Applying Adjustments with a Wacom Tablet

Applying Adjustments with a Wacom Tablet

This is an excerpt from the book, “Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers” by Scott Valentine.

Adjustments alone are powerful ways to enhance, manipulate or otherwise change the appearance of an image. When adjustments, and their associated layer mask are used in combination with the pressure sensitive control of a Wacom pen tablet, there truly is no limit to the number of effects that can be created.

If you have a tablet, or ever wondered what a tablet would do for your workflow the following tutorial will be immensely beneficial.

Lacrosse Image BeforeThe photo of this lacrosse player was shot with the intent of creating an aggressive or gritty look, popular in sports photography. Using a two light set up at dusk, a 28” softbox was positioned close to the subject as a main light, while an unmodified light was pointed back at the subject—directly opposite the main light—to separate him from the background. This provided a harsh, yet complementary light while maintaining good exposure and detail throughout.

Using the combined benefits of Adjustment Layers, a pressure sensitive pen and brush tool, I finished the image in Photoshop using the follow steps:


  1. With the image open in Photoshop, make the Adjustment panel visible by choosing Window > Adjustments 
  2. From the Adjustment panel, select the Color Lookup adjustment. 
  3. From the 3DLUT File dropdown menu, choose Bleach Bypass. 
  4. The initial effect of the Bleach Bypass look is pretty bold. Not to worry. We are going to tone it down in the next step.

  5. Fill the layer mask with 50% gray by choosing Edit > Fill > and then in the Contents area set the use to 50% Gray. (Although this step is optional, I felt that 50% of the effect was a good starting point.) 
  6. Select the brush tool and open the Brush panel. Window > Brush (F5) 
  7. Open the Brush Presets panel by clicking the Brush Presets button in the Brush panel. 
  8. Select the “Soft Round Pressure Opacity” preset. Note that this brush preset enables the Transfer dynamic. Select Transfer and notice that the Flow Jitter Control menu is set to pen pressure. 
  9. On the option bar, click the Pressure Control button to enable opacity control by pen pressure. (Having both Opacity and Flow set to pen pressure produces a brush stroke with a soft, feathered transition.) 
  10. With the brush set up, reset the colors to black and white (D); and with black in the foreground, paint around the outside of the frame to reveal the effect of the Color Look Adjustment/Bleach Bypass look (focusing mainly in the center of the image). I lightened the touch of the pen to the tablet towards the center to feather the appearance of the adjustment. 
  11. Paint over the subject’s face to bring back detail where the adjustment blew it out. Flipping over the colors from black to white (X) I paint over portions of the net in the background to make them more apparent. 

TIP: Opt-clicking (Mac) or Alt-clicking (Windows) a layer mask will temporarily show the mask view. This view allows you to see where you painted and with how much pressure. Opt-clicking or Alt-clicking a layer mask a second time will return you to the normal view. 

To put some finishing touches on the portrait, I added a vignette and a little highlight to the eyes using blend modes. Again, a pressure sensitive pen and brush tool was critical to the application.


  1. Stamp a copy of the visible layers using: Cmd + Opt + Shift +E (Mac) or Ctrl + Alt + Shift +E (Windows).
  2. Set the blend mode of this new layer to Multiply which darkens the image considerably.
  3. Apply a layer mask to the Multiply Layer by clicking the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel. 
  4. Using the same brush (Soft Round with Opacity set to pen pressure), paint with black on the white (Reveal All) layer mask in the center of the image to hold back the multiplying or darkening effect to create a vignette. Again, lighten the touch of your pen to the tablet to feather the effect of the blend mode (and mask). 
  5. To add the highlight to the eyes, create a new layer, set the blend mode to Soft Light and paint with white around the subject’s irises. 
  6. The combined benefits of Adjustment Layers, a pressure sensitive pen, and a brush tool is the basis of nearly every enhancement, treatment or effect that I apply to my images. The flexibility and control that this combination offers is the basis of limitless number of finishing techniques. 

    Watch the video tutorial below for the step-by-step description of applying adjustments with a Wacom tablet.