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Book Review: The Hidden Power Of Blend Modes In Adobe Photoshop by Scott Valentine

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In Adobe Photoshop, blend modes, in their simplest form, are devices that control how pixels in two separate layers interact with and affect each other. The base is the bottom layer and the blend is the upper layer with the result coming from the blending of the two. For many, blend modes are a mystery to how they work, but yet can provide essential tools to photographers and digital artists for what they can be used for and how they can improve your work.

In his book The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop, author Scott Valentine takes the mystery out of working with blend modes and provides concrete examples of how they work and what they can be used for. The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop is 224 pages in length and is contained in seven chapters.

Chapter One, “Introduction,” begins by delving into some general concepts that you need to understand if you want to work with blend modes. After a brief introduction, the author gets right down to work, explaining just how blend modes work with illustrations to explain some basic concepts. He then finishes with exactly what you need to know about in Photoshop to get the most benefit out of blend modes as well as why you should also use a digital tablet when working in Photoshop.

Chapter Two, “General Techniques,” describes the basic building blocks of working with blend modes. These are the fundamental methods that you need in your toolbox. These include basic, inverted, and filtered self blend, fill blend, selection blend, painting blend, and adjustment blend. Here you learn what each of these is and how to combine them, work with them, and how they interact. You will also learn about the use of blending layers, layer styles, smart objects, building reference images, and other techniques to have at the ready.

Chapter Three, “Photography,” looks at techniques that try to replicate the more traditional darkroom corrections. These are meant to be subtle enhancements to photographs as opposed to major effects added to the image. Techniques you will look at here are removing an overall cast on an image, enhance portraits, dodging and burning to selectively highlight or darken areas of an image, working with luminance, working with vignettes, and more.

Chapter Four, “Photographic Manipulation & Compositing,” techniques are more for creative work and tend to give more extreme results, but as a result there are a lot more options for combining blends. In this chapter you will see how to create textures, work with tones and contrast, tinting, using sketched lines, graphic illustration, adding a glow to an image, creating rain, as well as other creative techniques.

Chapter Five, “Design, Painting, & Illustration,” examines blend modes that can be used by those who seldom use Photoshop with photographs. These are the painters, designers and illustrators who work with 3D, brushes, and other creative techniques. Modes include here are working with 3D images, applying blend modes using brushes, working with color, gradients, textures, trails and dust, shading, gloss, and patterns.

Chapter Six, “Decoding Blend Modes,” describes a process that can take time and practice. This chapter presents a behind the scenes discussion on how blend modes work. This chapter gets into some of the technicalities of working with blend modes–including some of the math that is involved. This chapter builds the foundation for understanding the list of blend modes in Chapter Seven. Here you will see how to understand the listings in Chapter Seven, a slight bit of math that is involved, and information about the reference images.

Chapter Seven, “List of Blend Modes,” takes on the task of exploring every blend mode in Photoshop. They are listed out with what each mode does, what it is best used for, other important information or limitations, as well as some notes about the calculations involved. There are also the reference images to help illustrate the effect.

Appendixes contain other information on blend modes: “Color Mode and Bit Depth” explains why and when some modes are not available in Photoshop; a “Blend Modes Reference Table” summarizes important information about blend modes; “Online Resources” provides other resources for more information about blend modes; while “Blend Mode Tools Matrix” lists the blend modes in Photoshop and the tools that can use them.

The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop is one of those long overdue books. While I have been a Photoshop user since version six, I too am guilty of shying away from much exploration into the power of using blend mode just because of taking the time to understand their use.

The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop is very well written, as well as very logically laid out, and–as long as you have a fundamental understanding of Photoshop–very easy to understand. Sprinkled throughout the book are tips and tricks from many industry experts about how they use blend modes in their everyday work and some of the thought that goes in to their use.

The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop is well illustrated with images and screen shots show exactly how a technique was accomplished along with the resulting images. If you are wanting to really understand what all of those blend modes are and how you can use them to take you work to the next level, I very highly recommend The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.