How to use Blending Modes to Lighten Photos

There are various ways to edit images in Photoshop. Today, let’s look at a super-easy way. I always like to start with easy methods first and then, if they don’t work on my image, try the more advanced techniques.

This is a photograph I took of the interior of a beautiful hotel when we were vacationing in Ireland.  I wanted to capture the rich colors and textures of this gorgeous room without losing the lovely glow of the candle lights.  I was also in a hurry, so I simply snapped this shot and quickly moved on (before my traveling companions moved on without me!).  I was really disappointed to see how dark it turned out.

By using an Adjustment Layer and making some blending choices, I can easily fix this.
First I duplicated the image (labeled “Background” in the image below). Then I changed the Blend Mode of “Layer 1” (the duplicated layer) to the Screen Blend Mode. (Click on the arrows to the right of “Normal.” A drop-down box will appear with all of the Blend Mode options.)
The Screen Mode brightens the lower layer (our original photograph) based on the lightness of the upper layer.  So when we choose Screen as our Blending Mode, the result is always lighter, which makes this an easy quick-fix for those dark photographs.

The photograph is lighter now and we are starting to see the true beauty of this room!  But I’m still not happy with it.  So I duplicated the duplicate image (Layer 1) again. (I used Control + J, but you can use whatever method you prefer to simply duplicate a layer.)

Don’t change the Blending Modes again – just duplicate the layer. The duplication of the layers is duplicating the effect, resulting in a lighter, brighter image. The image still wasn’t to my liking, so I duplicated the layer 2 more times. (Layers 1, Layer 1 copy, Layer 1 copy 2, and Layer 1 copy 3 in the image below).

This is the final result, and I was happy with it.

As is common in Photoshop, there are multiple ways to do just about everything.  For example, we could play with Levels and Brightness/Contrast to also lighten this photo.  But those methods take a little more experience to use effectively, and also things can get wacky very quickly.  For comparison, I decided to try lightening this photo both ways.

There are slight differences, that could be corrected if I had taken more time (See how the carpet is lighter in the top photo than the bottom photo?)

But, in general, I like the bottom photo better.

So if you have an awesome photo that you really want to take your time correcting, play with Levels, Curves, and other adjustment Layers.  But for a Quick Fix, try duplicating the photo, and changing the blending mode to Screen!  You might find this is all you really need!



Comments (6)

  1. stacey

    thanks for the wonderful tutorials!

    November 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm
  2. Wow–what wonderful effects, Karen. Thank you!

    November 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm
  3. EllyMae

    Love your tutorials…. can’t wait to get time to play with them.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:04 am
  4. Carol

    This is just so great. Thank you.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:55 am
  5. ScrappyMama

    Karen, PLEASE find out what’s going on with your system…I’m continuing to receive emails (in response for you asking people to guess what day you will be featured on The Studio’s Advent). I posted this here once already & it showed up, but I see that that post has been deleted. I don’t think I’m the only one this is happening too (because I got 2 emails for you this morning requesting that you fix this problem). PLEASE take care of this problem ASAP…Thanks!!!

    December 2, 2012 at 7:24 am
    • Karen

      Thank you for your concern over this issue. This problem was fixed within 40 minutes of the initial email last evening. When people respond to emails that were sent BEFORE the fix, their responses still will go to everyone. Multiple emails have gone out requesting that no one respond to any of the emails. When they do, the cycle just continues. I’m sorry for the annoyance.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:37 am
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