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How To Use Blending Modes for Compositing in Photoshop – Little-Known “Pass Through” Trick

November 7, 2019

In this video, I’m going to show you how to
use Blending Modes for compositing in Photoshop. Hi! Welcome back to the Photoshop Training Channel! I’m Jesús Ramirez. In this video, I’m going to show you how you
can use Blending Modes to composite faster and more efficiently in Photoshop. We’re going to use this composite, which you
probably have seen before. It’s one of my most popular composites, and
it was featured in the cover of the Photoshop User Magazine, and it’s the perfect image
for me to show you this technique. The technique that we’re going to use in this
tutorial deals with Adjustment Layers and Blending Modes. If you’re new to Blending Modes,
then don’t worry. I’m going to go slow so that you can follow
along, but I do recommend watching my tutorial, Blending Modes Explained, The Complete Guide
to Photoshop Blending Modes. It’s a tutorial where I show what each individual
Blending Mode does and how it works, so if you’re interested in that video, I’ll post
a link to it right below in the description. Also, you probably have noticed already that
I’m wearing an Adobe Sensei shirt. Stick to the end of the tutorial so that you
can find out what that’s about. Okay. Let’s get started. So, we’re going to work with a simplified version
of my composite. It only contains three layers. A background, the bear layer, and a foreground. Obviously, the original composite had a lot
more layers, but I wanted to simplify it for you in this tutorial. Before I actually get to the technique, I’m
going to pose the problem, and I’m going to show you several techniques that work but
are not efficient. Then I’m going to show you how to solve that
problem with an efficient technique using Blending Modes and adjustment layers. We have our bear layer here in the center,
and if I wanted to apply an adjustment to that bear layer, I could simply create an
Adjustment Layer and clip that adjustment to the bear by clicking on this icon, which
creates a clipping mask. So now the bear controls the visibility of
that adjustment, so I can add contrast to the bear. Then I can create a second adjustment
layer, also clip it to the bear, and make an adjustment to the bear. The adjustments are really not that important. The point is, is that we’re applying adjustment
layers to that one layer. If we change our mind and decide to add a
second bear to this composite, so I’m going to press Ctrl-J, Command-J on the Mac, to
duplicate that layer, so now I have two bears. I can click and move this bear over to the
right, and if I want to apply that same adjustment to the second bear, I really have two options. I can either select both of these adjustment
layers by holding Shift and clicking on them and then pressing Ctrl-J, Command-J on the
Mac and dragging them below the bear. And also press Ctrl-Alt-G, Command-Option-G,
to create another set of clipping masks. That works. The same adjustment is applied to the second
bear, but if I change my mind and decide to make an adjustment to the bear, I also need
to make an adjustment on the second set of adjustment layers, so you can start to see
how that becomes inefficient really, really quickly. I know that some of you may be thinking, “Well,
we can use layer masks for that,” so instead of using a clipping mask, I’m going to use
a layer mask, so I’m going to press Ctrl-Alt-G to undo that clipping mask. Then I can hover over the layer thumbnails
of both bear layers, and the first layer I’m going to hold Ctrl and click to load the bear
as a selection. In the second layer, I’m going to hold Ctrl
and add the Shift key, then click to add the second bear as a selection. Now I have two selections. Then I can go into the layer mask thumbnail,
delete the layer mask, and create a new Layer Mask based on that selection. Then hold Alt, Option on the Mac, and click
and drag that layer mask onto the other Adjustment Layer and replace the layer mask. If you hold Alt and drag a layer mask onto
another layer, you duplicate that layer mask and replace it if there’s already a layer
mask there. Now that works, so now we only have one set
of adjustment layers that control both bears. The problem is that we don’t have the flexibility
to move the bear if we have already created the layer mask. Otherwise, we will need to recreate that layer
mask, because the layer mask does not move with the bear, so I think you get the idea. How do we create multiple adjustment layers
that affect multiple objects, but we have the flexibility to move them around and control
them, all at the same time? The solution to that problem is by using a
layer group and use Blending Modes. Let me show you what I mean by that. I’m first going to delete the layer masks,
because we don’t need them, and I want you to see that we’re not using layer masks for
this. Then I’m going to select the topmost Adjustment
Layer and the bottommost element in our composite. That will be affected by that adjustment layer. In this case, these four layers, and, by the
way, when you select multiple layers, you can simply hold Shift and click on them. Then I’m going to press Ctrl-G, Command-G
