Bair Art Edition's Tutorial on:
Adjusting Color & Exposure
In Adobe Photoshop

Using Adjustment Layers

Throughout this tutorial, we will be discussing various color and exposure adjustment techniques. Most of these tools are available as an adjustment layer. The majority of the image adjustments that are available at Image/ Adjustments/ are also available as adjustment layers. That menu looks like this:

Those adjustments are very powerful, however everytime you apply them, you are permanently changing the information of the image. For example, if you are "adding" Magenta to an image, you are actually permanently suppressing the contribution of Green to the image. (For more info on color relationships see how light and color work).

Once that change is made, the old information is gone, and new interpolated information is in it's stead. If you ever want to get back to the original information you will have to interpolate it back. Interpolation means the software program (in this case Photoshop) mathematically compresses or contracts the old information, and decides what the new values will be.

Every time that interpolation occurs, the info is of a lesser quality, and numerous "generations" result in poorer images.

So what is the answer? Adjustment layers!

Adjustment layers do the same thing as a normal image adjustment, however they are separated from the original image, so they will never truly alter the original information.

This is achieved by creating a layer mask that is attached to the individual adjustments.

To bring up a specific adjustment layer, either go to Layer/ New Adjustment Layer/, or select the adjustment layer icon from the Layers Palette, and choose one:

Whatever adjustment you choose will show up as a control pannel that you can adjust, and once applied it becomes a layer such as the highlighted one in the image above. In this case, that layer is a curves adjustment layer.

One of the beauties of adjustment layers is that they "save" what adjustments you have made. In the past, you may have taken notes on the adjustment to saturation, or color balance, that acheived a certain result. No longer is that necessary, the adjustment layer does not revert back to zeros, it stays the same with the last information that you applied. You can reopen and readjust any of them at any time, by clicking on the adjustmet icon.

Advanced Tip: Because the adjustment layers are in conjunction with a layer mask (one that reveals all), you can selectively "erase" the application of that adjustment in certain areas of the image. Do so by painting the attached layer mask black whereever you don't want the adjustment to be applicable.

You may also paint black in varying opacities (gray) and by doing so, lower the opacity of the adjustment layer in that area.

These are the sections of this module:
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