The dialog boxes used for adjusting images in all previous versions of Photoshop have been modal. Once you started to edit an adjustment, you were in “adjustment mode” and most of Photoshop’s interface was not available. This made for some frustrating times when you wanted to perform simple tasks, such as changing the Blending Mode via the pop-up menu at the top of the Layers panel, painting on the mask attached to an Adjustment Layer, or clipping the adjustment to an underlying layer. The process went something like this:
- Create an Adjustment Layer and start to darken your image only to notice that it’s becoming too colorful.
- Click OK in the adjustment dialog box to gain access to the rest of Photoshop’s interface and change the Blending Mode pop-up menu to Luminosity to prevent color changes.
- Double-click the thumbnail for the Adjustment Layer to return to adjusting your image.
- After fine-tuning the adjustment, you decide that you want to limit the areas that are being darkened.
- Click OK (again) in the adjustment dialog box to gain access to the features in the Layers panel and then paint on the mask attached to the Adjustment Layer to prevent the adjustment from affecting the entire image.
- Now that you’ve limited the adjustment to a particular layer, you decide that you can get away with darkening the image even more. So, you double-click the thumbnail for the Adjustment Layer to return to adjusting your image.
- Forget why you were adjusting the image in the first place because you’ve been mentally distracted by having to work around the annoying modal state of the adjustment dialog box one too many times.
- Repeat the above process dozens (if not hundreds) of times a day and watch your hair slowly fall out of your head and fall on the floor.
Photoshop CS4’s new Adjustments panel frees us from the modal hell that has plagued us for over a decade. You won’t fully grasp just how liberating this new feature is until you’ve worked with it long enough to have its newness rub off. That’s when you’ll realize that adjustments in Photoshop have become so unbelievably easy, it feels as natural to make an adjustment as it does to take your next breath.
Photoshop CS4’s new Adjustments panel. An arrow will appear at the bottom of the panel when an Adjustment Layer is active. Clicking the icon will switch between the adjustment controls and the adjustment icons used to create a new Adjustment Layer.
For you folks who don’t use Adjustment Layers (which is what is created when using the new Adjustments panel), you’re truly missing out on the best that Photoshop has to offer, so I suggest you stop whatever you’re doing immediately, and take a few minutes to get familiar with them before continuing to read this section. You can learn about them in my book, Adobe Photoshop Studio Techniques, or any number of free online Photoshop resources.
For those of you familiar with Adjustment Layers, you now have three choices for creating one: 1) Choose from the Layer>New Adjustment Layer menu, 2) Choose from the Adjustment Layer pop-up menu at the bottom of the Layers panel, or 3) Choose from the new Adjustments panel. Let’s take a look at the new Adjustment panel and see how it will change your workflow.
The new Adjustments panel should be visible when you first launch Photoshop CS4. If you don’t see it on your screen, choose Window>Adjustments.
You’ll find 15 icons at the top of the Adjustments panel, one for each type of Adjustment Layer you can create. Clicking on one of those icons will create a brand new Adjustment Layer and fill the Adjustment panel with the controls related to the adjustment you are applying. If you have trouble translating which icon represents which adjustment, just hover over the icon and a tool tip will appear that indicates the type of adjustment that would be created if you clicked on that icon. You can also see what the icon represents via a text label that appears just below the panel’s title tab “Adjustments.” This is even faster than the hovering technique.
You’ll find a list of presets below the adjustment icons. A single click on one of the presets will create a new Adjustment Layer with those settings attached to it.
A wider variety of adjustments have presets available in CS4 (like Hue/Saturation for instance) and the list of presets for many of the adjustments has been expanded from what was available in the previous version of Photoshop.
To create your own preset, choose Save Preset from the side menu of the Adjustments panel while you are editing an adjustment. You can also switch the preset you are applying by choosing from the pop-up menu that appears at the top of any adjustment panel.
Once you’ve clicked on one of the adjustment icons or chosen from the presets list, the content of the Adjustments panel will change to present you with the controls related to the adjustment you have chosen.
While editing an adjustment, you are free to use all the features in Photoshop. That means that you can easily change the Blending Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel, lower the opacity of the layer, paint on the mask attached to the layer, make selections, and much more.
At the bottom of the Adjustments panel, you’ll find seven icons. Let’s take a look at what each one is for:
Toggle List/Adjustment: When an Adjustment Layer is active, an arrow icon will appear in the lower left corner of the Adjustments panel. Clicking the icon will toggle you between the list of adjustment icons and presets and the adjustment controls related to the active Adjustment Layer. That icon is useful when you’re done performing an adjustment and would like to create a new Adjustment Layer.
Standard/Expanded: Clicking this icon, which looks like a tiny file folder with an arrow etched on top, will toggle between the standard-sized adjustment panel and the wider expanded version. It doesn’t add any functionality to the adjustments, but it is useful if you find the default Curves dialog box to be a bit cramped.
Clip to Layer: This icon, which looks like two circles overlapping, allows you to clip the active Adjustment Layer to the underlying layer. If the layer below contains an image, the adjustment will only affect the contents of that layer. If the underlying layer contains an adjustment, then the mask attached to that layer will also affect the active Adjustment Layer.
You can tell that two or more layers are part of a clipping group when a down-pointing arrow appears next the Adjustment Layer.
Visibility: The eye icon will toggle the visibility of the Adjustment Layer to show you what your image would look like with and without the Adjustment Layer. This icon is identical in function to the one that appears next to each Adjustment Layer in the Layers panel.
Previous State: The icon with the little eye and curved arrow allows you to see what your image looked like before you started to edit the current Adjustment Layer. If you’ve switched to a different layer and back to an Adjustment Layer and then started to edit the adjustment, this icon will show you what the Adjustment Layer looked like before you started to modify the adjustment. You can temporarily invoke this preview by holding the / key on your keyboard. The Previous State view will remain on for as long as you hold down that key.
Defaults/Reset State: The next icon, which looks like a circular shaped arrow, will change appearance, looking like a full circle if you’re working on a newly created Adjustment Layer or a half circle if you’re re-editing an existing Adjustment Layer. Clicking on the icon in its first state will reset the adjustment dialog box to its default settings, which is the same as deleting the Adjustment Layer and starting the adjustment from scratch. In its second, half-circle state, the icon will undo any changes you’ve made since you started to re-edit the adjustment. Both of these icons only affect changes made to the adjustment itself and will not affect changes to the Opacity or Blending Mode at the top of the Layers panel.
Delete Adjustment: Clicking the trash icon will delete the active Adjustment Layer.
Adjustment Options: You can access the options for a layer at the moment you’re creating an Adjustment Layer by holding the Option key (Mac), or Alt key (Win) and clicking on one of the adjustment icons in the Adjustments panel.
Edit Adjustment Menu: You’ll find a new Edit Adjustment option when Control-clicking (Mac), or Right-clicking (Win) on an Adjustment Layer in the Layers panel. The same choice is also available from the side menu of the Layers panel. This is a convenient way to get the Adjustments panel to appear if it’s not currently visible on your screen.
Now let’s take a look at the changes they’ve made to specific adjustments in Photoshop.