on the Mac, to put those layers into a group, and I’m just going to call my group Bears,
and there it is. Now, in case you don’t know, groups are simply
a way of organizing layers in Photoshop. That’s it. When you create a group, you can put layers
inside, and they don’t do anything in terms of changing the look of the layer. They only are there for organizational purposes,
so anything that you put in here simply passes through, through the rest of the layer stack,
like any other layer. Notice that when I select the layer, the default
Blending Mode is Normal, but if I select a group, the default Blending Mode is Pass Through. So, that means that all the layers that I
put in there, as I just said, will simply pass through and be part of the normal layer
stack. However, if we change the Blending Mode, we’re
going to get a completely different effect. I can change the Blending Mode to Normal,
and watch what happens. The adjustment layers inside of that group
only affect the bears, so I can come back into any one of those adjustment layers, make
an adjustment, and it will only affect the contents of that group. No matter how many bears we have, those adjustment
layers will only affect those bears. If I create another adjustment layer, that
Adjustment Layer will, of course, only affect the content of that group. By the way, let me know in the comments if
you knew about Pass Through or not. It’s the only way that I know if the stuff
that I’m teaching you is valuable to you, so if you like it or enjoy it, just leave
a comment letting me know, and if you don’t, also leave me a comment. But anyway, what I’m going to do now is explain
to you why this works and how it works with an example so that it’s more clear to you. We have this group here called Bears, and
if I change the Blending Mode to Pass Through, all the adjustment layers will, of course,
affect everything else below them, including the items outside of the group. But if I press Ctrl-E, Command-E on the Mac,
to merge, all those layers will collapse into one single layer, as you can see here. Notice what happened to the adjustment layers. The effect that they were applying is only
affecting the contents of that group because we merged them all into one single layer. I’m going to press Ctrl-Alt-Z to undo, so
basically when you select a group and change the Blending Mode, the result is exactly the
same as having your group set to Pass Through, selecting the group, pressing Ctrl-E, Command-E
on the Mac, to merge into one layer, then changing the Blending Mode. Now, I know that that sounds a little confusing. but another way to think about it is that
when you have a group, and you change the Blending Mode of that group, Photoshop will
first blend the content of the group, and then it will apply a Blending Mode to the
resulting composite made up from the layers inside that group. That is why merging the layers gives you the
same result because merging the layers means you’re blending the layers first, and then
you’re applying a Blending Mode. I really recommend that you use
this technique. I’ve used it on all my composites that you
have seen before. If you would like to see more of my composites,
you can always follow me on Instagram, where I share them all, and also on my Behance page. I’ll post a link to those right below in the
description. By the way, for those of you that are wondering
about my shirt, Adobe Sensei, this is Adobe’s AI, artificial intelligence. And this was given to me by the Adobe Sensei
team just a couple days ago at the Adobe SUMMIT conference, the digital marketing conference
that Adobe has every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was one of the few creative speakers
at that conference. So, this is for the Marketing Cloud, not the
Creative Cloud, so these are completely different apps that Adobe has. But anyway, Adobe Sense is Adobe’s artificial
intelligence, and it is used on both the Creative and Marketing Clouds. And the Adobe Sensei team told me that they
had used one of my quotes that I used in an interview on their whitepapers and marketing
material for Adobe Sensei, which I thought was pretty cool. If you’re interested in reading the article
about Adobe Sensei where I’m quoted alongside the Adobe CEO, CTO, and other Adobe employees,
then I’ll post a link to that article right below in the description. If you are wondering if Adobe Sensei is used
in Photoshop, then the answer is, yes, it is. In Photoshop CC 2018, you can find it in several
places, including the Select Subject button. The artificial intelligence allows you to
select the main subject of the photo just with one click, and Adobe Sensei is also found
in the Face-Aware Liquify filter. This filter uses Adobe Sensei to recognize
facial features, and you can edit those facial features with sliders or by clicking and dragging
directly over the image. I have tutorials on both these features. I’ll link to them right below in the description,
and if this is your first time at the Photoshop Training Channel, then don’t forget to click
on the Subscribe and Notification buttons. So that you get notified whenever I post a
new tutorial. Thank you so much for watching, and I will
talk to you again very soon.


