A short tutorial on enhancing an image with blended layers in Photoshop

This is a tutorial about how to enhance an image by laying it on top of a background and blending the two layers to produce a pleasing image.

Click on the thumbnail image below and aquaint yourself with the labels. It will make it easier to understand this tutorial.


This is how to blend two images:

Open two images. I’m going to call the image you want to enhance, the ‘Starter Image’ (SI), and the background image the ‘Background Image’ (BI).

The BI should be something just this side of boring. I mean it should be an image that has interesting tones and colours and textures; but that’s about all. A close-up of a brick showing just the various colours and textures would be a good choice. For the BI in my example, I used a scan of a sheet of art paper that had been soaked in instant coffee and left to dry.

Make sure the two images are the same size or that the SI is smaller than the BI. If the SI is bigger than the BI, part of it will be cut off when it is laid over the BI. (see the end of this tutorial if you are not sure how to tell what the sizes of the images are, and there is a very short tutorial on what you need to know.)

Click on the SI. Select the whole image (Select > All). Then copy it (Edit > Copy).

You now need to move to the BI, so click on it to make it the active image (the one you can work on). Paste the SI over it (Edit > Paste).

You will now have two layers but the image you can see will just be the SI. it is as though the BI is not there. But it is; it is just obscured by the top layer. This will change if you change the way the two layers are blended together. The way to change the way the two layers appear relative to each other, is through the Blending Modes.

The Blending Modes are in a drop-down menu in the Layers palette. If the Layers palette is not visible, go to Window > Layers and the Layers palette will appear.

Examine it closely and you will see a drop-down menu, and below that you will see two small images of the SI and the BI, with the SI above the BI. That’s fine. it tells you there are two layers, even though you can only see one in images you are working on.

The default blending mode is ‘normal’. In this mode, the top layer completely obscures the layer below, which is why you can only see the SI. We can change that by changing the blending mode in the drop-down menu. Try ‘multiply’ and see what you think of the result.

See how the SI and the BI have interacted to produce something quite new and interesting.

Also try ‘overlay’. In fact, try all the blending modes to see what effect each of them has. ‘Multiply’ is a good one though.

The effect may be too strong, and if it is, just cut back on the percentage of the opacity slider at the top right of the Layers palette.

There are things you can do to blend different parts of the image by different amounts and ways to blend different parts of the image with different blending modes. The extra rectangle in my example – the one to the side of the top layer in the layers palette – is a vector mask which allows you to strip away part of the top layer with the brush tool. More about that in the next tutorial.

Image Size
Click on Image > Image Size and a box will appear that has width and height in pixels, the document size in a variety of units of dimension, and tick boxes for Scale Styles, Constrain Proportions and Resample Image.

To check whether the SI is no bigger than the BI, you need to look at both the number of pixels in the Pixel Dimensions and at the Resolution in both images. Make a note of what they are for both images.

If the Resolution of the SI is very different from the resolution of the BI, you can alter the Resolution of the SI (or the BI if you prefer to change that) BUT whichever image you change, uncheck the Resample Image box. Click OK and then if you still need to change the Pixel Dimensions of the SI or the BI, check the Resample Image box and the Constrain Proportions box and alter the Pixel Dimensions.

That’s it except for one thing. Don’t Save the image with the changed image dimensions unless you really know you want to. If you have downsized your image and then saved it and quit the image, you will not be able to go back and recapture the pixels you threw away in downsizing the image.


Sharpening with Adobe Camera Raw 4.1 in CS3

If there was one and one only reason to get Adobe Photoshop CS3, the new sharpening tool in Camera Raw 4.1 would be it.

There are now sliders for Amount, Detail, Radius, and Masking, as well as sliders on the same ‘page’ for luminance and color noise reduction.

The first and most important tip to know is to set the view to 100%. Anything less and you will not be able to see the changes that the sliders make with anything like the detail needed.

At the same time, another tip is to climb down from the 100% mountain after one has made the changes that seem right, and look at the shot at around 25% view, which will give a better impression of what tones look like in ‘normal’ view and will show how sketchy versus how photographic the finished image looks.

To see what the sliders do, I recommend dragging them to the middle position, and then moving individual ones to the left and right in various combinations. The changes that result have to be seen to be appreciated – words could not do them justice.


