Photo Retouching

Contrast Layers

Use this technique to create a high contrast or low contrast image using a set of contrast adjustment layers.

Preparing the Document

In this page, we’ll create the two contrast adjustment layers. One will be for the highlights of the image and the other for the shadows.


Step 1

Open a photo you would like to edit. Or, you may use the photo used in this tutorial (from iStockPhoto).

Image from iStockPhoto.com


Step 2

Duplicate the layer (Layer> Duplicate Layer or Ctrl+J) and add a layer mask to the new layer (Layer> Add Layer Mask> Reveal All).

Duplicated Layer with Layer Mask


Step 3

Make sure the layer mask is activated. The thumbnail of the layer mask in the layers window should have a white border around it. If it doesn’t, click on the thumbnail to activate the layer mask.


Step 4

With the layer mask selected, open the Apply Image tool (Image> Apply Image). The default settings should be fine so you may simply click OK if the settings are default:

Layer: Merged

Channel: RGB

Invert: Unchecked

Blending: Multiply

Opacity: 100%

The Apply Image tool


Step 5

Duplicate the current layer (Layer> Duplicate Layer or Ctrl+J).

Duplicated Layer


Step 6

Activate the layer mask of the top layer. Make sure the layer mask is activated. The thumbnail of the layer mask in the layers window should have a white border around it. If it doesn’t, click on the thumbnail to activate the layer mask.


Step 7

With the layer mask activated, Invert (Image> Adjustments> Invert or Ctrl+I).

Inverted Layer Mask

Adjusting the Contrast Layers

Now that we have the contrast layers created, the rest is very simple. Simply follow these steps to achieve your desired effect.


Step 8

Change the blending mode of the layers to the following:

  • For a high contrast effect:Top Layer: Screen

    Middle Layer: Multiply

  • For a low contrast effect:Top Layer: Multiply

    Middle Layer: Screen

    Low contrast blending modes applied.


Step 9

To reduce the strength of the effect, select the top two contrast layers and group the selected layers (Layer> Group or Ctrl+G). Then, select the new group and adjust the opacity.

Layers Grouped


Final Results


Contrast Layers (Low Contrast)

Contrast Layers (High Contrast)

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