Photoshop Adjustment Layer & Retouching Tutorial

By   |  Stashed in Photo Manipulation


This tutorial should hopefully have you adjusting and touching up all your photos at an intermediate level in no time. the techniques and principles can ten be applied in doing other things within photoshop. Adjustment layers can allow you to create simple 30-second effects as the one below: (this is shown in the video at the end of the tutorial)

Firstly some quick thoughts:

Adjustment layers work in the same way as normal photoshop layers. You can apply an adjustment (such as levels or contrast changes) on a transparency/layer and it will become an adjustment layer. Next you take this adjustment layer and place it on our stack of layers. The adjustment layer will not actually affect your original image but by placing it on top of your original image, you then hyperthetically, look ;through; that adjustment to see your original image. Then when look through the adjustment layer everything seen through it seems to have that adjustment. Adjustment layers also remain editable and their settings can always be returned to and tweaked etc. Now to the nitty gritty:

2 Ways to Create an Adjustment layer:

1) Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer >

Adjustment Layer

2) Click on the icon for adjustment layers and select your required type of adjustment.

Adjustment Layer

What do they all do?

There are 12 Adjustment Options available to you when you create an adjustment layer. I will go over them in more detail for beginners in later posts but I will give a general description now. They are:

  • Solid Color
    Places a solid color layer on top of your layers.
  • Gradient
    Places a gradient on top of your layers.
  • Pattern
    Applies a pre-defined, saved pattern to your layer.
  • Levels
    This allows you to control the brightness of the various tones in your image. Playing with the slider can increase or decrease the intensity of darker and lighter tones.
  • Curves
    You can use this to fix your highlights and shadows using this option.
  • Color Balance
    Adjust the colors of highlights, midtones and shadows separately using this option.
  • Brightness/Contrast
    This lightens or darkens your image and increases or decreases the contrast.
  • Black and White
    Turns a colour image into a black and white, giving you a much greater control of output than the desaturaute method which is done using Ctrl+Shift+U on Pc or Cmd+Shift+U on Mac.
  • Hue/Saturation
    This can be used to control the colors, the saturation and lightness or darkness of the image.
  • Selective Color
    This allows you to add or remove percentage of a color present in your image. If you want your reds redder and your blues less bluer then this is what you use.
  • Channel Mixer
    This allows you to adjust the reds, blues or greens. So you are adjusting each color channels itself.
  • Gradient Map
    This adds gradients insides different colors of the image. Unlike the gradient tool, that put a solid gradient over everything, this puts colors in each color of the image.
  • Invert
    Changes all the colors to what is opposite to them in the color wheel.
  • Threshold
    This changes stuff to black or white. The slider allows you to choose what tones it will be changing.
  • Posterize
    This reduces the number of colors used in the image.

With the white square of your adjustment layer selected you can choose to have the adjust only appear/take effect on areas of choice. If you paint on the square with a brush, using the colour black, the adjustment will disappear for the painted area. Using shades of gray will have the adjustment only appear at certain intensities. Below is a video tutorial showing you this technique.

Launch Video

If you have any questions or revisions, please let us know below!

About the Author

Based in london, I’ve always had a keen aesthetic eye, spent my youth forever drawing and sketching.What began, way back when, as an early interest in photoshop 7, has now spiralled and involved into a superior command of Adobe Photoshop, In-Design, Illustrator, Flash and Dreamweaver. I now run with my partner Acuity Designs, which we freelance through. Acuity Designs is an energetic partnership, offering graphic design, illustration and web development services to both public and private clients throughout the UK. The company, which is based in London, began commissioned work in 2007. My interests at this current time, center around logo/branding and photography.

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  • NaldzGraphics

    nice post.i learn something on this.thanks Mel!!


    NaldzGraphics´s last post was… 370+ Free Photoshop Actions for Everyone Part:1

  • Max | Design Shard

    nice little tut which will be useful, i dont think the video is loading tho? nice illustrations on your portfolio!

    Max | Design Shard´s last post was… Media Slap Free Photoshop Brushes Download

  • Andrew Houle

    @Max I got it to load on my computer. Let me know if anyone else has trouble getting the video to come up.

  • Altan Altan

    thx nice share

  • baz

    Great post. Thanks a lot, keep up the good work!

  • sherief

    i always love to learn and know more about photoshop and photo retouching
    technics , great tutorial .. thanks for the post , and here some before
    and after photo retouching samples .