Overlay Layers

Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Many landscape photographers will use a filter like this which will darken the sky of your scene, but will not affect the foreground of your scene.  This can be a great tool to help you manage getting a nice foreground subject but also have good detail in what would otherwise be a overly bright sky.  However, some photographers will go ahead and shoot without one and make plans to mimic the same effect using the photo enhancement capabilities of photoshop.

Adjustment layers
Adjustment layers are a special feature of Adobe Photoshop Elements that allows you to make removable and editable adjustments to images. Open this image and then click the Adjustment layer button on the layers palette..

When you click the button, you should then be prompted to choose the type of adjustment layer you'd like to create. For starters, we'll work with Levels and Hue/Saturation.

Go ahead and make the levels adjustment we did before (blue channel to add yellow). You'll now notice that there is a new "layer" in the layers palette. This layer works as an independent set of data that is modifying the image. Because this layer is independent of the image layer, it can be changed, deleted, modified without any actual adjustments to the image and therefore no compromises in quality.

Furthermore, the layer can be set to varying degrees of opacity.

One of the most amazing aspects of adjustment layers, however, is the its "mask" feature. This is a special image joined to the adjustment layer that allows you to paint on it and thereby control where the adjustment will happend and where it will be hidden from the final image.

Overlay layers
Overlay layers is a term that I made up to describe a certain process of blending two layers together. Layers have blending modes which can change the behavior of how different layers interact with other layers. By changing the blending mode of a layer, the different ways it can blend with the image layer can be striking.

For instance, let's create a blank layer (which is by default completely transparent), and paint some yellow or orange color over the trail in our image. To do this,
  1. use the paint brush tool and choose a color from the color swatches in the toolbar.
  2. Next, look in the layers pallette and you should see a pulldown menu that probably says "normal". In here you'll find many other blending modes. Try them all, but I used "color burn" for the image at the top of this page.


Burning skies
Another important technique that uses blending modes, is "burning" or darkening skies in a realistic way. Click this link to view a tutorial on this technique. Burn sky with overlay layer
Also, here's an image that can help.

  1. Create an new transparent layer (click button with page being turned up)
  2. Choose sky blue foreground color and white for the background color
  3. Use the gradient tool to make a nice blended field of color
  4. change the blending mode to multiply or linear burn
  5. Finally, adjust the opacity to make it look more realistic


Other colored layers can be added to sunset images to really enhance the colors.  You can also blend copies of the image itself for other special effects.  Download this image.