digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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How to Use Adjustment Layers in Photoshop for Tone Control

In this video tutorial I will walk you through how to create and use adjustment layers for tone control (lightening and darkening select areas) in your images. If you want to follow along and work on the same image I'm using you can download it here.

I've sized it down a bit from the original full sized one for faster downloads. It is watermarked and copyright (rights reserved) so please restrict your usage of the image to Photoshop practice, thank you.

Before Image


After Image

Compare to the before image above. Notice the areas around the ladies are all darkened, the people on the motorbike are desaturated and lower contrast, and the stickers on the doors have been removed. The overall affect is to highlight the ladies on the stoop, which has been achieved without the image looking “too” manipulated.



You will learn how to add and use the following adjustment layers:

  • Dodge and burn layer
  • Saturation
  • Contrast
  • Curves
  • Retouching/cloning/healing

The difference between using adjustment layers versus just doing the same things directly on your main image is that this method is non-destructive. That means your original image (and layer) is untouched, and that each layer is fully editable and customizable even after you have applied it. It makes for a lot less cursing and causing you to just scrap the whole thing and start over, losing precious time.

By using adjustment layers you can also save the finished file as a layered PSD (as I show at the end of the video) so you can even come back another day and continue where you left off and they are all still full editable. You cannot do that if you apply them edits and adjustments directly to your image. The history in Photoshop only saves so many states and once you save and close the file that history is GONE forever. Only using layers allows you to change your mind later.

One thing I didn't demonstrate in the video is that you can even lower the opacity of any of the adjustment layers including the dodge and burn one to lessen or fade its affect on the image. This is a super powerful tool to have in your arsenal.

Enjoy the video and please share your versions or results in the comments below.

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