CoffeeShop Editing 101 - Quick Lighten, Darken, Pop

This is the first in a series of CoffeeShop Photo Enhancements 101 Tutorials. I know many of you that visit my blog are new to this whole photo-editing business. You bought Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and/or LightRoom and you are scared to open it, let alone start messing with your images! I think it is is important to start at the beginning and give you some quick tips/tricks to help you get over your fears so you can enjoy editing. And some of this stuff might be new to those of you who have been editing for some time!

Most images are not perfect SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) and could use a few tweaks. I am going to give you a few quick tips to lighten, darken, and/or "pop" your images easily and quickly in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.


You took a lovely photo but it is too dark and you want a quick fix.

Ctrl-J your background (this makes a copy; you can also use Layer, Duplicate Layer). Then put this copied layer into Screen Blending mode and adjust the opacity to taste. This is a great method to brighten skin.


Maybe you want to darken your image slightly.

Ctrl-J your background (or Layer, Duplicate Layer). Then put this copied layer into Multiply Blending mode and adjust the opacity to taste. This is a great way to burn in backgrounds.


One really popular photo-enhancement is making your image "pop", which basically means you are adding more contrast. Here is a quick "pop" technique.

Ctrl-J your background (or Layer, Duplicate Layer). Then put this copied layer into Soft Light or Overlay blending mode and adjust the opacity to taste. Use Hard, Vivid, Linear, or Pin light if you are really adventurous. This is such a simple adjustment but the results can be quite stunning.

All of these adjustments can be used on color or B&W images. Easy isn't it! You can also combine the different effects (screen on one layer, soft light on a second), or use two of the same effects (if your image is really dark, make 2 copies, put each in screen, and adjust top layer's opacity to taste). Use layer masks to mask out the enhancements where needed (if you have PSE, download my PSE layer mask action). You can use a screen layer to brighten skin (mask out the rest of the image) and then a soft light layer on everything BUT the skin (mask out the skin). Play around with it! I used all three blending modes with layer masks on the after image below.

My next Editing 101 Tutorial will explain why you would want to use a S-curve adjustment layer, and include a free action for you PSE users who can't access Photoshop curves. Then I am going to have a tutorial covering Layer Masks and why you should love them! If there is a basic tutorial you would like to see me post here, please just comment below and I will try to add it to my list. :-)

I forgot to mention the Mozy sale this month! Click on the banner below, enter the text "AUGUST" when you check out and get 10% off your Mozy plan!!!


Sarah Stephens August 27, 2009 at 9:25 AM  

Are you freak'n kidding me!! I could just kiss your feet. After reading and rereading instructions and books I never understood it. I had no idea it was this simple. I am sooo excited. Now I can actually use my Elements program that has just been sitting there for a year. Horray! Thank you!

Staci Brock August 27, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

Can't wait on the curves, still trying to work on that. I am really liking the "you might also like" section you added.

Sarah? Just get in the program and start playing! Use Rita's actions to get started, then start tweaking, and you can very easily teach yourself how to use PSE. How I learned! That, and reading Scott Kelby's book.

Staci Brock August 27, 2009 at 12:04 PM  

Oh, I forgot to ask. Do you think using the screen mode produces better results, say than using levels adjustment layer and masking out what didn't need to be brightened? Or just as effective, yet another way to lighten skin?

I have been loving levels lately, since I can't seem to get a handle on using curves. I have a plug in for PSE, but it just confuses me. Not hard to do, actually.

Brenda August 27, 2009 at 12:13 PM  

OMG! Thank you so much. This is EXACTLY what I have been looking for. You Rock! Off to play! Cannot wait to learn about curves!

Debbie August 27, 2009 at 12:52 PM  

Thanks Rita......I love it when I get that "oooohhhhh that's how its done" moment after going through your tutorials! I appreciate all you do.

Zarah Graff August 27, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

You're amazing! Thanks for your generosity!

Joanne August 27, 2009 at 1:41 PM  

Love all the tips! REALLY interested in the s-curves tutorial.

saramellander August 27, 2009 at 2:12 PM  

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all of this.

laura mcpherson August 27, 2009 at 2:46 PM  

You are amazing, Rita! Thanks for the new rounded corners action! AND I've got to check out the Mozy discount! I've been wanting to sign up for that :)

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 3:56 PM  

hey i love all your actions...i love the denim action and was wondering if could make an action like it but with say like red? ilove ur work thank you!