  • Reply Omar Elakadi April 1, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Like even before watching !

  • Reply Vella durai.S April 1, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Amazing.. tutorial. bro.. thank you……..

  • Reply Ted Partrick April 1, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    I always learn something in your videos. I had not used the group and blending features together before, so your training is still working!

  • Reply suruha2306 April 1, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I actually knew about the Group Blending Modes thing. I THOUGHT I had learned it from you! It was one of you guys! LOL

    The only part I don't know, yet, is how to work with the individual layers within that group. If I have a drop shadow on one of the layers in the group, then, do the Normal Blend Mode on the group, the drop shadow goes plain and only adapts to the group's mode. What to do there? I tried turning the layer with the drop shadow into a Smart Object, but, it all but blends away. Help?

    Jesus, I said it before! You the man! LOL Thank you!


  • Reply Jackie Vickrey April 1, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you, I was unaware of this useful Set Of commands.

  • Reply Fay Bartsch April 1, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Awesome, thank you! I did not know this.

  • Reply Sk Saimun April 1, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    How to edit like tony mahfud please make a video

  • Reply Sharp Design April 1, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    thanks for not being a prankster today

  • Reply Linda Johnstone April 1, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Great, thank you – always wondered what Pass Through was, seems so obvious now. Very useful

  • Reply Debbie Vinci April 1, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    As always, a great tutorial – thank you! Had no idea of how helpful "pass through" could be. Will definitely be using it for composites from now on.

  • Reply murali narayanan April 1, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Yes.little known but now well known.Thanks, Jesus.

  • Reply Alan Parker April 1, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks – I had heard of pass through but didn't really understand it.

  • Reply Shadi Sells Cars April 1, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    Your the man Jesus! Keep dumbing-it-down for guys like myself! We appreciate it! Your a great teacher! YOU ARE an adobe sensei. Daniel-son! Your like Mr. Miyagi from karate kid. Your artistic teaching style is like a bonsai tree. VERY STRONG!

  • Reply Fionàn O'Kelly April 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    that "pass through" was very interesting!!

  • Reply Darren Longshanks April 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    You are so the man! Another great video, thanks so much for a fantastic lesson.

  • Reply Fran Hogan April 1, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for this tutorial! I learned a lot.

  • Reply weilzudope April 1, 2018 at 4:25 pm


  • Reply Jefferson Roberts April 1, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Another great tutorial. Definitely something I will start using, had no idea about it before! Thanks!

  • Reply Houston Brown April 1, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Yes I knew about this but I think most people do not so a great tip none the less.

  • Reply Dennis Roesler April 1, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks – I learned something new today 🙂

  • Reply blueknight April 1, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    Do you ever do live streaming ? If not I think it would be grweat…

  • Reply Joyce Rivera April 1, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Shadi Sells Cars has said it all and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

  • Reply Photoshop Training Channel April 1, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    All Blending Modes Explained

    Adobe Sensei Article

    Face-Aware Liquify

    Select Subject



  • Reply udip21 April 1, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Super useful

  • Reply Dale Hardin April 1, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks a lot for this info. I haven't used grouping enough and this tutorial helped me a lot in understanding it's benefits.

  • Reply Ankit Sharma April 1, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Watching this makes me appreciate Pre-Comps in After Effects much more than before. In AE, Pre-Comps are the equivalent of Grouping in PS and I believe they (Pre-Comps) have ''Normal'' blending mode by default. That is, effects applied on Pre-Comps do not affect layers below UNTIL you change the blending mode of that Pre-Comp.

  • Reply Jose A De Leon April 1, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    Are you sure you're not Japanese? Man your style of teaching is so simplified and easy to understand!. Awesome job Jesus!

  • Reply pat gristi April 1, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Pretty interesting. Straight forward and well explained! I've learned something today about blending mode and the development of AI too, thanks to you!

  • Reply Andrew Grabham April 1, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Congrats on your well earned recognition man, it is very cool.

  • Reply Richman Aust April 1, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks man, I generally would group the images and pin the adjustment layers to the group. Which is basically the same thing but having the adjustment layers inside the group is neater when you have many layers.

