Blending Modes use a top layer to change the appearance of the layer, or layers below.
This image shows the results of adding a blue fill layer and a blending mode above the original image.
Blending Mode Before and After
It radically changes the appearance of the underlying photo without damaging the photo. You can turn off, mask away, or fade the blend layer as much as you want. If you change your mind on the result, you can just toss it out!
Blending Modes can make images look amazing, magical, or even bizarre. Unfortunately, it often takes a lot of time to find the right combination of blending mode and overlying blend color or colors.
My Solution? Make a Blending Mode Test Layer
I have a layer that I add to my compositing files. It helps me find my Blending Mode/Blend Color combinations.
When we’re done with this exercise, we will have a file that looks like this…
I’ve found that having a perfectly even grid of colors doesn’t work as well for me. That’s why there is an odd number of colors on each row. I like these colors, in these positions. You should make the layout that looks best to you.
Let’s make one
In this case I am using Photoshop CC, but you can do this with any current version of Photoshop.
1. Make a new Photoshop document that is 20 x 20 inches.
All these steps are flexible. I’m showing you one version of this, but you should adapt it to suit your needs. I picked 20 x 20 because it is big enough to show my medium size images and a good part of my large images.
2. Create a blank layer called “Blending Modes.”
3. Turn on the grid (View Menu > Show Grid)
4. With the Rectangular Marquee Tool, draw a square in the upper left corner. Make it about 1/4 of the page height.
Precision is not critical in this, so you can be a loose or detailed as you like.
5. Fill the square with black
6. Move the marquee (you can use the “M” key to switch to it) by dragging, or just draw a new one.
7. Switch to the Paint Bucket Tool (the “G” key) and fill the center top of the page with red.
I changed my swatches to “Small List” to make it easier to grab the colors I was looking for. You don’t have to use swatches; the color panel will work just as well.
8. Fill the top right square with white
The test page I make uses these colors:
Black, Pure Red, White
Pure Blue, Pure Green
Pure Red Orange, 50% Gray, Pure Violet
9. When you’ve filled the page with color, turn off the grid
10. Save the .PSD file. You’ve finished making your test layer!
Using the Test Layer
Now you have a layer that you can use to test blends. Let’s see it in action.
1. Open a few images and drag their layers into this file. Make sure that the Blending Modes test layer is above them.
You can also add the Blending Modes test layer into other files.
2. Change the Blending Mode of the test layer until you find one that has an effect you like. I want this image to have a specific stark look. In the image below, I think the upper right corner (the white square with a Difference Mode on it) might do the trick.
Tip: To quickly cycle through all of Photoshop’s blending modes right from the keyboard, just press Shift-+ (plus) to go to the next mode, and Shift– (minus) to go to the previous mode. This is so much faster than choosing a mode from a panel menu!
3. To check that the blend does what you want, drag the Blending Modes layer around and look at different parts of the image thru the blend and color you like. Now I can see part of her torso… yes. This will do nicely.
Moving the Blending Modes layer around
4. Once you’ve decided on a color and blend mode combination, test the whole image.
Check It with Fill Layers
1. Create a new Fill Layer using the New Fill or Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the layers panel
It looks like a circle half filled with black.
2. Choose “Solid Color…” and pick a color like the one from the testing grid.
Shown below is a white fill layer with the “Difference” blending mode applied.
You can also use an empty layer and fill it with color using the paint bucket.
Take It Further With Opacity
For subtle effects, try dropping the Opacity on your test page. Shown is a test page that was moved around the screen to see the effect with 68% Opacity and a Saturation Blend Mode.
The Saturation Blend Mode didn’t give me the effect that I
was searching for. I kept looking, and eventually settled on an orange color layer with the “Color Burn” Blend Mode at 27% Opacity. Shown below is a before and after look at that effect.
Blending Modes, can take Photoshop compositions to a whole new level. Making it faster to pick a Blending Mode and Blend Color combination means that you can spend less time trying to find the right effect and more time fine tuning it!