Believe it or not, Photoshop blend modes are pretty cool. Just take a look at this.


Open the 01-turn-on-the-lights.psd file. Open the Layer Comps panel. Hit the forward button repeatedly, sit back and watch the magic happen.

Blending Basics

You’ll find, as you navigate through Photoshop, you’ll encounter Blend Modes menues everywhere. As you create new layers, there’s an option to choose a blend mode. There are blend modes for individual plainting tools, too. They’re everywhere.


Opacity is the most basic type of blending. If you reduce the opacity of a layer, it blends with the layer(s) below.


You can change the opacity of a layer by typing a number. 5 equals 50%. 55 equals 55% opacity.

Blend Modes

The modes available from the Blend Modes determine how a layer blends with a layer below. The painting tools also have their own blend modes. That means that you can paint on a layer with a tool in a certain blend mode, while the current layer can have a different blend mode.

While you have the Move Tool active, you can use Shift with + or - to cycle through the Blend Modes menu.

There are three blend modes that you really need to know:

  1. Screen: Ignores black. Light pixels get lighter. It’s like aiming to projectors at the same spot. The dark pixels cancel each other out. The lighter pixels get lighter.
  2. Multiply: Ignores white. It makes things darker. It’s like stacking two transparencies on top of each other. The darks get darker.
  3. Overlay: It ignores grey. This is a combination fo Screen and Multiply. It increases contrast.


Open the provided file. Test switching the blend modes for each of the grey, black or white bars. This will help you understand the main categories of blend modes.

You can make tonal adjustments in a non-destructive workflow by using blend modes. Let’s fix a photo using this technique.


All we need to do to lighten the dark leaves is to duplicate the original layer. Set its blend mode to Screen. Mask out the parts of the photo you don’t want to be lightened.

To darken over-exposed areas, duplicate the original layer again. Set the new layer to Multiply. Mask out the area of the photo you don’t want darkened.

We can use blend modes to make the most of the lens flare filter.


Create a new layer above your photo. Fill it with black by hitting D, then Option-Delete. Use Filter > Render Lens Flare…. Change the blend mode of the black layer to Screen.

You can even use a blend mode to sharpen a blurry photo. Sharpening with this method is a non-destructive and subtle way to apply sharpening.


  1. Duplicate the layer you want to sharpen with Option-Command-J.
  2. Name the new layer. Right-click on the new layer, then choose Convert to Smart Object.
  3. Now use Filter > Other > High Pass….
  4. Set the number as high as you can without showing colour through the grey.
  5. Change the grey layer’s blend mode to Overlay.

If you need to sharpen more or less, simply double-click on the High Pass entry in the Layers panel to edit its value.

Now, allow me to blow your mind further. You can use the same technique to create the opposite effect. Rather than sharpening, you can smooth/blur areas very gently.


All you need to do is invert the grey layer with ⌘-i. This will have a smoothing effect. All you need to do is mask areas you don’t want smoothed.

Blend If

Blend If functionality is accessed in a layer’s blending options. You can access this from the fx button at the bottom of the Layers panel or by double-clicking on a layer’s icon. At the bottom of the Blending Options dialogue, you’ll see the the Blend If controls.


Formative Activity

Use blend modes in the provided photos to execute each of the tasks described above.

Fix the light and dark areas of the photo with blend modes.
Create a lens flare where the sun is shining behind the man.
Use the sharpen with High Pass method to gently sharpen the photo of chipmunks.
Use the High Pass technique to smooth the woman’s skin.
Use blend if to hide the black around the moon. Make the moon appear as though it is behind the grassy hill.
Use Blend If to replace the one sky with the other.