Blend If Sliders
One of the very effective ways of making adjustments and trying things in Photoshop is something called the Blend if sliders. This is a part that's been around on Photoshop for quite a while, but unless you've seen a specific reason to use it, it can be a little confusing to know what they're for. Generally, I would use it for something like this. I'll just do an example. I'll just put a gradient on here and I'll pick something really terrifying that we would never actually do because I wanna show you (laughs) what it does. Just ignore how (disgusted noise). We've got our gradient, and of course it's a layer, so it's normal opacity, 100%. If I change to a different blend mode like Multiply, that's gonna have an effect, but it's still doing it globally across the whole thing. What I wanna do is have a little more control to say, "What parts of the image do I want it to affect?" I suppose I could've, if I thought about it, do what I did earlier of load a selection of just the highlights,...
but I wanna have a little more interactive control. The way we do that is we have to go to the Blend if sliders, which are actually found in layer styles. We're gonna go as if we were adding a drop shadow or all those other things, like bevel and boss and all those special effects. Simplest way to do it is just double-click on the layer and you'll see it brings up ... Here's all those options talking about stroke and shadow, blah blah blah. But at the bottom, you'll see it says Blend if sliders. There's two sliders. I'm gonna move this hopefully over so you can see. This layer is the layer I'm on, which is the one that has our lovely gradient, and the underlying layer is the actual photograph. In this case, what I'd like to do is say, "I want parts of the underlying photograph to push through so that I don't have the color in those areas." If you look at the sliders, it looks like a gradient from dark to light. If I said, "In this case, I want whatever is a shadow or darker area in underlying photograph to not be affected by this gradient as I start to move this triangle," you'll see that the darker parts of the photograph will start to push through. The further I go, the more and more it'll happen. The only downside to this is, by default, can you see how the edges look pretty jagged? That's because it's so pixel-specific that it's saying, "A dark pixel, okay, stop." So you tend to get these very jagged edges. If you look really closely on that little triangle, there's actually a white line in the middle, which is Adobe's way of saying, "If you know the secret handshake, you can split that triangle into two halves and get a nicer blend." The secret handshake is Option or Alt. If I hold down Option or Alt, now as I drag those triangles apart, I'm getting a much nicer, gradual transition. I could also do the same thing on the white end to say all the highlights, which on this case will be the clouds, again, looks very jagged, so I'll do the same thing, Option. I'll split the triangle. You can overlap them and go as far as you want, try all kinds of things, knowing that this is also another non-destructive editing function. The only trick to this one that's better now than it used to be ... Because in the early days of Photoshop, this has been around for a long time, but initially, you would do the Blend if sliders and as soon as you clicked OK, there was no indication you'd done anything, so you basically had to remember. Now if you look on the far right of the Layers panel right here, this little symbol is reminding me I did something. Hopefully, the visual look would probably prompt you that you did something. I think that looks fantastic just the way it is, but if I wasn't sure, I could just go back and say, "Well, maybe I wanted that. While I'm at it, maybe I'd also, now that I've done the Blend if sliders, maybe I should change the blend mode to overlay and lower the opacity a little bit." All of the typical layer functions are still there, but the Blend if sliders build on that by saying, "Control the way that the effect you're doing, whatever it is, another photograph, a solid color or gradient, whatever it is you're trying to mix together, you're changing the rules completely." I don't know that I'd do it in this case, but I could also have chosen this layer, meaning take the gradient layer, and maybe I don't want the darker parts of the gradient, so I'll take that triangle on that slider as well. I could do both of them if I wanted to. The nice part about this is there's no specific rules of how to use it. The challenging part is there's no specific rules on how to use it, so you just have to understand the principle of what the Blend if sliders do. It says if you're using, in this case, the underlying layer of my photograph, which is probably pretty common for me as I'm putting something on top of it, that I wanna say, "Take the shadow areas pushing through, or take away the effect in those areas." Just to illustrate how wonderful this whole thing is, because I used a gradient layer to make this, I still have a mask, so on top of everything, I could still say, "Yeah, but in this one area, I still don't like the way it's looking." I could still take my