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The blending modes in Adobe Photoshop offer countless possibilities for creatively transforming your photos, as well as providing practical solutions to some real world imaging problems that may crop up from time to time. In the 2nd edition of Photoshop Masking & Compositing, which I co-authored with Katrin Eismann & James Porto (Peachpit Press, 2012), we cover the blending modes and how they can be used for creative effects when making collages. There are 26 blending modes available in the Layers panel in Photoshop CS6, some more useful than others. In this article I want to focus on two of the blending modes that can be very useful for creating multiple image composites: Multiply and Screen.

The key to using Multiply and Screen, as well as several other blend modes, is that each of these blending modes has a neutral color, a color that is “invisible” to the blending mode, and therefore hidden in the final result. Knowing what a blend mode’s neutral color is, and creating layers to take advantage of this, allow for quick and simple composites. Let’s take a look at some examples.


Combining two images using the Multiply blending mode is a bit like sandwiching two 35mm slides together and viewing them on a light box (for those who remember what slides are!); you can see parts of both images, but the overall result is darker than either of the source images, as seen in the illustration below of the sunset sky and the palace.

Multiply emphasizes the darker areas of each layer. This makes it useful for blending a darker subject into a lighter background, while still retaining the effect of partial transparency. The neutral color for Multiply (as well as for Darken, Color Burn, Linear Burn, and Darker Color) is White. Areas of pure white on the active layer will be hidden when these blend modes are used. Even if you don’t have total white, lighter areas will show through very little, while darker areas will be very visible. You can see this concept in action in the illustration below. The overexposed areas of the cathedral image become hidden when the blend mode for that layer is set to Multiply, allowing the sky image from underneath to show through.


In the example below from Photoshop Masking & Compositing, the image of the old ship’s log is added as a layer to the sailing ship photo. With the logbook layer set to Multiply, the darker writing shows through because it is much darker than the cloudy sky and ocean below it. The Multiply blending mode is excellent any time you want to blend images of old letters, postcards or documents into an image because the light areas of the page do not show up much, while the darker writing does.


In the image below, also from the Photoshop Masking & Compositing book, using Multiply on the photo of the crows flying against a light sky blends the dark birds perfectly into the clock tower composite below.


Next page... Screen, the Opposite of Multiply

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