Last week I started discussing the basics of working with layers. This week we are going to continue by discussing what Adjustment Layers are and how you can use them. Sometimes despite all the good work we did in taking our photographs, there are universal things we want to change. Before Lightroom and Camera Raw let us change the math of the image and correct exposure, contrast and brightness, adjustment layers were the only game in town. Right above the Layers palette we looked at last week, is the Adjustment Panel. There are 15 different effects which can be used to change your image. It is important to note that as a general rule, layers impact everything visible below them. Just like any other layer, adjustment layers can also be changed via opacity or blending modes—don’t worry we will talk more about those soon enough. Here once again is the layer model we started with last week. I decided that I wanted to brighten up the green layer, so I added a curves adjustment. Curves give you very precise control over the shadows, midtones and brights in your image. By changing the normal flat line to an S curve, you can see the impact on the color of the green.
If you want to mess with all the colors you can add a Hue and Saturation layer. As you can see from the panel, just by changing the hue slider to -57 and pushing up the saturation to +20, all the colors on the image were changed. In reality, the underlying image is still there—untouched.
So these were just two examples of what they can do, how do we use them in real life? Here is a church down in New Orleans. I think the sky should be a little more dramatic. Add a quick Levels adjustment layer and move the midpoint slider to the right and bring the shadows and bright sliders on either end in towards the center and voila.
Take an image and apply the adjustments to it and play with the various options. That is the best way to see what these powerful but non-destructive tools can do.