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What is blending in post-production?

By April 10, 2018 Photography No Comments

Blending modes are another powerful editing feature associated with layers. Essentially, they offer numerous ways layers can interact with one another based on the colour and luminance values present in the images.

Many post-production image editors offer a variety of blending modes, and they are similar across the various programmes.

Blending modes have a vast number of photographic uses, too many to go into detail here but the most useful are those that help to control and amend exposure, contrast, and colour, and these are the ones on which we’ll concentrate.

It’s certainly worth spending time applying each blending mode to a couple of images to get a feel for what each does, but for now we’ll take a look at some of the more common blending mode applications.

Uneven exposure

This image is underexposed, but more so at the bottom than the lighter sky at the top a common photographic scenario. Increasing overall brightness using a Levels command would improve the exposure at ground level but result in a washed out or even overexposed sky.

To address the exposure issue, create a new layer and apply a black white gradient from top to bottom. With the blending mode set to the default Normal mode in the Layers palette, all you’ll see on screen is the gradient. If, however, you change the blending mode to Soft Light, the background image will appear, but you’ll see that it has been altered by the gradient layer. The black of the gradient renders the top of the image darker, while the whiter area of the gradient renders the bottom of the image lighter basically mimicking the look of a graduated neutral density filter.

Although the street level is now much lighter and the sky is darker, there are elements at the top of the image, the building and spire, for example, that need to revert to the original exposure. To do this, add a layer mask to the Gradient layer and paint out the dark gradient. We can also reduce the effect of the gradient by reducing its opacity using the Opacity slider.



This is one of the most commonly used blending modes. As the name suggests, this multiplies the colours of both layers together before dividing them by 255. Duplicating an overexposed image therefore, and applying the Multiply blend mode on the duplicate layer will have an overall darkening effect.


This blend mode multiplies the inverse of the colors of both layers. This has the opposite effect of Multiply. Duplicating an underexposed image and applying the Screen blend mode on the duplicate layer will lighten the image.


In this example, the original image is lacking contrast and appears washed out. If we add a black-and-white adjustment layer, the image will initially turn monochrome. But change the blending mode to Overlay and the color returns. Overlay behaves like a combination of Screen and Multiply. Dark regions become darker and light areas lighter, thus boosting contrast.


An alternative way of adding colour to a monochrome image is to add a solid colour layer using the colour picker to select an appropriate shade above the background image. The screen will initially ll with the selected colour, but switch to the Color blending mode and the monochrome image will assume the colour of the upper layer. Use the Opacity slider to fine-tune the saturation.

Unlock the full potential of each and every image with reliable post-production techniques that will become a fundamental part of your photography. Using easily followed, step-by-step instructions, Michael Freeman demystifies the complexities of today’s high-powered editing programs to provide you with effective digital workflows tailored to your particular photographic style, and using whichever editing programs you are most comfortable with.

Photo School Composition, Michael Freeman and Steve LuckPhoto School: Digital Editing
Michael Freeman and Steve Luck

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