Wednesday , February 28 2024
A handbook for utilizing one of the most used of Adobe Photoshop tools.

Book Review: ‘The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop’ by Scott Valentine

While adjustment layer and adjustments in general, are one of the most known and used tools in Adobe Photoshop, the real depth of their capabilities is not really understood and thus, there is a lot of the power is really left untapped. In his book, The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop, author Scott Valentine will take the mystery out of working with adjustment layers, provide you with examples of how they can be used and give you foundations from which you can perform your own experiments so that you can make them work for your images. Keep in mind that this book is for anyone who uses Photoshop. That includes photographers, designers, illustrators, 3D artists, and more.

The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop
The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop

The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop is 227 pages in length and is contained in eight chapters which are divided into four parts. General Techniques explores the controls and functions of adjustment layers. Creative Techniques looks at practices for photography, special effects, illustration, and design. Advanced Techniques examines channels, curves, histograms, and gradient maps. Finally the Appendixes provide additional resources including example downloads from the author’s website.

Chapter One, “Introduction,” begins with the basics of adjustment layers and why people would want to use them. Here you learn that there are 22 adjustments and 16 adjustment layers and how they allow you to manipulate image characteristics. You will also find out how they differ from one tool to another as well as an overview of the two interfaces that you will use to work with them.

Chapter Two, “General Techniques,” provides the foundation of this book. This chapter focuses on working with adjustment layers. Here you will see how to access adjustment layers, how they work relative to the layers they affect, and how you can modify these behaviors through masking or clipping. You will also learn when you can use channels to make changes as well as all of the controls that are available to modify your layer.

Chapter Three, “Photography,” looks at recipes that translate back to traditional photographic processes. Some of the techniques include color correction using Curves, working with the Channel Mixer, replacing colors, brightness, contrast, luminosity, vibrance, removing haze, and much, much more. The idea here is to replicate more traditional darkroom techniques for transforming you images.

Chapter Four, “Effects and Compositing,” provides recipes that go beyond the darkroom techniques and are meant to set your photos apart. Techniques that are explored here include a vintage photo look, graphic art, working a vignette, blending in to a scene, working with masks and channels, creating a stamped portrait, painting with adjustment layers, and more.

Chapter Five, “Illustration and Design,” takes a look at images whose use is geared for print, web, digital painting, and design. You begin by working with patterns from adjustments, handling conversion to black and white for print, creating watercolor and pastel painting techniques, creating topographical maps, working with textures, web colors, and much more.

Chapter Six, “Channels Color Space, and Bit Depth,” looks at how you can use the color channels of your images to mix your images in interesting ways. You learn in this chapter about how color space, bit depth, and channels relate and how you can use them to your advantage.

Chapter Seven, “Histograms and Curves,” shows the relationship between the histogram; like the one you see both on the back of your camera and in your Photoshop UI, and how it relates to the histogram on the Curves Adjustment Layer.

Chapter Eight, “Gradient Map Adjustment Layers,” shows that while there are many methods to convert a color image to black and white, one of the tried and true methods in Photoshop has been to use the Gradient Map adjustment layer. Here you will learn a technique for doing just this.

This final section begins with a series of links you can use to get additional information about some of the techniques described in this book. Next you will see how you can use a Wacom tablet to apply your adjustments. Here you will learn some simple, yet effective techniques for improving your workflow with a tablet. Finally there is an adjustment layer reference where one is presented with all of their controls and what each one does as well as the bit-depth options and color space. There are also examples of the effects each one has on an image.

There are a lot of things to like about The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop and first and foremost is the experimental teaching style of the author. It is very much a more freestyle method of teaching. What he provides are topics for exploration; something to get you down the path to making your own discoveries and by doing so, better understanding the nature of the subject at hand.

Second is the fact that he also brings in a number of other industry leaders to share their own secrets of working with adjustment layers. These bring a greater depth to the subject and provide additional perspective when looking at this complex subject. Guest contributors include Glyn Dewis, Alan Hess, Katrin Eismann, Sean Duggan, Mark Heaps, Colin Smith, Patrick LaMontagne, Janet Stoppee, Pete Collins, Howard Pinsky, Corey Barker, Rocky Berlier and Weston Maggio.

Finally, the writing is clear and concise and easy to understand. The explanations are not glossed over and just showing you examples by rote. Rather you are shown what steps to do and the reasons to do each. While it is a complex topic, by reading the explanations and then using them as jumping points, you will be well on your way to mastering Photoshop Adjustment layers.

If you are a photographer, designer, artist, retoucher, or other creative that uses Adobe Photoshop for adjusting or creating images and you really want to master adjustment layers, then I very highly recommend The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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