensively in the different Smart Brush categories.



Page Links


Changing Blend Modes

Multiply

Screen
Overlay

Color

Luminosity











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