  • Reply Jeree Brissenden April 1, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    I just saw this tip the other day (I thought on one of your own videos?) but I still watched and enjoyed the entire video.

  • Reply Ali Goodman April 2, 2018 at 12:07 am

    Thank you so much. I had heard of this before, but you explained it really well and I think I understand it better than I did before.

  • Reply Felippe Lopes April 2, 2018 at 2:15 am

    you rock, bro. i can see in the video that you are a lovely person, thanks for sharing your excelent work

  • Reply Colby McLemore April 2, 2018 at 2:45 am

    Never noticed pass through, thanks!

  • Reply Krysia Bamford April 2, 2018 at 3:36 am

    Thank you. All these years of playing in PS and now I understand what Pass through means.

  • Reply Rhobot April 2, 2018 at 4:08 am

    Nice tutorial. I knew about this already but you explained it well. On a side note, do you know about how to "finish" a composite? I work at a design firm that specializes in key art. The CD always talks about how the key art needs to be "finished" but I always have a hard time understanding what I should be looking for? Would you know anything about this?

  • Reply MusicalBox April 2, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I have heard before about the "Pass Through" blending mode in another tutorial somewhere. But I didn't really get what the guy was using it for. In his example, I couldn't see a difference before and after. But now I get it. Thanks to you.

  • Reply 김진홍 April 2, 2018 at 8:31 am


  • Reply mft4 April 2, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Always look forward to your videos, thank you.

  • Reply france firme April 2, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Do you have illustrator tutorials sir ?

  • Reply Jens Vielmann April 2, 2018 at 11:27 am

    I knew about pass-through… but I wonder… from the start my approach would have been: group the bear layers and clip the adjustment-layers to the group (above)…. (because you didn’t mention this way… I am beginning to wonder if I should have checked the method before I mention it here)

  • Reply Alistair Mackay April 2, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Always interesting and easy to follow.

  • Reply Vesna Milošević April 2, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    These lessons are so rare, valuable and helpful! Thanx, thanx!

  • Reply SatGraphics Art April 2, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Re: "Pass Through"…Thank You

  • Reply d fregolle April 2, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Another super-great video training session, Jesus; glad to hear that Adobe is picking you up for quotes, etc., as you are becoming the spokesperson for Adobe photoshop!

  • Reply d fregolle April 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    it would be nice if access to the photos could have achieved, so we could download and also follow along.

  • Reply Richard Bourdeau April 2, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    This was a pleasant surprise. At first, I expected a re-hash of an earlier video. Very informative and useful as usual. Many Thanks.

  • Reply silent mountain April 2, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Very nice video. It's better to put into a group when you have multiple layers to use. Sometime when i have a very hard project to manipulate it's very difficult to find what i looking for in the pass layers, really its a headache .

  • Reply Nikol Ycy April 2, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    thank you! very interesting ,
    as ussually

  • Reply Janece Suarez April 2, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    I did not know about this! Thank you for this tutorial!

  • Reply Rizky Fn April 3, 2018 at 2:25 am

    thank you so much for this . u da best

  • Reply Angel D Rodriguez April 3, 2018 at 3:38 am

    This is great! Even though I already knew how layers are affected, I never thought of using groups and changing the blending mode. I did not know you could do that!

  • Reply Dipak Rathod April 3, 2018 at 6:17 am

    Hey…i am dipak…can you please make video on histogram please i really wanted to learn about histogram and you explains very nicely so please make video on histogram.😁

  • Reply Navi Retlav April 3, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Hey. I really need your help. Could you show up how to recreate the "dramaturgy" effect tool from google snapseed ( ios/android) photo editing app ? It's epic for B/W and Landscape images, and I can't find the proper way to make it as single slider in photoshop. Any ideas ?

  • Reply Ian Lancaster April 3, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    Your tutorials are some of the clearest and easiest to understand. Thank you.

  • Reply Georgeta Blanaru April 3, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you 🙏 useful, as all of your tutorials! I didn’t know about pass through…

  • Reply Ashiqur rahman Shanto April 4, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Waiting for you new video sir and thank you.

  • Reply Mike Lesley April 5, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Another great video. I was not aware of pass through. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply jdavidholmes April 6, 2018 at 12:23 am

    Always the best and easiest to understand

  • Reply Julius Edwards April 8, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Always learning, thanks for the pass through and blend layer tip. Had no clue.

