• Using Blend Modes with Masks in Photoshop and PSE

    Blending Modes in Photoshop and Elements determine the way two layers combine with one another. Understanding the modes opens a wide range of creative possibility for your digital projects.

    To use a blending mode with a mask (or mat or block) you will begin by opening a new document. Open and drag a background paper onto the document. Next, open and drag a mask onto the document, then repeat with a photo.

    Using the Move tool, position the photo over the mask so that it completely covers the mask.

    Clip the mask to the photo by selecting the photo layer. Press Ctrl G (Mac: Cmd G) in Elements or press Alt Ctrl G (Mac: Opt Cmd G) in Photoshop. This will make the photo take on the shape of the mask.

    Now apply a blending mode to the mask layer. (Applying a blending mode to the photo layer will not produce satisfactory results.) To do this, select the mask layer and locate the blend modes drop-down menu at the top of the Layers Panel. It defaults to “Normal.” Click the drop-down menu and select Normal, then use the down-arrow key on your keyboard to scroll through the modes.

    This will allow the pixels in the masked photo to interact with the background paper you have chosen.

    The blend modes are divided into six categories divided into boxes. Each blending mode compares the color values of the photo layer to the color values of the background layer, then combines them in a unique way.

    Here’s a brief explanation of the function of each blending mode. An example of each mode can be seen by watching the video version of the tip.

    1. Basic Modes
    a. Normal – the default mode that doesn’t blend the layers at all. The top layer retains all of its original pixels.
    b. Dissolve – this mode replaces random, semi-transparent pixels of the top layer with the colors of the bottom layer.
    2. Darken: Each of these modes effectively darken the image
    a. Darken – compares the pixels of the photo to the pixels of the background and shows the darker of the two
    b. Multiply – as the name suggests, this mode multiplies the color information in the layers, resulting in a darker color
    c. Color Burn – This functions by burning the colors of the photo layer into the background layer
    d. Linear Burn – multiplies and increases the contrast of the pixels
    e. Darker Color - multiplies and reduces the brightness of the pixels
    3. Lighten: These modes lighten the image in specific ways. They function as opposites of the Darken modes.
    a. Lighten - compares the pixels of the photo to the pixels of the background and shows the lighter of the two.
    b. Screen – like the opposite of multiply, this mode multiplies the inverse of the color information in the layers, resulting in a lighter image
    c. Color Dodge – this uses the pixels in the photo layer to “dodge” the pixels in the bottom layer
    d. Linear Dodge – compares and brightens the darker color, decreasing the contrast of the pixels
    e. Lighter Color – compares and brightens the darker color, increasing the brightness
    4. Contrast: These modes darken and lighten the image to increase contrast
    a. Overlay – Multiplies the light colors and screens the dark colors
    b. Soft Light – Burns the dark colors and dodges the light colors
    c. Hard Light – Multiplies the dark colors and screens the light colors
    d. Vivid Light – Burns the light colors and dodges the dark colors, using the difference in contrast of the background paper
    e. Linear Light – Burns the light colors and dodges the dark colors, using the difference in the brightness of the background paper
    f. Pin Light – Multiplies darker colors and screens lighter colors using the photo layer
    g. Hard Mix – This adds the values of the photo layer to the values of the background layer with darks becoming black and lights becoming white. Values between become primary colors.
    5. Compare: These modes affect the pixels that are identical in both layers
    a. Difference – Subtracts the brighter color from the darker color
    b. Exclusion – Lowers the contrast by subtracting darker tones from lighter tones
    c. Subtract – This subtracts the values of one layer from the values of the other layer. Where the result is a negative number, the color is black.
    d. Divide – this divides the values of one layer by the values of the other layer
    6. Hue /Saturation/ Luminance: These modes change the color, hue and luminance of the image
    a. Hue – This displays the hue of the photo with the saturation and luminance of the background paper
    b. Saturation – This displays the saturation of the photo with the hue and luminance of the background paper
    c. Color – this displays the hue and saturation of the photo layer with the luminance of the background paper (inverse of Luminosity mode)
    d. Luminosity – this displays the luminance of the photo layer with the hue and saturation of the background paper (inverse of Color mode)

    For this technique, I find Multiply, Linear Burn, Overlay and Soft Light produce the best results, but it takes only a minute to scroll through the blend modes to find the effect you like best.