How To Improve an Image with 2 Steps in Photoshop Using Screen Mode

How To Improve an Image with 2 Steps in Photoshop Using Screen Mode

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A Guest Post by Sergey Sus/

Before after

Today I want to share a very simple way for improving a photo without having to change the exposure. I use this method quite often and sometimes even after adjusting exposure.

The image is of a small hillside town in North California called Sausalito taken while on vacation.

Here the SOOC (straight out of the camera) image before any adjustments are applied or any cropping. It is just a bit under exposed and very flat looking.

Img sooc

Certainly there are many ways to brighten a photo in Photoshop like using Curves, Levels or Shadow layers. For this tutorial, we will be using a duplicate layer and then change the overlay to Screen mode to brighten up and give it a bit of a punch. I’ve seen many professional photo retouchers use this technique on both landscape and portrait photography as a starting point for retouching. This method works really well on jpgs as well!

1. Open image in Photoshop. Then duplicate layer by pressing Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac)

Img dup layer

2. Change blend mode to Screen and and then set Opacity to 50%.

Img screen

Starting out with Opacity set to 50% and adjusting the slider for more or less brightness. For this image the opacity is about right at 50% for my eyes. See how this new layer in Screen mode added a subtle contrast and brightness.

Img ps screen

Give this technique a try even if the image is not under exposed as it will brighten up overall highlights and will slightly increase perceived contrast. Make sure to experiment with different opacity values for different looks. Here is the final image cropped and with a bit more processing – how I remember Sausalito looking that day.

Img final

Let me know in the comments how this has worked for you or if you have questions.

Sergey Sus is a Los Angeles based photographer telling telling real stories, individual, professional and family. Problem solver, artist and teacher. His work can be found on http://www.sergeys.us/.

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  • Henry Schultz

    I tried it and it works great! Thanks!
    Henry

  • Well, i don’t think it’s an improvement actually.

  • I don’t find it very convincing.

    Adding a layer of curves adjustment doesn’t take more steps and is more effective.
    That way, you can set the black and white points of the image and spread the histogram to retrieve more contrast.

  • peteryeung1040

    To my eye at my monitor, I actually like the one you show us before Screen adjustment.

  • I agree with you, Yohann. In my opinion, a layer with curves or levels adjustement gives better results. However, the technic of the duplicate layer is very easy to use. In both cases, you can also add a graduated mask in order to preserve the sky.

    Stéphane

  • brian

    Sorry final result looks awful. The after side of the before and after shot looks washed out, and in the final image the sea is over exposed which pulls the eye down to the bottom of the picture.
    Also the after side of the before after image does not appear to be the same as the final image. Look at the colour of theblue building in the foreground.

  • Add a Screen layer at 60%, then add a Soft Light layer above that at 60%.
    This way you add highlights, blacks and mid tones.

  • Nice mini- tutorial. Thanks

  • Bahir Skinner

    This technique works well with shots that are 1 – 2 stops under exposed. (IMHO Sergey did not select a good example.)
    Read this: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-editing/screen-exposure/ to get detailed info on brightening under exposed images.

  • Mike

    I’m really just getting my feet wet on postproduction techniques, so I thought there was something wrong with me when I immediately thought, “The ‘before’ shot looks better to me than the ‘after’ shot. I’m glad to see it isn’t just me. And the final product is just too overprocessed to my eye, but I generally don’t care for the Thomas Kinkade look of a lot of HDR-type photos.

  • Karina

    The “before” image looks better than the “after”: it actually has more contrast. The “after” one is washed out. I guess it depends on what kind of look you’re going for.

  • Adam

    I find tweaking the levels (CTRL+L) works better for compensating for over/under exposed images

    Curves (CTRL+M) probably gives you more control, but requires a lot more experience/understanding.

    Thanks for sharing the technique, nonetheless

  • Brilliant! Works in GIMP as well!

  • Crystal

    You can also do this non-destructively (and without adding to your file size) buy using a levels adjustment layer changed to screen.

  • richard

    convert it to a smart object First

  • Chris

    I use a similar technique with a duplicate layer set to overlay, then using the layer style dialog (by double clicking on the layer), set the black slider on underlying layer to 127 and play with the layer opacity until I’m happy with the results. It gives more expressive highlights without altering shadows. Then clip a hue/saturation adjustment layer to it to control how much/whether the color saturation in the affected range is altered. If you blow out any highlights you can go back to your layer style dialog and use alt+click to split the white fader on underlying layer and pull the left half back to 240 or so (which gradually reduces the effect to nothing between both halves of the split white fader), but be careful as doing this last step can introduce posterization in some of the highlights if you’re not careful.

  • What a great and attractive post it is. You have put such true and effective information. This is indeed very helpful and useful.

  • David Williams

    Fantastic, easy to follow tip with great results, thank you!

  • awesome!! I learned some new, thanks

Some Older Comments

  • RockinRita July 20, 2013 06:02 am

    Brilliant! Works in GIMP as well!

  • Adam July 9, 2013 11:25 pm

    I find tweaking the levels (CTRL+L) works better for compensating for over/under exposed images

    Curves (CTRL+M) probably gives you more control, but requires a lot more experience/understanding.

    Thanks for sharing the technique, nonetheless

  • Karina July 7, 2013 03:08 am

    The "before" image looks better than the "after": it actually has more contrast. The "after" one is washed out. I guess it depends on what kind of look you're going for.

  • Mike July 6, 2013 04:48 pm

    I'm really just getting my feet wet on postproduction techniques, so I thought there was something wrong with me when I immediately thought, "The 'before' shot looks better to me than the 'after' shot. I'm glad to see it isn't just me. And the final product is just too overprocessed to my eye, but I generally don't care for the Thomas Kinkade look of a lot of HDR-type photos.

  • Bahir Skinner July 6, 2013 02:33 am

    This technique works well with shots that are 1 - 2 stops under exposed. (IMHO Sergey did not select a good example.)
    Read this: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-editing/screen-exposure/ to get detailed info on brightening under exposed images.

  • Gary July 4, 2013 09:44 pm

    Nice mini- tutorial. Thanks

  • Alan Hough July 4, 2013 08:47 am

    Add a Screen layer at 60%, then add a Soft Light layer above that at 60%.
    This way you add highlights, blacks and mid tones.

  • brian July 3, 2013 05:56 pm

    Sorry final result looks awful. The after side of the before and after shot looks washed out, and in the final image the sea is over exposed which pulls the eye down to the bottom of the picture.
    Also the after side of the before after image does not appear to be the same as the final image. Look at the colour of theblue building in the foreground.

  • Stephane Bon July 3, 2013 04:36 pm

    I agree with you, Yohann. In my opinion, a layer with curves or levels adjustement gives better results. However, the technic of the duplicate layer is very easy to use. In both cases, you can also add a graduated mask in order to preserve the sky.

    Stéphane

  • peteryeung1040 July 3, 2013 02:58 pm

    To my eye at my monitor, I actually like the one you show us before Screen adjustment.

  • Yohann July 3, 2013 12:02 pm

    I don't find it very convincing.

    Adding a layer of curves adjustment doesn't take more steps and is more effective.
    That way, you can set the black and white points of the image and spread the histogram to retrieve more contrast.

  • Yohann July 3, 2013 07:15 am

    Well, i don't think it's an improvement actually.

  • Henry Schultz July 3, 2013 06:40 am

    I tried it and it works great! Thanks!
    Henry

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