Color Theory as it Applies to Photoshop: Part 2 of 4

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Blend-If and Tools for Color Grading

This is part 2 of the four part series. In this segment we will look at how Blend If works. Before we can use Blend If and apply it to color grading, we should learn how it can be used for other applications. This will help us understand what is going on behind the scenes. Blend-If will be applied in the next segment as we learn a color grading process. We will also look at some useful tools for color grading as well as Adobe Color Themes.

The Lightroom Histogram

Let’s look at a histogram in Lightroom. Histograms have five areas, starting with blacks on the left and ending with whites on the right. Blend-If is configured in much the same way allowing control over blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites. 


Blend If resides in the layers palette of Photoshop. Let’s start with a simple landscape. This is how the image appears from the camera. The image seems a little dark and I would like to brighten parts of it up. 

Curves Layer

A simple curves layer has been added to the image to brighten it up. The problem is the curves layer has also brightened areas that were already light, such as highlights and whites. We can access Blend If and control exactly what the curves layer will affect. 

Accessing Blend If

To access Blend If double click in an empty area of the layer to be controlled.

Layer Style Dialog Box

The Layer Style dialog box provides information on the blend mode, opacity, fill, and Blend If. Blend If is located at the bottom of the dialog box and consists of three parts:

  • Blend If: Grey, Red, Green, Blue
  • A slider to control the effect on the current layer.
  • A slider to control the effect on the underlying layer.

Blend If Adjustment

Blend If controls the affect an adjustment layer will have using the grey scale from 0 (darkest) to 255 (lightest). The outside edges of the scale determine the limits of the effect. In this case the darks slider (slider on the left) is set to 0 and the lights slider (slider on the right) is set to 255. The adjustment layer will affect the entire image. 

Feathering Blend If

The sliders can be split into 2 segments to feather the effect to create a smooth transition. To split the sliders hold down the option key and click/drag the two segments apart. 

Applying the Curve Effect to Dark Areas Only

In this example we only want to brighten dark areas. The right slider has been moved over to position 60. The effect of the curves layer will only affect the dark areas of the image. The slider has been feathered to about 128, which means the effect is applied fully to the darks and then feathers or transitions to the midtones. No light areas will be affected. You can see this affect happening in real time on your photo as you make the adjustment.


Blend If: Before and After

The first image has the curves layer adjustment applied to the whole image. The curves layer has lightened the entire image. The second image has the curves layer after Blend If is applied. Only the darks have been lightened slightly.

Without Blend If

With Blend If

Darkening the Sky

To darken the sky a second curves layer has been added and pulled down slightly. The sky is darker, unfortunately this has also darkened the entire image.

Adjusting Blend If for Lights

In this example Blend If has been set to only affect the light areas. No darks are affected. Feathering has been applied through the midtones to make the transition smooth.

Blend If: Before and After

The first image has the curves layer adjustment applied to the entire image. The curves layer has darkened the entire layer. The second image uses Blend If to apply the curves layer only to the lights.

Before Blend If


After Blend If

Uses for Blend If

In our two examples we have seen Blend If used to control tone on specific luminosities of our image. If you have heard the term luminosity masking this is what we did. Blend if can be used to control color as well, which makes it ideal for color grading which will be covered in the next tutorial. 

Tools for Color Grading

This is a good place to mention tools. You should be aware that there are many excellent tools available to aid our color grading. Tools come in the form as stand alone programs, plug-ins and extensions for Photoshop, actions, and panels. I will mention a couple of them that I have and use. The tools I mention are not exhaustive, it is just what I have settled on over the years of trial and error. I find these tools helpful in my work and rate them excellent. I encourage you to research these on your own and decide if they are useful to your workflow. I have no financial interest in any product I mention. I use them because I find them useful in my workflow. Each user has to individually decide if that product is useful to them. The products I will mention in this tutorial work as panels in Photoshop. When using them you and your work stay in Photoshop and you are not taken to a program outside of the Photoshop environment. It isn’t necessary to purchase a color grading tool if you are willing to invest a little time in understanding how color grading works and how to use Photoshop as a stand-alone tool. Tools are just what they say they are, tools. In the next segment we will color grade by using tools found in Photoshop. 

Infinite Color Panel

Infinite Color Panel is a color grading tool, developed by Pratik Naik, that does exactly what it says, infinite options in color grading. At least it seems infinite as there are so many color variations available. Infinite Color Panel does an excellent job of organizing the options available and giving the user precise control. Infinite Color Panel will challenge users to use everything they know about color theory. Though the panel seems advanced, and in reality is, even beginning colorists will have success. When I am finished with a photo I will frequently take it for a spin in Infinite Color Panel, just to see if there is room to improve.

 Clicking on the Create icon will provide a layer group with Color Lookup, Gradient Map, Color Balance, Selective Color, and a Curves adjustments. The user can click on the Create icon a few times to find a look close to what they may have in mind. Each time it overwrites the last settings and provides a new layer stack. The user can then click on the shuffle icons for each layer or manually adjust each layer to get the desired effect.

Infinite Color Panel and Infinite Black and White Panel

Infinite Color Panel has a large following and a Facebook group. There are countless examples of gorgeous landscapes and portraits that were color graded with Infinite Color. Though probably not part of color grading it is worth mentioning Infinite Black & White as well. I use Infinite Black & White on almost all my black & white images. It is very easy to use and provides results I am looking for. It works exactly like Infinite Color Panel. For more information about these products visit their website.

Palette Effects

Blake Rudis is another well known photographic artist with an extensive color theory background. He has two palettes I use regularly. The Palette Effects panel for color grading provides a photographer with an arsenal of all the tools one would need for color grading. I use this panel in  my color grading work in conjunction with the Adobe Color Themes tool. The Adobe Color Themes tool is part of Photoshop and we will look at that shortly.

f.64 Academy

I stumbled across f.64 while researching color theory and color grading. In addition to the Palette Effects Panel the Zone System Express panel provides tools for tone adjustments in your photos. Both systems make extensive use of Blend If and both systems come with hours of video training.

I found that Blake's system was very closely related to something I was already doing. I was able to apply his techniques to my own and move mine along a bit more. If you think you might be interested in either of these panels check out the f/64 website. I recommend that you subscribe to the f.64 Elite community at least for one month. The discount of the products to the Elite community is well worth it. There is no long-term requirement. Come and go as you like. f.64 academy also offers extensive free training videos as well as an active Facebook group.

Adobe Color Themes

The Adobe Color Themes palette is a powerful tool in color grading. We will look at this tool and use it in the next segment to color grade our images. Adobe Color Themes works with Libraries and lets a user save to their own library as well as search an extensive library of color themes online. Before using this make sure you are able to access your Libraries online. 


Libraries allow the user to save color themes and adjustment layers online for future use in Photoshop as well as other Adobe products. Themes are private by default; however, a user can choose to make a theme public so that others can use it as well. Optionally a theme can be shared with specific users or simply left private. It should be noted, to effectively use Adobe Color Themes for color grading the use of Libraries will make the work much easier. 

In the upper right corner of the Libraries window is an icon that will open a menu window. 

From this menu the user can create and export libraries as well as collaborate with other users.


Libraries can also be viewed online.

What's Next

Now that we have an understanding of color theory and tools available to us we can begin color grading. In the third and final tutorial we will look at examples and step-by-step instructions for color grading with tools in Photoshop along with the panels mentioned in this tutorial.


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