Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers to Create an ‘Instant Polarizer’

Using a feature in Photoshop's Adjustment Layers suite, you can create a polarizing effect where there was none. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Using a feature in Photoshop's Adjustment Layers suite, you can create a polarizing effect where there was none. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

[Third in a series on toning with PS Adjustment Layers]

Here’s a cool tip for those blue skies that could really use a polarizer—you know, you thought you had it in the camera bag, but didn’t. What to do? Here’s a way to fix it in Photoshop, using Adjustment Layers.

I’m starting with an image of an arbor that I shot early one morning. Maybe this doesn’t really need a polarizer, but it will work for our lesson here. The only thing I’ve done to this image is a simple Levels adjustment, setting end points for the highlight and shadow sliders.

Make sure you have the Adjustment Layers tools palette active and visible before you start. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Make sure you have the Adjustment Layers tools palette active and visible before you start. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

With your Adjustment Layers palette active(Window>Adjustments), hold down the Alt key (Cmd-Mac) as you click on the ‘Black & White’ adjustment layer icon. This will bring up the Properties box for the layer.

You must hold the Alt key (Cmd-Mac) down before clicking on the 'Black & White' Adjustment Layer icon or you won't get the Layer Properties box that you need. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

You must hold the Alt key (Cmd-Mac) down before clicking on the 'Black & White' Adjustment Layer icon or you won't get the Layer Properties box that you need. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Click on the Mode pulldown and select ‘Luminosity’. Click OK.

The Luminosity mode will be down at the bottom of your menu choices. Select it, then click OK. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The Luminosity mode will be down at the bottom of your menu choices. Select it, then click OK. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The Black & White layer will now activate. Now click on the Scrubber (Hand) tool in the layer window.

The Scrubber (Hand) tool changes to an eyedropper until you click it in the photo at the point you want to make your color/tonal adjustment. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The Scrubber (Hand) tool changes to an eyedropper until you click it in the photo at the point you want to make your color/tonal adjustment. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

After clicking it, go directly to the blue sky of the image, where you’d like the polarizer effect. The Eyedropper will turn into the Scrubber tool as soon as you click in the image.

Clicking and dragging to the left will darken the sky without affecting other parts of the image. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Clicking and dragging to the left will darken the sky without affecting other parts of the image. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Now click and drag to the left. The blue sky will darken as you drag to the left! No other colors in the image will be affected.

This works with any color in the image, since the scrubber is sampling color and making the adjustment. Drag to the left to darken, to the right to lighten.

The retoned, 'polarized' image. I've read that taking this to extremes can leading to color banding, so be careful!  (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The retoned, 'polarized' image. I've read that taking this to extremes can leading to color banding, so be careful! (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

That’s it! Instant polarization, thanks to the magic of Adjustment Layer toning! Try this and see what you think.

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing series of articles is examing a Photoshop image toning workflow based upon the Adjustment Layers approach.]

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related articles on the web:

Photoshop Tutorial: The Black and White Adjustment Layer at Tutorialblog

Black and White Adjustment Layers and Blending at Digital Photography School

Black and White Adjustment Layers at AdobeTV (video)


Posted in: Photoshop

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

5 Comments on "Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers to Create an ‘Instant Polarizer’"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

Inbound Links

  1. uberVU - social comments | April 24, 2010
  1. Elin says:

    Thank you as always, Andrew. Layers are truly the bain of my existence, and you always present your tutorials in a way the even Photoshop-challenged folks such as myself can understand. 🙂

  2. A great little tip for adding some extra wallop to your images. great for landscape work! As stated above where would we be without those little layers to play around with?

  3. Dan says:

    Great tutorial thanks. I’m about to go and take photos of a classic car show so these tips are going to help as I don’t have a polarizing filter for my wide angle lens yet.

  4. Great and fantastic tutorial you have done, very much helpful and useful for designer. Thanks a lot for sharing with us !!

Post a Comment