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Learn Photography

Photoshop Elements >

Step Wedge - The Understanding Tool

B&W Step Wedges

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Step Wedge

Many Photoshop Elements commands are hard to fathom.

For example, there's a blending mode called Vivid Light.

Blending modes are used to make a change to a layer.

Here's how Adobe describes the Vivid Light blending mode.

Burns or dodges the colors by increasing or decreasing the contrast, depending on the blend color.

If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened by decreasing the contrast.

If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened by increasing the contrast.

Huh?

Of course, you can't understand the above explanation until you use Vivid Light on a photograph.

You do so, and  see an obvious change in your photograph.

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Normal

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Vivid Light Blending Mode

But, you probably still don't know exactly what Vivid Light did to the photograph.

Use a step wedge to find out.

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Normal

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Vivid Light

With the step wedge, you can easily see how the Vivid Light blending mode takes about a third of the highlights—and makes them white.

Similarly, you can see how the blending mode takes about a third of the shadows—and makes them black.

Use the step wedge to investigate the following.

• Levels

• The many commands for modifying shadows, highlights, brightness, and contrast.

• Blending modes

• Unsharp Mask, Gaussian blur, and other filters

Color Spectrum Wedges

A color step wedge may be helpful, as well.

Here's the normal version of a color wedge, and the Vivid Light version.

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Normal

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Vivid Light

Download the Step Wedges

You can download the step wedge and the color spectrum wedge, below, by right clicking on each one, and selecting Save Picture As.

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Make a B&W Step Wedge

Here's how you can make the above step wedges.

1) Go to File > Create > Blank File.

2) Set the dimensions to 800 px wide by 100 px high, at 300 ppi, and select White in the Background Contents box.

3) Select the Gradient tool.

Options Bar/Tool Options

Select the following in options bar/Tool Options.

4) Select the Foreground to Transparent gradient in the Gradient picker in options bar/Tool Options.

5) Click Edit in options bar/Tool Options, and set the Smoothness to 0%.

6) Select the Linear Gradient icon, set the Mode to Normal, set the opacity to 100%, and select dither and Transparent.

Draw the Gradient

6) Place the cursor at the left side, press and hold Shift (to make a straight line), and draw a line to the right side.

7) Go to Filter > Adjustments > Posterize, and enter 21 in the Levels box.

Make a Color Spectrum Wedge

To make a color spectrum wedge, select the Spectrum gradient in the Gradient picker in options bar/Tool Options.

Set the Smoothness to 100%.

There's no need to use the Posterize filter.

Other Step Wedge Examples

Sharpening Methods Compared with Step Wedges

High Pass & Gaussian Blur Filters Compared with Step Wedges

Saving the Wedges You Make

If you haven't already done so, go to Saving Files.