Photoshop Toning with Adjustment Layers

Before and After: Adjustment Layers toning allows us to make nondestructive changes to our image. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Before and After: Adjustment Layers toning allows us to make nondestructive changes to our image. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

[First in a Series]

I’ve been a Photoshop user from the very early days, back when we were simply amazed that someone had figured out how to get a photograph onto a computer screen and even more amazing, give us some very basic tools for toning that photograph. This was WAY before digital cameras were a reality and the workflow back then went from Shoot Negative>Process Negative>Insert in Negative Scanner>Open Up in Photoshop. There was no Lightroom or Aperture or Photo Mechanic; just this simple, elegant little piece of software called Photoshop.

I’ve been happily toning away for the last few years with the Photoshop toning recipe I developed along about, oh, Photoshop 6 or 7….no real changes in the last few years. Recently though, I dipped my toe into the waters of toning Adjustment Layers, and it has convinced me that it’s time for a toning renovation!

The compelling argument for adopting this workflow is that it’s truly nondestructive.

I’m going to write an occasional piece documenting my foray into this brave new world of Adjustment Layers. Today’s article will explore why these layers are a superior approach to image toning and look at a couple of the available features.

The compelling argument for adopting this workflow is that it’s truly nondestructive.

Everything you do during the toning of the image can be easily reversed without having to start completely over. Today for instance, we’re going to do a Levels adjustment and follow it with a Hue/Saturation change, all without actually touching the core image that we started out with. Once we like the way the image looks, we can save it out with the changes, but each area we work on (Levels, Curves, Contrast, Hue/Saturation, etc.) can be turned on and off individually. The version with all of the layers can be saved as well, in case you want to sleep on it and take another swipe at it tomorrow: everything can be adjusted again without starting over with this approach.

The image of the azalea flower was shot in RAW format and imported directly into Photoshop. Canon 50mm macro, 1/60 sec @f5, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The image of the azalea flower was shot in RAW format and imported directly into Photoshop. Canon 50mm macro, 1/60 sec @f5, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

We’re starting with an image of an azalea flower I shot this week in front of my home. The original image was shot in RAW format but for this exercise, I simply brought it straight into Photoshop:

First click on the Levels icon in the Adjustment Layers toning palette. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

First click on the Levels icon in the Adjustment Layers toning palette. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

If the Adjustments Panel is not already open on your display, go to Window>Adjustments. This will bring up the Adjustment Layers Icon palette.

We’ll start by choosing the Levels Adjustment Layer icon.

Making the slider adjustments to the Levels histogram. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Making the slider adjustments to the Levels histogram. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

A standard Levels histogram will appear. We’ll set the shadow (left slider) and highlight (right slider) to the edges of the histogram ‘mountain.’ This will give us a properly-toned image for printing with correct black and white ink points. After clicking the arrow, lower left, we’ll return to the Adjustments Layer icon palette.

Clicking the arrow, lower left, returns you to the main Adjustment Levels toning palette. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Clicking the arrow, lower left, returns you to the main Adjustment Levels toning palette. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Because this image seems to be oversaturated in the intensity of the pinks and reds, we’ll choose the Hue/Saturation icon next. This will bring up a standard-looking Hue and Saturation set of sliders. We’ll desaturate the image 15 points, picking up additional detail in the process. Hitting the arrow, lower left, again returns us to the main Adjustment Layers toning palette.

Adjusting the saturation will bring up needed detail in the flower itself. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Adjusting the saturation will bring up needed detail in the flower itself. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

We could go on and experiment with Color Balance, Contrast, Selective Color, etc., but for our lesson today, we’ll stop with these toning adjustments.

To finish, you have two choices. You can either Save As> and save the image as a Photoshop document (.psd) with all of the layers intact. Or you could simply go to Layer>Flatten Image and then save as a jpeg or some other image format.  A third choice, and my preferred method if there’s any chance I’ll want to work on the image again, is to first go to Image>Duplicate and save one version flattened as a jpeg (for web use, for instance) and save the other copy as a Photoshop document with all of the layers intact.

The final image with the toning adjustments applied and saved. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The final image with the toning adjustments applied and saved. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Next time we’ll examine how the Layer Masks that load with each Adjustment Layer work. Till then, happy toning!

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:

Non-destructive photo editing with Adjustment Layers in Photoshop at Photoshopessentials.com

Applying Fixes Using Adjustment Layers and Masks at Digital Photography School


Posted in: Photoshop

About the Author:

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

10 Comments on "Photoshop Toning with Adjustment Layers"

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  1. John says:

    A clear and easy to follow guide for achieving accurate tone in Photoshop. The azalea flower photograph in the above example is transformed with just a few simple adjustments to the image.

  2. M. Fontaine says:

    Thanks, This was a very informative article.

  3. Hi there! I am a newbie in Photoshop. But please allow me to commend you for this post. The tips and information you’ve shared are very helpful. Actually, I have printed a copy of this!. Thanks for this one!

  4. Thanks Modesta! Glad you found the information helpful.

  5. Pauline says:

    I really suck at photoshop so i’m really glad that you shared this guide with us! Thanks!

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