Using Opacity in Photoshop for Fine Tuning – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Elements are both powerful photo editors. For the hobbyist, Photoshop Elements can be used to handle most, if not all of your photo editing needs. For serious photographers and professionals, the full version of Photoshop offers more tools for complete control over your photos. Both programs, and many other photo editing packages, feature the same, or similar tools and features. One such feature is the ability to control opacity. I have referred to opacity in previous tips: Feel the Burn, The Orton Effect, and Black and White from Colour Images, Part 4

Opacity refers to the intensity or transparency of a modification. You can modify opacity with brushes when painting effects in your images, but you can also use opacity on layers. When you are painting on a layer with a brush, modifying your opacity allows you to control how much paint you use. A low opacity results in a very light application of the brush while a higher opacity results in a heavy application. A lower opacity allows more of the original pixel data to show through while a higher opacity has a greater effect on your image. When using a brush, I prefer to use multiple strokes of a low opacity brush so that I can better control my adjustments rather than a single, heavy handed stroke.

With layers, opacity is a wonderful modifier. Like with the brushes, opacity control on a layer controls how transparent the layer is. I use this often to control how much or how little of an effect I want to use on an image. As I make use of a large number of adjustment layers, which in themselves may be altered again and again without pixel modification, I can also alter how strong the adjustment is. What I typically do is create my adjustment layer at 100% opacity and then dial the opacity down until I achieve the exact manipulation I am looking for. This is a great technique when touching up a portrait as I can hide or eliminate facial blemishes, whiten teeth, erase wrinkles and have precise and easily adjustable control over these changes. By lowering my opacity, I allow the underlying pixels to show through which helps to add texture to my changes and makes them completely lifelike.

With all the tools available in today’s digital editing packages, the process can become daunting. Fine control may be difficult for someone new to the area of digital editing but working in small amounts can make it much easier. Being able to control your entire image is the goal of many photographers and tools such as opacity help with that.

Until next time, happy shooting.

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