Using Solid Color Layers on Your Photos

April 1, 2010

I’ve talked before about how you can use Duplicate Layers to jazz up your photos, and now I’m going to show a way to use simple, solid-colored layers to change the tones of your photo.

Here’s the photo I’m going to be working with today. Nothing too exciting, just happened to be the next on one my list of photos to edit:

f/4.0; 1/40 sec; 105mm; ISO 400

f/4.0; 1/40 sec; 105mm; ISO 400

So, let’s play around with it…

Warm it up

Select Foreground ColorThis is probably the way I use solid color layers most often, because it’s so simple and a really easy way to warm up a photo. Simply create a new layer, and when the New Layer dialog box pops up, select whatever fill type you want, then change your foreground color by clicking on it in the Toolbox (see image to the left), to a nice reddish brown color (you can see the color I picked in the screenshot below) then select the Bucket Fill Tool (which looks like a bucket with paint pouring out of it) and click anywhere on the photo. Your photo should now look completely brown, and your layers should look something like this:

Warm Layer

On a side note: I could have set the foreground color first, and then when I created my new layer, I could have selected to fill it with the foreground color. I have no good reason for not doing this, other than I guess I forget most of the time.

Now, switch the Blend Mode of the brown layer to Overlay, and adjust the Opacity until you like what you see. In my case, I dropped the Opacity down to 80 and my photo now looks like this (original on the left, with the brown overlay on the right):

Warmed Up

Warmed Up

If want to warm up the photo and give it a washed-out feeling, switch the Blend Mode to Screen instead, which now makes my photo look like this (once again, the original is on the left):

Warmed Up and a bit vintage-y, too

Warmed Up and a bit vintage-y, too

Man, I love that. Can you see why I do this so often?

Cool it down

I bet you can guess what I’m going to do here. Do everything exactly as I described above, except instead of using a reddish-brown color, use an aqua color, like so:

Cool Layer

Here it is set to Overlay:

Cool.  Probably a bit too cool for this photo, actually.

Cool. Probably a bit too cool for this photo, actually.

I have to admit, this really doesn’t do much for this photo – but I’ve played around with this on some self portraits sometimes.

Setting it to Screen mode doesn’t have the same overwhelming awesome effect that doing it with the brown layer did (of course, I suppose that’s just a personal opinion). Here it is with this photo:

Set to Screen

Set to Screen

Which I don’t like. but I did try this on a self portrait and liked the sort of ethereal feel it gave to the photo:

Aqua set to Screen on a self portrait

Aqua set to Screen on a self portrait

That’s at 50% opacity for both photos, by the way.

Try Other Colors!

I highly suggest playing around with other colors to see what you can come up with. A favorite of mine is a dark magenta-ish color, like so:


And here’s what my photo looks like with that color at Overlay, 80% Opacity:

Magenta Overlay

Magenta Overlay

And at Screen with 65% Opacity:

Magenta Screen

Magenta Screen

Huh. I really don’t do this often enough! It’s really easy to get caught up scripts and actions and you forget what dramatic impacts simple little things like this can have on your photos!

Multiple Layers

Here’s where we get really crazy! Try playing around with different colored layers set at different blend modes and opacities. The possibilities are really endless, which I suppose is nice and all that, but because of that, it really takes away from the “quick and easy” aspect of adding this solid colored layers. So, if one layer isn’t really doing it for me, I typically try these three layers: an aqua, magenta, and yellow:

Three Colored Layers.  Better than Three Blind Mice, hands down.

Now, I created these layers myself, but if you want to cheat, the Vintage-Look Script found here (and reviewed by me as part of this entry) will create three very similar layers that you can use (as well as a black and white layer that you can choose to delete if you’d like).

Anyway, I set my aqua layer to Screen mode at 10% Opacity, my magenta layer to screen mode at 50% opacity and my yellow layer to Overlay at 20% Opacity and I ended up with this:

Three Layers - working together!

Three Layers - working together!

Even though this is a bit more of a pain than just a single layer, it’s also nice, once you have all the layers, to really play around with the opacity sliders and see what effect each color really has and how they all play together.

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Filed under: Photo Editing
  • Once again a very well done tutorial. Thanks!

  • Cool and simple. Or warm and simple. Or simply awesome. Thanks!

  • You're brilliant!

    I remember noticing recently how different the sky looked with my sunglasses vs. without, and wondering, then, what would happen if I were to put a semi-transparent brownish layer over stuff. And now you told me. Mind reader.

    Of course, I always forget that there are different blend modes and can never remember what any of them do, either. So you just saved me hours of fidgeting, if I'd ever gotten around to fidgeting in the first place :).

  • Hipstermama

    Thank you for this...I have been wondering how to change just a colour or tone and now I have something to experiment with! yahoo!

  • melissac79

    I love this technique - can't wait to try it on some of my photos and see what happens! Thanks for sharing... :-)

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