Yuliya August 27, 2009 at 5:06 PM  

Great work! Thanks!
I wonder if you could discuss sharpening (Unsharp Mask) in one of your future tutorials. I'm really interested in learning to make my subjects stand out from the background (especially if I used large aperture).

brea @ cye Photography August 27, 2009 at 7:03 PM  

As far as what I would like to see... a cross processing technique/tutorial for PSE!

Kristina August 28, 2009 at 1:50 AM  

what a great tutorial, you make everything sound so simple and easy and i love that! typically, i would think about more complicated editing to achieve the effect you've discussed in the article. thanks for sharing!!!
I also like the "you might also like" section you added. I would like something similar on my blog, just do not know how to do it so nicely.

Diane August 28, 2009 at 5:26 PM  

This is so easy, (after you explained it) thank you so much, now I am off to play :)

Christina August 29, 2009 at 1:28 PM  

This is all so amazing. I'm watching closely for all your tutorials. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

Rosa Ramentol August 31, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

Thank you so much Rita. I would love to find a simple tutorial on fixing skin tones, and making skin less orange (i use nikon). Thanks.

way outnumbered September 1, 2009 at 9:46 AM  

What a great reminder on combining edits. It's so easy to try one technique and be done. I love how you showed the screen shot for all the layer edits. So easy to do also with your layer mask action. You've made me lazy! (that's a compliment)

Trish September 1, 2009 at 11:11 PM  

I was just introduced to your site through a friend and I am in love. I have photoshop elements, and use it, but I never really knew how to do anything to make my pictures really pop. I didn't even know there were such things as actions!

For future tutorials, I would love to learn how to make the background of a pic look blurry, while the subject of the picture is in focus. I love how most expensive cameras can do this right away, but unfortunately I can only afford a point and shoot, so I'd love to learn any tricks to making my photos look professional with the items I already have. Thank you so much!

Trish September 2, 2009 at 1:35 PM  

OK, I thought of another tutorial I'd love to see. How about a tutorial showing us how to edit out blemishes from the skin, or that goldfish crumb on my daughter's face, or heaven forbid, that booger in the nose that ruins a perfectly good shot. Or how to edit out that car that drove into your shot right at you took it, etc. I know there are ways to do that, but I'm completely lost about it. Thanks!

parrish fam September 4, 2009 at 2:35 PM  

Thank you so much for this! It really simplified something that I was overcomplicating. I am all about the little tweaks that make all the difference.

Kim September 5, 2009 at 3:58 PM  

Love your tutorials, you make it easy to learn! I would love to see sharpening tutorials...How to take a photo that's just a little bit soft and give it a sharpen (without oversharpening)...I like to you "perfect portrait" because of the sharpen action, but don't always need the extras...would love, love, love a quick sharpen action (where you can change your levels) or a tutorial! Thank you for all you do for elements users!!!

Carrie September 10, 2009 at 6:34 PM  

Wow! Those instructions were awesome! Just used the first one now for an invitation and it worked like a charm. You rock!

CDB February 18, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

Just popped in from MIchelle (Crafty Mama's) blog, she gave you props today. I am so happy to have found you, this must sound like a broken record (CD?) to you by now.

I'm just starting out but need to purchase editing software.. any tips about which one is great to START with? (Just in case you're searching for the next post topic.. ha!)

Again, thanks for putting this information out here for our photos to enjoy.. (: And us.

Anonymous February 21, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

I love the "soft" black and white pics of newborns and babies. It's almost ethereal. How can I achieve that look in PSE?

Thanks for giving me sooooo much help to take my photo's to the next level!

Ivy April 1, 2010 at 9:30 AM  

YOU'RE SO AMAZING! Thank you very much for being so generous with your knowledge and skills. I am totally self taught in PS and finding your tutorials has helped tremendously.

You're fabulous:))


SLucy July 16, 2010 at 10:35 PM  

Sounds great I can't wait to try it, I am still learning to use my camera and just learning photoshop. Thank you for your awesome website. ;)

Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 11:09 AM  

You are the best! I could kiss the ground you walk upon girl! Much appreciated.