Blend Modes and the "The Tinkerer" - A Love Story

May 30, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Whether it's my work or someone else's, one of the many things that I love about retouching and compositing is being able to compare the "before" pictures with the final "after" image. For me, it's like analyzing a "Where's Waldo" picture, trying to spot the differences and guess what techniques were used. Maybe that's just me, I'm weird like that, but if you're a photoshop geek like me, then those things matter.

And that's what brings us to this posting. I thought it might be interesting to visually deconstruct one of my images, so you can see how straight forward and simple photoshop techniques can help to create a seemingly complicated image with very little effort.

So, lets break it down. Looking at the final image "The Tinkerer" to the right, there seems to be a lot going on - silver pipes, purple fire and swirls of blue light all interacting with each other. And with that much visual chaos you might think that I must have spent hours creating highly detailed selections and meticulously blending edges with secret magical techniques that only a few people know. But what if that wasn't the case? What if creating that much visual candy was a matter of just clicking a couple of buttons? Not possible you say?

If you look at image #1 below, you can see all the individual elements that were used to create "The Tinkerer". The four bluish light elements shown in #1 were each put on there own layer above the background layer #2.

Now listen closely, because I'm about to spill the beans on how easy it is to merge all these layers together and make something simple seem complicated. And their called Blend Modes.

I know you've heard of them and they've probably thrown you into fits of depression, but their easy to use and fairly easy to understand as long as you remember the following; there are twenty-six blend modes, but you really ONLY need to know four! Why only four? Because those four blend modes can do 90% of the heavy lifting when blending layers and objects together. So which one's are they?

They are:

  • Multiply blend mode - makes whites disappear 
  • Screen blend mode - makes blacks disappear 
  • Overlay & Softlight blend mode - makes middle gray's disappear

So, what does this mean to you and how do you put it to use? SImple! If you look at the "before" images in #1 and focus in on the bluish light elements that are surrounded by black, what blend mode would you say I used? The keyword here is surrounded by "Black"! Since I wanted to make the black parts of the image disappear and leave behind only the blue fire to blend in with the background. Then I would use the "Screen" blend mode, because the "Screen" blend mode makes blacks go bye bye. That's it! I used this technique for the remaining bluish layers and the final result was image #4. I also used the same technique for the ball of light and fire in the man's hands.

1

2

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4

The other three blend modes work the same way. If you have white in an image and want it to go away, apply the "Multiply" blend mode and "Poof" the white is gone.

The "Overlay" and "Softlight" blend modes make the middle gray's (50%) in your image go away and help to build contrast. The "Overlay" and "Softlight" blend modes are similar in function, the only difference being "Overlay" has more punch then "Softlight".

Sometimes things in Photoshop are not as difficult as you might think. Knowing your tools and knowing why they do what they do can broaden your creative horizons, give you more artistic options and in the end save you lots of time.

Till next time.

Greg


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