1. (above) Farmhouse – B&W Adjustment layer with color masked in

2. (above) Farmhouse in focus- Adjustment layers

3. (above) Branch in focus – Adjustment layers

4. (above) Farmhouse angled – Adjustment layers

5. (above) Vertical Branch – Adjustment layers

6. (above) Curving branches – Adjustment layers

7. (above) Trees – B&W Adjustment Layer for high contrast

8. (above) Clump trees – B&W Adjustment Layer for high contrast

9. (above) Clump trees – B&W Adjustment Layer for shadows

10. (above) Violet trees – Adjustment Layer: Photo filter-Magenta

Using Adjustment Layers in Photoshop

to correct exposure and temperature issues

On the way to Salt Lake City last weekend, I snapped a few shots with my little point-and-shoot (Canon Powershot 710IS). I had not planned on a photo shoot so I did not have my trusty Canon Rebel T1i with me, nor did I have the ability to shoot in Raw. Normally when I shoot snow scenes, I use my exposure compensation to add a few stops more light, but I did not add enough to compensate for the extremely cloudy day. Consequently, my originals were quite dark and blue, so I added four adjustment layers in Photoshop to bring back the correct exposure and temperature (white balance). I listed the adjustment layer below.

To correct exposure problems, it is much better to add an adjustment layer for non-destructive editing. Avoid going straight to “Levels” (Cmd L on a Mac, or Ctrl L on a PC) because you end up destroying the pixels and resolution in your image. If you use an adustment layer instead, you preserve the original pixels and add adjustments in other pseudo layers that remain flexible. You may add an adjustment layer in the bottom of your layers palette. Just find the little icon that looks like a black and white (Ying-Yang) circle.

With adjustment layers, you may also change the opacity of the adjustment layer or mask out the adjustment on part of the photo, due to the fact that adjustment layers come with a “free” automatic mask. The other thing that makes them so handy, is that you can drag all of your adjustment layers from one photo to another image that needs the same adjustments. Of course, you could record them all into one action and apply that action to an entire folder too. Occasionally, I will tweak one or two of the adjustment layers if it isn’t quite right for a different shot. To add an Adjustment layer, you click the circle (ying-yang) icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

I used these four Adjustment layers on these shots:
1. Levels – 2. Photo Filter – 3. Color Balance – 4.Hue/Saturation
I also used a Black and White adjustment layer to the grayscale images.

1. Levels Adjustment Layer – I moved the white highlight slider to the left slightly to lighten the highlights, but I moved the gray slider to the left more to lighten all the midtones of the image, then I moved the black slider slightly to the right, to add some contrast back to the image.
2. Photo Filter – I added the very first warming filter #85 to warm up the shots and help cancel the extreme blues.
3. Color Balance – I played with all three to finish adjusting the temperature of the image.
4. Hue/Saturation – On most of the shots, I added some more saturation to make the colors pop a bit more.

On images 1, 7-9, I also used the Black and White adjustment layer.

Image #1: I used the brush tool (set at about 70% opacity) to paint black paint on the mask that comes with adjustment layer. This masked the effect of the black and white adjustment layer, and allowed the original color from the bottom layer to show through on the building and pump.

Images #7-9: I added the black-and-white adjustment, but I did not go with the default. Instead I tried the blue or red high contrast option and further adjusted the levels layer to “blow out” of some of the details on #7 and #9, or darken some of the shadows on #8.

Image #10: I added a Magenta photo filter (adjustment layer) instead of the warming filter and moved the color balance to red, blue, cyan and magenta to get the exaggerate the violet and blue colors.

NOTE to my students: You may read more about how to use Adjustment layers and Actions in my Custom Images textbook. Look for the step-by-step tutorials in the Table of Contents. Also, try moving your +/- Exposure Compensation to the + side a few stops, to brighten your images. When you shoot with a lot of snow or on a sandy beach, the light reflects off the surface and makes your camera think it is brighter than it is, so it adjusts the exposure and produces darker images. You need to compensate for this in the camera. But sometimes that is still not enough, so you can then add some adjustment layers to correct the exposure and temperature issues in Photoshop.

Have fun with your winter scenes!