Blend Modes and Color Themes


Today’s Question: Both Adobe Color Themes and blend modes for the brush tool [in Adobe Photoshop] seem to really only be of use for graphics such as in InDesign or Illustrator. Have you found any use in editing photographs for either one?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would agree that the Color Themes feature in Adobe Photoshop is really more aimed toward graphic designers rather than photographers. However, blend modes can be helpful for photographers in a variety of situations.

More Detail: The Color Themes feature in Photoshop enables you to select and define groups of colors. For example, you could have a group of colors that go well together, such as complementary colors. This type of feature is mostly helpful when you are using color a bit more directly, such as with graphic design. However, there are certainly ways you could employ Color Themes with a photographic image, such as using a theme as the basis of a Gradient Map adjustment to assign color tints based on tonal values in a photo.

Blend modes are also not something I would consider one of the more important Photoshop features for the typical photographer, but there are a variety of ways blend modes can be helpful for photographic images.

In a broader sense, for example, you could use the Multiply or Screen blend modes to create composite images with a multiple exposure effect. This would involve stacking multiple layers, and then selecting a blend mode for one or more layers using the popup on the Layers panel.

Blend modes can also be helpful in the context of the Brush tool. For example, you could use the Overlay blend mode to apply a dodging and burning effect, painting with black and white at a very low Opacity setting. I recommend performing this task on a separate layer, so that the blend mode would actually be applied to the layer rather than with the brush.

To be sure, these features are not among the most commonly used features for photographic images. But as with so many features in Photoshop, there are a variety of ways you can employ the features for creative effects or a streamlined workflow to achieve a particular look for a photo.