Using a duplicate flower layer to 'fix' a photo.

I was recently asked, "Is there any way to 'rescue' a washed out flower in an image?"

I have in previous tutorials discussed using the Shadow/Highlight adjustment tool, Levels and the Curves tools which all might work, but this is a new technique to try that's fairly simple, yet powerful.

The process itself is pretty simple and uses some of the tools previously discussed in these tutorials. The basic idea is to select the flowers, duplicate them to their own layer and then use the various tools and blending modes to 'fix' the images.

Let's look at some examples. Number 1 shows a plant well overexposed. Roll your mouse over the image to see the transformation this tutorial can provide:

Here's the explanation of the steps.


Use the quick select tool, or the lasso tool if you aren't using the lastest version of Photoshop, to select the flowers. Under the Edit Menu, choose Copy and then choose Paste. This will paste a duplicate set of flowers on the layer above the base image. Now, once they are there the key to this fix is to choose one of the blending modes for the flower layer. In this case, I chose to set the blending mode to Multiply. When I did this the flowers became too dark actually. So, the beauty of layers in Photoshop is that all layers above the background support transparency levels, so for this image I adjusted the transparency to 75%.

There are a number of other blending modes you can experiment with, including overlay, linear burn, and screen. In this example, a linear burn set to 35% opacity gave a pleasing result as well. The key here is to try different blending modes to see what works best for the image you are working with.

image 1 image 2 image 3
Image as is - select flowers and copy and paste to a new layer. Notice that I did nothing to the new layer to enhance or 'fix' the image. When set to multiply mode the colors are multipied and mixed together.

Below is another example of the same technique as above, roll mouse to see before and after.

Of course, once you learn the techique it can be used in other applications. In the example below the flowers were again selected and duplicated, but in this case the Shadow/Highlight filter was used to not alter the flower, but to alter the foliage on the background layer, while leaving the flowers the same in the layer above. Roll-over to see results.

Sometime it would be better to enhance only parts of the flower - to darken just the throat perhaps and leave the petal highlights pretty much as is. You could use layer masks to accomplish this, painting various gray tones to add or delete areas of the second layer - or you could use the burn tool.

However, Photoshop provides another way to do this that can be very effective. Each of the colors has its own channel - red, green and blue - there's a channel palette, which is usually grouped with the layers palette.

Here's another image where the light flowers are over- exposed a bit.

Channels Palette   In order to recover some of the data I could again select the flower and duplicate it. See the results of that by rolling over the image above with your mouse. This darkens everything in the bloom, including the lightest areas of the petals. We can reduce the transparency of the whole layer, but that didn't quite do what I wanted either, I would like to darken the throat without having that effect on the lighter areas. For this, I'm going to turn to the channels palette. Each image has three channels. Let's look at the three for this image above. Each channel is in black and white and represents how much of that color is in the photo - the darker that area the more of that color is present. What I want to find is the channel with the most throat detail. Here are the three as thumbnail images...

red channel green channel blue channel
red channel
green channel
blue channel

The most detail in the flower's throat appears in the blue channel - duplicate this channel by clicking on it in the Channels Palette and dragging it to the new layer icon (it's right beside the trash can icon in the palette's bottom area). Now this gets a bit trickier. I want to remove the background in this duplicate channel. As I did above, you can use the Quick Select Tool to select the flowers again on this layer but let's learn another trick here - look at the red channel. The flowers are going to be much easier to select in this channel since they are at a much higher contrast than the background, so switch to the Red channel, make your selection of the flowers and switch back to the blue channel copy - the selection will follow you. (You switch between channels by clicking on them in the channels palette.) Once back in the blue copy channel, you want to invert the selection - so go to the Selection menu and choose Invert - this should select the background. Go to the Edit Menu and choose Clear - this should fill the background with white. Now, the palette should have the flowers with the dark throats and a white background. The new trick now it to load this channel as a selection - to do this Control-Click on the blue copy channel in the palette on a PC or Command-Click the blue copy channel on a Mac. Switch now back to the Layers Palette and make sure the bottom image layer is the one selected. (it may be the only layer you have...) Now, your selection is still there and may look fairly irregular - we want to copy and paste and we can do that in one step. Command-J on a Mac, Control-J on a PC. Now, here's what has happened - unlike most selections, when you load a channel as your selection you get a VARIABLE image density selection - there is more copied from the darkest areas of the channel and less from the lightest. Thus, in the case above we will be able to darken the washed out throats more and affect the petals less.

Let's compare a selection made with the channel and one made without:

full selection   channel selection
Full copy of the flowers based on selecting the flowers on the background layer.   Variable transparency copy of the flowers based on selection made from the blue channel.

Again, set the duplicated flower layer to multiply in the blend modes. You can see that the throat area will be affected more than the more transparant petal surfaces.

Down below I'm going to paste in two examples - again, roll your mouse over the image to see the difference between the original image and with this selection from the blue channel multiplied over it - the opacity level is 100% on the blend too.

Now, the roll-over image below will let you compare the two 'corrected' images - the first shown is the full copy of the flowers, the rollover will show the blue channel copied version - you can decide for yourself which is better - or, you may prefer the original image...

The use of a channel to create a variable selection can be useful in all sorts of situations - select a background that's over exposed and set the blending mode to darken, for instance.

Now to really get your thought processes going, the duplicate channel layer can be modifed with the levels and curves tools, brightness and contrast controls, etc. as well to further tweak the variable selection options.

Have fun! Until next time...

Tim Fehr - Eau Claire, WI

© 2009 by Tim Fehr - all rights reserved.