Adjustment layers are a great way to work in Photoshop, they give you the flexibility to go back and alter adjustments on the fly – making sure that you don’t have to lose any of the work you have done by undoing steps to correct an error.

Another positive about adjustment layers is that they add very little size to your file, which is a bonus if you don’t have 8 gigs of RAM at your disposal 🙂

I’m going to give you a kind of example here using a Hue Saturation adjustment layer to add colour back into an image. What you need to bear in mind is that it applies to all of the adjustments that are available under adjustment layers.

Adjustment layers can also be useful when using blending modes on a single image without having to duplicate the image and add to the file size. Try this one yourself. Open an image, duplicate it of course 🙂 and close the original – now go to the little ying yang looking symbol at the bottom of the layers palette and click on it to bring up the menu – click on levels for now. When the dialogue box opens, click OK without making any adjustments, then pick a blend mode …. lets say multiply …. your image will now have used itself, to darken itself …. or you could say that you have used the image to darken the image without having to duplicate the background and then apply a blend mode. Take a look at your file size ….. You can also turn the adjustment layer on and off, reduce the opacity, add a mask to darken certain areas, use a gradient to edit the mask or perhaps a brush.

There are several ways that you can do just about anything in Photoshop, and bringing back colour into an image is no exception. By default photoshop has the history set at 20 states of undo, so if you reach 21 states any previous work will not be available to go back and edit without losing all of the work you have done. You can change the amount of history states available to you by going to Edit>Preferences>Performance and at the top right hand side you will see History States | Cache Levels – just change the history states to a higher amount if you like. Using adjustment layers, rather than permanent adjustments, will give you much more flexibility in your editing capabilities. Getting into the habit of saving your image as a .psd file right from the outset and then remembering to ‘save’ along the way … press Ctrl + S or go to the top menu bar and press ‘save’, will make sure that you are never disappointed if PS freezes or your computer has a hissy fit and dies.

Lets get back to the tut 🙂 I’m going to add some colour back into an image that I have used a Hue/Sat adjustment layer to desaturate. Why not just go to the top menu bar and use Image>Adjustment>Desaturate you might be asking – because it is a permanent adjustment – one that I may decide that I don’t want there in the future and doing this change with an adjustment layer gives me the option of turning it on and off using the little eye icon, going back in and adding some saturation back into the image etc., If I try to do that 25states later using the permanent adjustment I will lose all of my later work.

There are also several ways to add colour back into an image. You can start with your B&W image, place a new layer above that, choose a colour and fill the layer, change the blend mode to colour, soft light etc., add a mask, invert the mask, and then start adding back in the colour – but what if you decide that you don’t like that colour ? You then have to choose another colour, lock the transparent pixels of the layer, then fill with the new colour. You can also create a new blank layer, choose a colour to paint with, change the blend mode of the brush from the top menu bar and paint away – but still, if you decide you don’t like the colour then you will have to go through the process for the first method. What if you could just move a slider to create a different colour ? Now wouldn’t that be a whole lot simpler ?

Here is our start image, just click through for the larger image.

The first adjustment layer we are going to use is a hue/sat and we are going to desaturate the image. What you’ll notice in the below image is that I forgot to take a screenshot of the desaturated image and had to go back and take one after I had made several adjustments. Its as simple as turning off the adjustment layers.

Next you are going to use a hue/sat adjustment layer again, but this time you are going to check the colorize button when the dialogue box comes up. Then go and adjust the sliders till you get a colour that you like. This is probably the most time consuming part of this adjustment until you become familiar with where the colours lie, and using the saturation and lightness adjustments. I chose a blue colour that was similar to the original image, you can choose whatever colour you like.

Obviously that isn’t quite what we want to happen here 🙂 Adjustment layers come with a mask – that’s the little white box on the right hand side of the adjustment box – click on the mask to make it active and then press Ctrl + i on your keyboard to invert the mask to black (hide all) white is reveal all. You could also go to Image>Adjustments>Invert – just make sure that the mask is active. Grab your paintbrush and start painting back in the pants. You should now have something similar to the image below. I haven’t painted back in all of the pants, I’m just showing you how to achieve the adjustments.

Just say that you had taken this image in B&W originally, and I pop over to your place and notice what you’re doing and say ….. the pants on that scarecrow weren’t blue 🙂 The easy way to choose another colour is to double click on the adjustment box itself – not the layer mask – and the dialogue box will open and you can adjust the colour to something new. What I would normally do when re-colouring an image is duplicate the blue layer, turn off the visibility of the original blue layer and then make the adjustment to the copy. This way you will still have the choice of reverting to the blue copy if you decide you want that one instead. In fact, you could make as many different coloured trousers/pants adjustment layers as you wanted.

When doing something like this it is wise to get into the habit of naming the adjustment layers. You can do this by double clicking on the text next to the mask and renaming this what you want. You can see in the image below that I have carried on with a few more adjustment layers and named them. I’ve also done 3 different shades of red for the jacket, shoes and pocket on the pants. I would then do a different red for the scarf. I’ve also done the hair and the flowers, both of these more need more refining to make them look realisitic but I would do the refinements on adjustment layers. I’ve highlighted the file size at the bottom of the image.

You may also notice as you progress with your design, composite, colourising etc., that the adjustment layers can start to get out of hand. This is where Grouping layers together can come in very handy. Select which adjustment layer you would like grouped together i.e. in this particular image you might group together the clothing as I have done – although I accidently added the hair and shoes to the group and couldn’t be bothered going back and grabbing another screenshot – so just ignore those 2 layers 🙂 Click on an adjustment layer then hold down your Ctrl key to select the next one etc., If your layers are one above the other you can click on the top one, then shift click on the bottom one to select them. Next go to the little downward triangle near the top right hand side of your layers palette, and from the menu select the option ‘New Group From Layers’

Each of the layers you chose will now be in a folder which you can name, I used Clothing in the example below. All you have to do now is open that folder using the little arrow to the left of the folder to have access to the adjustment layers, but more importantly you can still edit each of those adjustment layers.

And that’s it really. Remember to save often while you are working on a file, as I said at the beginning of this.