Jan 11, 2012

Unlocking the Mystery of Adjustment Layers in Photoshop

Which Adjustment Layer is Best?

The right one for the job of course. Knowing what that is can be a headache however. Today we are going through the rest of the Adjustment Layers, and showing you which ones should be used in what circumstances. You will be able to make your images much better in less time by knowing the right layer to grab.

For Curves and Levels, check out yesterday’s episode: The Secret Behind Levels VS Curves in Photoshop

Today’s Episode Timeline

  • 0:30 – Intro to all the Adjustment Layers
  • 1:10 – Using the Hue/Sat adj layer
  • 2:40 – One of the best uses for Hue/Sat
  • 4:00 – Showing how Selective Color is amazing for skin
  • 6:20 – Learn how to make great cross tones
  • 7:30 – Why Vibrance is better than Saturation
  • 9:20 – Color Balance is for finishing images off
  • 11:10 – Fun with Photo Filter
  • 12:30 – Using a Gradient Map to Color Your Image
  • 13:40 – Extreme Power with the Channel Mixer
  • 17:30 – Showing Color Depth vs Hue/Sat
  • 18:30 – Everything Else!


This is a great layer to use if you want to make crude Color changes, something like turning a green car into a blue car. It is not the best Tool for Skin, because it tends to flatten everything out, and produce a less deep image.

If you do need to color something that is not saturated, click on the Colorize button, and you are good to go. You will likely have to add Colors to the highlights and the Shadows to give your object Depth.

Selective Color

This is one of my favorites. It is the perfect tool to adjust Skin tone, providing you want your Skin to look like skin. This is not the Tool to use if you are trying to make a person’s Skin blue, but if you are adjusting subtleties, there is none better.

It will also create stunning Cross Process images very easily, as I show in this episode

Color Balance

A great way to finish off an image. Adding a bit of Color to the Midtones and Highlights can Draw some attention to your image in a great way, as long as you keep it subtle.

Color: #3366ff;”>Color Balance Tip: Stay away from the shadows slider, most of the time it will make your image look worse.


A great way to add some POP to your image without going overboard. This tool does a great job at keeping mid tones and skin tones in place. Compare this to Saturation, and you will like the results much better!

Channel Mixer

The Big Boy! Using the Channel Mixer is very hard, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally to you. It is the perfect Tool for some dramatic Black and White images.

When you are using the Channel Mixer with Colors, it will allow you to greatly alter your image, which can be a really good thing, as long as you keep it under control. Too much, and you will wind up with something crazy.

Photo Filter

This thing is just fun. Choose what color cast you want on your image, and how strong you want it, couldn’t be easier!

Gradient Map

The Gradient Map will completely Colorize your image, allowing you to choose which Colors make up the Highlights/Midtones/Shadows and everything in between.

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(will not be published)

  • user image
    Julie Xiong

    Seriously, I learn more from you than from my college design and photography courses and I’m a dedicated, self motivated, and hard working person.

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    Mark ODonnell

    Nice video.  One thing I could recommend is that when you are using color sliders and move 2 colors sliders either positive or negative in the same direction you are actually adding the 3rd color you have not chosen and changing the density of your image.  For instance adding red + green gives you yellow and your digital photo will appear lighter.  Adding red + green + blue will just make your photo lighter.
    I remember this from the days of dark room printing, additive and subtractive colors.

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    Daniel James T. Cook

    Is it just me or does it seem like the most incredible models with the most incredible faces are usually Russian and Ukrainian and Norwegian and Swedish or from other freezing parts of Europe? 

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    Alfonso Barona

    awesome video aaron!!really really helpfull!!It would be great an episode in chanels!!!So then we can play more with the chanel mixer! 🙂 Phlearnadict!!!

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    Carl Revell

    Another very interesting episode. I’ve used PS for many years and I’ve never even noticed the selective color adjustment layer O_O

  • user image

    These last two episodes are packed in so much information it’s amazing that you were able to convey it in such a short period of time.  They should be prerequisites for watching Phlearn Pros. I’m sure if I go back and watch the Phlearn Pros again, it will make a lot more sense.  I am now wondering how in the world I ever got by without knowing these things. 

  • user image

    Thanks Arron. I learned so much. Ive been using channel mixer for mixing my red, blue and green channels for a BnW conversion, but will need to use these tools for more toning etc..