Using a B&W Adjustment Layer To Lighten/Darken Colors

You can use a Black & White adjustment layer in Photo Shop to lighten or darken colors. Here’s how…

  1. Create a Black and White adjustment layer (it’s default blending mode is ‘Normal’ and your image will appear in shades of grey) Don’t worry.
  2. Set the Blending Mode to “Luminosity” (your image will now display in color)
  3. In the ‘Properties’ adjustment window, use the sliders to adjust either brightness or darkness of the color you want to change.

This tip does not affect hue/saturation, so be sure to check to see if the colors you adjusted need any Hue/Sat tweaking.


Nice tip Preston, although would it not be easier to use the Selective Color adjustment layer and use the black slider to achieve the same thing? There’s always a million ways to do things in Photoshop!

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Using the B/W adjustment layer with a Luminosity blending mode is a very nice way to adjust. One of the tools that is available using the B/W adjustment layer (and many other adjustment layers) is the targeted adjustment tool where you simply point in your image and drag right / left to increase / decrease. It’s that little finger icon with an arrow on each side. I have mine set up so that tool is Auto Enabled when an adjustment layer is created. Click the 4 line icon in the upper right of the properties for an adjustment layer and enable “Auto-Select Targeted Adjustment Tool”.

With a Selective color adjustment layer, that tool is not available and you also never know just what color to select to begin the adjustment. For example, many times you have green grass or foliage. Choosing green is usually not correct. Yellow is more often correct. Selective color is great for some things, but I much prefer this B/W option for easy adjustments.


Interesting, I’m not a fan of the auto adjustment that happens, how do you deal with that, just adjust each color?

I use the “Color Lum” option in the TK Luminosity suite (Tony Kuyper). Using that option you do not get the Auto Adjusting that you are referring to. I had an e-mail conversation with Tony trying to figure out the issue with creating a B/W adjustment layer on your own and setting the blending mode to Luminosity and the “Auto” adjustment. There does not appear to be a way to prevent the auto adjustment… However setting the sliders to the following values will always work to have a B/W adjustment layer that does not create any color changes or luminance changes (until you choose to start moving things around).

Red: 30
Yellow: 89
Green: 59
Cyan: 70
Blue: 11
Magenta: 41

Yes, a pain to adjust all of those sliders so I sat down to create a PS Action to create the B/W adjustment layer, set the correct blending mode and set the proper values. All seemed easy enough except no matter what I do, the values revert to the Auto adjusted values except for the last value I type in despite that fact that I can see the commands execute in the action to set the proper values. I don’t understand what’s going on with that. I wanted to create the action and share it here, but as to now, it isn’t working as desired.

So… If you have the TK suite, just use “Color Lum”. It does it and sets the correct values in code so it works just great. If you don’t have TK, use the values listed above. I’ll continue to see if I can figure out the issue in the action that would make this a piece of cake.


I believe I now have the action working correctly to create a B/W adjustment layer, set the blending mode to Luminosity and set the parameters for all the colors to the correct values that will not introduce any color shift or luminance shift.

I’m including the link here. If someone would like to try it out and let me know how it works for you, that would be great. The Action Set is called NPN-Action-Set. There’s only one action in it named BW-Adjust.

To install the action is simple. Download the action set to your machine (it is 841 bytes in size) and is called NPN-Action-Set.atn

Just double click on it and it will install in Photoshop. Open the Actions Panel, find the Action Set and run the Action BW-Adjust. You’ll see a new B/W adjustment layer as the top layer in your layer stack.

Here’s the link:

Nice Keith, it doesn’t work in it’s current state, but if you delete the select back layer and select front layer it does work.


I believe I see the problem with the action and have corrected it. If you’ll download the NPN-Action-Set again and run the same Action BW-Adjust, see if that resolves the problem. Note that in the Action set now you’ll see 3 actions: BW-Adjust, BW-Adjust-Layers, BW-Adjust-Nolayers. Just use the BW-Adjust action.

I re-downloaded and it’s the same version still, I have the TKPanel so I don’t really care I’m just trying to get it working for others.

Arghhh… I re-uploaded the modified version now. It should be the new version. Delete the old one from Actions and see if this one is better… Dang!!

Haha, that did it. Nice work!

Have been trying to learn more about PS and I have a question. Other than the TK panel etc, which some people might not have, how does what you are talking about in PS improve on or differ from the Luminosity, Hue and Saturation sliders for individual color in LR.? These also have an icon to take into the photo and move up or down on the areas where change is wanted.

The picker tool in HSL only changes the saturation slider and you would need to change the Lightness slider instead.


If I set the picker tool on hue or luminance, it will change those, just like it will change saturation if I have the saturation topic picked. Is “lightness” in PS different than luminance in LR?

I ask this not as a PS vs LR debate - I try to figure out what I need to learn, and what I can stay with LR on.



LightRoom is a marvelous environment and the Develop module provides excellent tools. To try to answer your question is difficult without comparing the same image and using HSL (with Luminance selected) vs. using this b/w adjustment layer concept. I was just experimenting with an image pointing at the same area in both PS and in LR using the respective tools to adjust by pointing in the image at the same place. The slider that PS moved was Yellow while the sliders that LR moved were Red and Orange. Yep, pointing at the same place in both images. The results were very different and in this specific image, the results in PS were much better. I’m sure I could find and image where the result would be better in LR.

Of course the major difference with LR and PS is the layer based workflow that PS provides. Adding in the concepts of Layer masking to make very targeted adjustments via any of the myriad of selection methods in PS provides much finer control than LR does. That’s not to say that you can’t do targeted adjustments in LR, but in some/many cases it is harder to accomplish.

For me it isn’t a LR or PS it is a LR AND PS. Clearly I think LR is an excellent tool as I’ve co-authored an e-book titled LightRoom for the Nature Photographer. For many photographers LR provides a robust enough environment to accomplish all of their desired goals. For others, PS is required. It sounds like you’re working to learn more about PS. I think that’s great! Yes, the learning curve for PS is longer and more complex for most people than the learning curve for LR. It is well worth it.

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Thanks Keith

Well you answered the question with the layer masks ! Im trying to prioritize what things to learn next . I am intriqued about the different color response but I just wondered on a gross basis whether PS was doing something totally different . There are so many things that PS does that LR doesnt do at all and I am concentrating on those first.
Meanwhile am going to try to copy these posts so I can get to them once I get to this point.