High ISO with Nikon D40

Here are a couple of shots taken in the late afternoon of what had been a bright, sunny day.

The occasion was a parade that was not greeted with universal approval. In the first shot, notice the stationary bus sideways on across the street, used to block off traffic.

The fact is that at some point later in the late afternoon I messed up and set the camera to ISO3200 by mistake. It is all down to my not being able to see the ISO setting unless I am wearing my glasses, because I am long sighted. The rear LCD is just a blur without them. And unlike the D200, the ISO does not show in the viewfinder.

I can see the ISO in the viewfinder of the D200 without glasses, which if for no other reason, is why for serious work I would use the D200 rather than the D40. But the D40 is a light, carry it anywhere camera, so it has its place.

I have worked out a way to set the ISO on the D4O without putting on my glasses but on this occasion the method failed me.

To operate ISO on the D40 by feel:
The first step is to set or assign the ‘Function’ (Fn) to ‘ISO’ in Set-Up in the menus. Then when you want to change ISO, press Fn and the rear LCD will light up. Spin the rear wheel to the left a few times. That will bottom-out ISO at its lowest ISO, which is 200. Then move the wheel to the right one click at a time. That wil move IS0 to 400 800 1600 and Hi1 with each succeeding click. So for example two clicks is 800. That is the theory – but there were too many clicks yesterday.

The problem with Hi1 is not that it is incapable of making a reasonably clean image; it is that there is no room for exposure errors. Any under-exposure punishes the image badly. The shot of the crowd was taken in a street flanked by trees and buildings that cut down the available light, so the metering worked. The shots of the two hotel employees had a lot of light pouring in from the sky and it under-exposed the shadow areas of the shot.

This shot of the bike with the bus in the background was shot at ISO1600 1/1600 at f5.6.

This crowd scene was shot at ISO3200 1/125sec at f7.1

a shot at 3200ISO with a lot of noise reduction applied


The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The First Temple, built by Solomon, stood on more or less the same spot, on high ground which sloped southward down the valley.

After the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, the Jewish population were exiled to Babylon, where the Babylonians were themselves conquered by the Persians, who allowed the Jews to return home some 70 years after their exile.

The temple was reconstructed and there then followed a number of invasions and conquests culminating in the rebuilding of the temple (the Second Temple) on a larger scale by Herod, at which time the Temple Mount was constructed as a broad plaza over a series of arches, surrounded by supporting retaining walls. The Western Wall at which Jews pray, is the western retaining wall of this plaza.

From the south and east it is clear to see that the plaza stands high and level above the surrounding land.

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., and the Jews exiled. The Romans built a temple on the site and subsequently a Christian church. When Islam became the dominant religion in the region, the Dome of the Rock was constructed to mark the spot where Mohammed ascended in a dream to heaven.

During the crusades the building became the focal point for the Knights Templar until Jerusalem was regained by the Moslems.

The organization of the plaza and of the buildings on it, is now run by the Waqf, who have built an extension to the Al Aqsa mosque (which sits at the southern end of the plaza) and have another in the planning stage. The mosques attract large congregations on Fridays.

The Dome of the Rock

Nikon D200 with 12-24mm lens at 24mm. Layer blended over scanned sheet of art paper previously soaked in coffee.


Covered Walkway in Jerusalem

This is a view looking up towards the Temple Mount from inside the covered walkway that leads up from the area in front of the Western Wall.

The walkway is a temporary structure, built to replace the stone ramp that suffered damage during an earthquake some years ago. The rebuilding of the stone ramp is under way at present and has been the cause of some friction between the Jewish and Moslem communities.


Adobe Media Gallery

On 26th May, in a review of CS3, I wrote:
“How long will Photoshop/Bridge and Lightroom remain two separate programs though? The stated philosophy was that some photographers wanted to process and batch process images and did not need the capabilities of Photoshop. That may be so now, but I cannot help but think that CS4 will surely incorporate everything Lightroom can do”

I did not imagine when I wrote it, that the convergence would be as quick as it has proved to be. But on 10th June, Adobe released Adobe Media Gallery, which adds Web Gallery creation to CSe in html and Flash.

Adobe Media Gallery is free for CS3 and includes both the plug-in and templates, all of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom default templates, as well as the Lightroom HTML Gallery.

With it, users can create galleries and export them via FTP.

The link is here