When working in Photoshop’s Layers panel, one of the most common questions from users is: “What’s the difference between Opacity and Fill?” Many of us know that the visibility of layer styles is affected by Opacity but not by Fill; however, what most of us don’t know is that there are a few special blend modes that react differently to Opacity and Fill.
Today, we’ll use these special blend modes to create a unique look, while also learning how Fill can control the actual projection of the layer with these sets of special blend modes.
STEP ONE: OPEN THE IMAGE
First, let’s open an image of a landscape in Photoshop. As you can see, it looks like a bright, daylit scene. What we’ll attempt to do is turn it into a dawn or nighttime scene. If you want to follow along with the photo used here, you may download the JPEG preview for free or license the full-resolution version from Adobe Stock and save it to your Libraries panel by clicking the Save to Library button here.
If you’re using your own image, go to File>Open, locate your image, and then click Open, or if you’re working in Application Frame, go to Finder (PC: File Explorer), locate your image, and drag-and-drop it into Photoshop. If you downloaded the image from Adobe Stock, you can load it from your Libraries panel by double-clicking it.
STEP TWO: CREATE A GRADIENT ADJUSTMENT LAYER
Click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon (half-black/half-white circle) at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose Gradient. Now, we’re going to create a purple-to-blue gradient. Click on the Gradient thumbnail in the Gradient Fill dialog, and the Gradient Editor dialog appears. Choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient from the Presets at the top (it’s the second one from the left). Double-click on the color stop at the bottom-left of the gradient ramp, and in the Color Picker that appears, set it to a shade of blue (we used R: 57, G: 77, and B: 150), and click OK.
Similarly, set the bottom-right color stop to purple (here, R: 116, G: 57, and B: 150). Click on each of the opacity stops above the gradient ramp and ensure they have an Opacity of 100%, and then, click OK.
While the Gradient Fill dialog is still open, you can click-and-drag on the canvas to move the gradient up and down. In this case, I moved it up a little. Click OK.
STEP THREE: CHANGE THE BLEND MODE
With the Gradient Fill layer selected, click on the blend mode menu in the Layers panel and choose Hard Mix. (Note: Hard Mix is one of the eight special blend modes that react differently to Opacity vs. Fill.)
STEP FOUR: DECREASE THE FILL
First, let’s try decreasing the Opacity to see what happens. Notice that it begins to make the gradient and its harsh effect simply transparent, so we’ll leave the Opacity at 100%.
Now let’s try decreasing the Fill, just below Opacity, in the Layers panel. Now, the projection of the effect changes as we begin to play with the value of Fill. We’re going for a dark mood, so let’s set the Fill to about 45%.
STEP FIVE: RECOVER THE DETAILS USING CURVES
As you can see, now there’s an excessive amount of contrast, so much so that we’re losing details in the highlights and the shadows. To bring back the details, first select the Background layer, then click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose Curves.
In the Properties panel (Window>Properties), dim down the highlights and brighten up the shadows by dragging the point on the left upward to Input 0 and Output 54, and dragging the point on the right downward to Input 255 and Output 178 (as shown).
STEP SIX: ADD HIGHLIGHTS
Select the topmost layer, and then, create one more Curves adjustment layer at the very top of the layer stack. In the Curves Properties panel, create a point in the middle of the curve, and drag it upward to Input 97 and Output 187.
STEP SEVEN: MASK OUT THE HIGHLIGHTS
Select the layer mask of the Curves 2 adjustment layer and press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I) to invert it black, hiding the Curves effect. Then, select the Brush tool (B), set the Flow (up in the Options Bar) to about 5%, and press D to set the Foreground color to white. With a soft, round brush, paint on the areas that directly face the light source to brighten them: in this example, it’s the sky parts of the ground.
STEP EIGHT: ADD A TEXTURE
Go to Finder (PC: File Explorer) and locate the texture that you want to add. For this example, as with the main image, you may download the JPEG Preview for free or license the full-resolution version from Adobe Stock and save it to your Libraries panel by clicking the Save to Library button here.
Drag-and-drop the texture over the canvas. If you’ve added it to your Libraries panel, you can do the same directly from there. Make the texture image large enough to fill the frame and then press Enter.
STEP NINE: CHANGE THE BLEND MODE TO LINEAR LIGHT
With the texture layer selected, click on the blend mode menu in the Layers panel and choose Linear Light. (Note: Linear Light is also one of the eight special blend modes that react differently to Opacity and Fill.) Decrease the Fill to control the projection. In this example, we set the value to 50%.
STEP 10: DESATURATE THE TEXTURE
The texture layer is adding lots of unwanted color to the scene, so let’s fix that. With the texture selected, click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon and choose Hue/Saturation. To limit the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the texture layer, in the Hue/Saturation Properties panel, click on the clipping mask icon (the leftmost icon at the bottom of the Properties panel). Now, decrease the Saturation all the way to –100.
STEP 11: DARKEN THE TEXTURE
Create another Curves adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack, and again click on the clipping mask icon in the Properties panel to limit it to the texture. Drag the rightmost point down, as shown: Input 255 and Output 199.
STEP 12: (OPTIONAL) ADDING CONTRAST
Finally, if you wish to add a little more contrast, add one more Curves adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack, and control the overall tone.
Here’s the list of special blend modes that respond differently to Fill:
- Color Burn
- Linear Burn
- Color Dodge
- Linear Dodge
- Vivid Light
- Linear Light
- Hard Mix
I recommend that you play with the Fill, experiment with different amounts, and see how it makes the layer react with the other layers at different intensities.
This article originally published in the April, 2020 issue of Photoshop User magazine.