  • Reply Christopher Morris April 8, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks for this. Had no idea about the power of pass through. Very cool

  • Reply Nesto tower April 9, 2018 at 4:07 am

    Thanks for sharing this trick

  • Reply Dave Dube April 12, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    But you still lost the ability to adjust the bears individually.

  • Reply Tina Giles April 13, 2018 at 4:35 am


  • Reply Tina Giles April 13, 2018 at 4:46 am


  • Reply hannsflip April 14, 2018 at 5:47 am

    i hade never used that but now i will do ty

  • Reply Chee Hong Wong April 14, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Very useful thank you!

  • Reply Pixel Geek April 16, 2018 at 3:26 am

    I like this channel

  • Reply Scott Macdonald April 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    This channel is an excellent teaching resource for newbies like myself. Going through each step of the process is invaluable for picking up tips and ideas for use in projects and best practises therein.

    And no, I did not know about the "Pass Through" blending mode. I've been doing things inefficiently for a while now. So, thank you.

  • Reply Chris Sekely April 29, 2018 at 5:48 am

    Couldn't you also just group the two bears (not the adjustment layers) and then simply clip the adjustments to the group as a whole. This would seem easier and more direct to me.

  • Reply Faiz Yusof April 30, 2018 at 9:21 am

    oh my god, thank you so much sensei

  • Reply Nick Cuccia May 18, 2018 at 7:34 am

    Good one, as usual. I knew about Pass Through, I think from one of your previous videos. If you decide to edit or revise this tutorial, you might show near the end how moving one of the bears in the group does not behave the same way as it did in the first example with masks. No biggie. I'm learning so much from these tutorials. Really grateful.

  • Reply Blue S P May 20, 2018 at 3:49 am

    So if, creating a group and setting the blend mode to normal is just like merging layers? Cool.

  • Reply 王敏 June 24, 2018 at 6:18 am


  • Reply Richard Swearingen July 4, 2018 at 2:56 am

    i love the blend IF technique but, can't find it again. IS there anyway i can do a search to find the right segment?

  • Reply Stevie Amore July 10, 2018 at 5:53 am

    Probably the best video because you didn't assume everyone knew what you were talking about and explained things as well went slow. Thanks!

  • Reply John Abel August 1, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    another great post

  • Reply Rozia Neelam August 26, 2018 at 9:06 am

    your tutorials are really good and easy to understand others do tell good but they do not tell according to any beginner

  • Reply Rey Reyes August 28, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    You're doing a great job. Keep them coming.

  • Reply Meir H September 1, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    How can I do pace animation from image .? Is it possible

  • Reply Deb Z September 13, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Jesus, you are the best! Thank you for all your hard work. It really helps.

  • Reply Bob Fisher September 17, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Great video! Easily understandable

  • Reply Dennis J Gaspersz September 20, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Thankyou…………….your video improve my skill in photoshop, keep up the good work, Bless you Jesus.

  • Reply Oliver TV November 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm


  • Reply Novide December 16, 2018 at 2:35 am


  • Reply Abraham Gebru January 24, 2019 at 3:26 am

    Thank you very much. I really admire your creativity

  • Reply Chris Njoka February 12, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    I have been experimenting with blend modes. I hadn't quite understood how they work – I had to watch that other video you mentioned first. Could you point me to a video showing examples of where each of the blending modes applies i.e. case examples?

    I see that "pass through" every now and then but i hadn't figured out how it works. Thanks for the knowledge.


  • Reply Dhrumil Shah March 21, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Explained all things quite perfectly and so easily…

    Thanks for knowledge sharing.

  • Reply Haukur Hauksson March 29, 2019 at 1:43 am

    Did not know about pass through, very nice. Thank you.

  • Reply ARbull May 13, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    its confusing…too much

  • Reply Franco Ortiz Figg June 3, 2019 at 12:41 am

    You're an outstanding instructor. I learn more from you in 10 minutes than through some formal classes. Keep up the outstanding work.
    Very useful information on blending modes.

  • Reply Harita Rao July 12, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Is there a simple way of blending images instead of making so many layers and steps? I have seen a simple way before.

  • Reply hamza noam September 8, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    woow thank you

  • Reply Tanya Mack October 9, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you!

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