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Selective use of Pressure Sensitivity

One of the biggest advantages of using pressure sensitivity in Photoshop is being able to make targeted adjustments.

Making adjustments in Photoshop often affects the entire image unless you have a made specific selections. One of the great ways you can take advantage of your pressure-sensitive Wacom Pen Tablet is by adding adjustment layers and layer masks to images. Making small, targeted adjustments on layers is easy, once you understand a few basics of pressure sensitivity.

Step 1: Working with Adjustment Layers

Strictly speaking, the lighting in photographs is naturally uneven, especially those shot outdoors. Adding an adjustment layer to modify the light level is frequently used to lighten and darken areas of an image. Once you’ve added an adjustment layer and chose to adjust Levels for example, it’s easy to lighten or darken the entire image. But now details within that image have been lost. Never fear, pressure sensitivity will help you bring back the details you want — all while enjoying significant control.

How do I bring back details in an adjustment layer?

  • Add Contrast: Start by adding contrast to the entire photo. Once you’ve created an adjustment layer, choose Levels and slightly darken the entire image. Notice you’ve increased the contrast, but the background is suffering because it’s getting blacked out. No problem. Instead of trying to adjust the levels to make everything work, just set the levels to where you want them to be on your subject’s face.
  • Use Pressure Sensitivity. Now activate pressure sensitivity. On the layer mask, open up the Brush panel and choose the Transfer setting. Set Opacity and Flow Jitter to Pen Pressure.
  • Adjust the Opacity with your Pen: On the layer mask, use your pen to very lightly touch on the image background. You’ll notice you are bringing details back. Merely adjusting the opacity — without pen pressure — will only lay down a uniform amount of pixels, and you’re going to lose the control and subtlety you need to target areas with precision.

Step 2: Adjusting Details

Make your brush a little bit smaller for detailed areas, and very lightly touch in the background. In the darker areas, press a little bit harder to bring back more of the detail. An easy way to remember this is: The harder you touch, the more detail you retrieve.

  • Bring out the Details: Now that you’ve adjusted the background, make sure you bring out the subtle detail in the face of your subject, or the area of your art you want to make selective adjustments with. Remember you don’t want to overdo it. Merely make very small, targeted adjustments.
  • Control the Pressure: Press a little harder in areas where you want to bring some more detail back into the image. All of this you can control merely through pressure sensitivity.
  • View your Progress: Click on the layer mask itself while holding OPTION on a Mac and Alt in Windows to see what you’ve done in the main window. Not only are you working a lot faster, being able to target specific areas, but you have a greater degree of control on how you want the image to look. You are simply painting features back in, instead having to continually adjust settings. (Holding OPTION on a Mac and Alt in Windows and clicking the layer mask thumbnail once more returns you to your image.)

Step 3: Add Additional Details with Layers

Adding another element, such as hue saturation, is easy once you’ve activated pressure sensitivity.

  • Create Another Adjustment Layer: To make more selective edits in your image, all you need to do is add another adjustment layer and choose the type of adjustment you wish to make. For example, try a stylized technique, like colorizing your photo. Simply saturate the hue to your liking, then very lightly start in the middle of the area you don’t want colorized and spiral out from the center of that area.
  • Adjust the Details with Pressure Sensitivity: As you touch your pen to the tablet, you build more detail back into the image by pressing down more firmly. More and more of that original detail will return to your image.

Step 4: Understand the Precision of Layers and Pen Tablets

Working with adjustment layers is just one of the many fascinating ways you can take advantage of pressure sensitivity. It also happens to be one of the most useful. As you become accustomed to working in layers, you’ll come to appreciate the precision that comes when using a pen tablet. Not only do you save time by comprising multiple settings into one step, but you are also working with a much greater degree of control. The end result will be an image that you are proud of, acheived with the level of precision and detail that you always imagined.