brush and paint on the mask to make it look a little more subtle in somewhere else. That was a quick overview of the Blend if sliders, but honestly, I can tell you, that's a big part of my experimental phase is, I like the way it looks, but I wanna tweak a little further, whatever it is. You can do it with filters, you can do it with adjustment layers, solid colors, anything that you put ... Or another photograph, wanna just blend two photographs together. I use this all the time for putting texture on top of a photograph. Take a photograph of some texture, stick it on as a layer on top, then use the Blend if sliders to help it really blend in much more interesting ways than simply changing the blend mode to overlay or multiply or something else. Shouldn't say the best part, but a really important part was that little icon to remind you because there have been times where as much as I talked before about seeing the history of a document just by opening it, I'd look at something and go, "Why is it look like ... Doesn't make any sense," then I go, "Oh, wait a minute," because there never used to be any kind of indicator, so you'd have to go and check to see if you did anything like the Blend if sliders. Because technically, it's part of the layers style panel, so normally you would see a little symbol to say, "Yes, you added a drop shadow or a whatever." This used to have nothing, so at least that little symbol reminds me, "Oh yeah, I did something." And again, it's completely non-destructive as long as you save as a PSD file. That's our recurring theme here. Whatever you do, you save it as a PSD file to say, "I wanna be able to go back and edit it." Any time you have a look like this ... Let me just finalize this with ... I'll just use this one again, I guess, this one. If I had a series of photographs and I wanted them to look the same, one of the things that's very nice about Photoshop is you can copy an effect very easily without having to do any hard work. For a long time, Photoshop has had this drag and drop method of copying and pasting for anything, layers, whatever it is, including this case. That effect that you're seeing is mostly because of that top layer, which is a gradient that has the Blend if sliders happening. I wanna see what that same look would look like on a different photograph. Even though it doesn't look like I have anything to move, I still can, so I'm just gonna click in the middle, click and hold, go up to my other photograph, and then drag on top. You'll see right away, it's been applied. Now it's perhaps a little more ... You can still see it. What it's done is, it's almost like the equivalent of creating a preset because now it's moved over ... I never know what the past tense of to drag ... I dragged-ed. When I dragged-ed-ed it over, it kept that Blend if sliders there. But in this photo, I say, "Well, I'm not sure if I like it. Maybe it's because it's an overlay and I need to push this percentage, but let's just see what happens if I adjust this this way." My monitor's never big enough. That's another nice factor. Whenever you use Blend if sliders, it's another part of the ability to simply drag and drop. I wanna clarify one thing because recently, I was showing this to some people, and the name drag and drop is, if you've never done it before, especially in this tabbed document view, it's a little misleading because people call me and say, "I tried dragging and dropping. It didn't work," because what they did was they were a little too literal. They went, "Drag, drop. Why didn't it work?" Because it really should be called drag, wait, drop. Or drag, wait, move down, drop (laughs) because what you really do when you have tabbed documents is you click and hold, drag up and wait until it switches views, then drag down the image, and then let go. If you just drag up to the top and let go, nothing's gonna happen. It's called drag and drop, but it's really got that little wait for it, okay, now you can do it. Once you get that, now I'll work with multiple tabbed documents. Now I can drag and drop, drag and drop, and then go into each one and say, "I wanna tweak the results a little bit," because I can. I can try a different gradient. Just double-click and say, "I wanna use this lovely gradient set because that's much better." Actually doesn't look terrible. Well, it kinda does. Then I can change the blend mode, blah blah blah. The beauty of this kind of thing is experimenting. I'm gonna sound like a broken record and say, as long as we remember at the end of it to say, "Yes, I'm gonna save this as another document, but I'm also gonna save this PSD file so that if I do come back later and go, 'How did I achieve this wonderful look in the sky,' I can look at it and see how I did it." I'm not gonna do it in this case, so hopefully you're starting to see how these things work together. If I'd really thought this out, I could've loaded a selection of the highlights first before I added the gradients so I'd already have a mask on top of the Blend if sliders. These are not independent. Either do this, or either do that. You could try them all together. There's no, again, no hard and fast rules here, which is part of the fun of this whole thing.