Adobe Photoshop is a beautiful thing. It allows an incredibly wide range of artists, designers, creatives, and especially us photographers to inject a little bit of creative juice into their work and see it come to life. And while Photoshop can be enormously complex there are so many simple, straightforward edits you can use to instantly transform your photographs.
One of these goes back to the basics of photo editing: exposure and contrast. There is a great way to quickly add contrast to your images by using PS blend modes, more specifically the “soft light” blend mode. You may be thinking “But why not just add contrast with the contrast adjustment?” Well, you can for sure…but it’s not exactly the same. And why not expand your photographic editing horizons to try something new?
Soft Light Blend Mode
The soft light blend mode is one of seven PS blends that make up the “contrast” group. These modes all use varying mathematical wizardry to accomplish a similar effect which is to make darks darker and lights lighter in relation to one another. While that is an incredible over-simplification it’s not entirely inaccurate.
The soft light blend mode bases itself on whether pixels are lighter or darker than 50% gray. If a pixel in your image is darker than 50% gray it will be darkened further. If a pixel is whiter than 50% gray it will be lightened. The result? More contrast. Not only that, but this contrast is wholly dependent on image and it’s tonal makeup.
Adding Contrast with Soft Light Blend Mode
First, duplicate your base photo layer by using the keyboard shortcut ‘Ctrl+J’(Cmd+J for Mac).
Next, select the soft light blend mode from the blend mode drop down list. Alternatively, use the keyboard shortcut ‘Ctrl+F’ to do the same thing a little faster. You will instantly notice a fairly drastic change to your photo. Namely the increased amount of contrast.
To really control the amount of contrast I highly recommend adjusting your layer opacity until you reach the overall level of contrast for your particular image. In the case of soft light the opacity and fill accomplish the same outcome so it is your choice which to use.
The real fun begins when you decide to add a layer mask. Don’t worry! Masks aren’t something to be afraid of(in most cases) and they allow you to completely take charge of how an edit is applied in PS. You’re about to see how easy it is right now.
Adding a Layer Mask
To add a layer mask to your soft light blend layer simply click on the “add a mask” icon at the bottom of the layer panel.
Guess what? You’ve just added a layer mask! It’s that simple. Now, you’re free to paint in or out the soft light contrast to virtually any degree and location you choose. Just adjust the size and opacity of your brush to achieve the desired effect.
Add in some a quick increase in exposure and we’re left with the finished product. All done within a matter of minutes.
Some Final Thoughts….
One of the fun and interesting aspects of post processing is discovering all the different methods of achieving certain editing effects. Adding contrast to a photograph is one of the most basic edits a photographer can make to instantly add power to a photo. There are many ways to do this and you’ve just learned one. Try using the soft light blend mode technique to add contrast in a smarter, more controlled way. The soft light blend mode in PS makes it easy to quickly and effectively add punch to your images and it is something I use to some extent on virtually every photograph I process.