Soft Light

Photoshop describes the Soft Light blending mode as "similar to shining a diffused spotlight onto the image." Like a softer version of Overlay and Hard Light, Soft Light belongs to the same contrast-increasing group of blending modes that have mid-gray as their neutral color. Essentially, Soft Light blending mode dodges the image if the blend color is lighter than 50% gray, and burns the image if the blend is darker.

Deciding between these three modes is always a case of applying your judgment to the image you're working on, but there are good reasons why you might want to choose Soft Light to increase contrast. Unlike Overlay, Soft Light can clip colors to a pure white or black, something you can also do with Hard Light. Its name also gives us a clue to the other main reason for selecting Soft Light—of these three modes, Soft Light produces the softest contrast.

KEYBOARD SHORTCUT

Windows: Alt+Shift+F Mac: Option+Shift+F

Original image.

Original image.

While gently increasing contrast is an obvious use for Soft Light, it also has a couple of other uses that are really worth investigating—dodging and burning, and making your own Shadow/Highlights filter

Dodge and burn by painting onto a new layer set to Soft Light.

Soft Light dodging and burning also works well with black-and-white pictures.

Soft: light painted black

Background

Adjust the opacity or mask to fine-tune the image.

This candid shot was taken with strong afternoon sunshine falling directly on the girl's face.

Layers ' Channels 1 Paths

Soft Light v Opacity:

100%

Lock: Q J Cj Fill:

100%

Soft: light painted black

Background

Adjust the opacity or mask to fine-tune the image.

Dodge and burn by painting onto a new layer set to Soft Light.

Soft Light dodging and burning also works well with black-and-white pictures.

While gently increasing contrast is an obvious use for Soft Light, it also has a couple of other uses that are really worth investigating—dodging and burning, and making your own Shadow/Highlights filter

This candid shot was taken with strong afternoon sunshine falling directly on the girl's face.

My favorite use of Soft Light is for dodging and burning an image (a similar method was used with Overlay, see pages 42-43) Of course, you can use the Dodge and Burn tools to achieve the same results, but the drawback with these tools is that they work directly on the image layer With this Soft Light technique, you create a new layer, set its blend mode to Soft Light, and use the Brush tool to paint onto it Normally, you would use black to darken the image, and white to lighten it However, try experimenting with any color that looks right for the picture The big advantages of this method are that you can save the file and adjust it another day, finely control the dodge-and-burn layer's effect by varying opacity or masking, and you can use the Layer Style dialog and the Blend If slider to apply the dodge-and-burn layer to specific tonal ranges

DIY contrast control

Another great use of Soft Light is as a do-it-yourself contrast control, rather like Photoshop's Shadow/Highlights filter It takes just a few simple steps to create:

1 Duplicate the image layer 4 Desaturate the duplicate layer (Ctrl/Cmd-Shift-U)

2 Switch the duplicate layer blending mode to Soft Light 5 Add Gaussian blur to the (AIt/Option-Shift-F). duplicate layer

3 Invert the duplicate layer (Ctrl/Cmd-I).

The inversion causes lighter image areas to darken and brings up the darker colors Play with eliminating the desaturation step—while it prevents some ghastly color shifts, that may be exactly what you want To restore contrast and apparent sharpness, add some Gaussian blur to the inverted layer

SB

Layers ' Channels 1 Paths

1

Soft Light v Opacity: 100% ►

Lock: £ 4 * « Fill; 100% ►

9

0

Inverted + blurred 3

»

i

Background Q

ae a 9

P

Overlay can be used in the same way, but it produces a harsher result.

Shadows can be lifted in a high-contrast image by using an inverted, desaturated, and blurred Soft Light self-blend.

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