Understanding the Exclusion blending mode – Or getting a Retro or Vintage haze on your images

Many of you probably know by now that adding a solid blue color adjustment layer and blend it in exclusion mode to around 40% will give you a vintage haze layer over your image. It’s very useful, you can pick any kind of dark blue and see the difference in the resulting tint. But do you know how it works?

What the exclusion mode does is inverting the base color values.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the color spectrum and the complementary colors, so here is some basic info. The “true” primary colors are Yellow, Red and Blue (RYB). And the secondary ones a mix of those, so Orange, Green and Violet. That’s how I learned my colors when I studied arts. That is when you consider the colors for mixing purposes. BUT our cameras and software have another set of primary colors, the RGB ones, where the mixing of colors in based on how light affects our vision of color.  So for Photoshop purposes, let’s stick to the RGB ones 🙂

So if you look closely at the color spectrum in your software, you’ll see that the primary colors are Red, Green and Blue (RGB).  The secondary colors are the colors created by a mix of those primary colors, resulting in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow (CMYK) (remember, we are talking about mixing light, otherwise Red mixed with Green would not produce Yellow…).  The K stands for black. In theory if mixed perfectly Cyan, Magenta,and Yellow should produce Black. In theory, if you have pure colors.  Two colors are called complementary if, when mixed in the proper proportion, they produce a neutral color (grey, white, or black).

The complementary colors are opposite each other in the spectrum. So pure Blue has pure Yellow as opposite, so complementary. Green is complementary to Magenta, and Red to Cyan. Anywhere in between will give a derivative from these colors. I won’t go further in naming the tertiary colors and so on… I think you get the point.

We’re a long way from where we started, but this info will come in handy in your editing process.

When you select a color in your spectrum in Photoshop, and blend it on Exclusion mode, it will tint your image with it’s complementary color. So depending on where you pick your blue, the coloring will go from yellow to orange, just select the tint that pleases you most and reduce opacity. You now have a vintage haze layer.

You can do the same if you want to have a Retro tint. Pick a purple (Magenta) color, and blend it using Exclusion mode, you will get a Greenish tint. Reduce opacity and you get the retro finish.

When you’ve done it a couple of times, you will know where to pick the Blue or Magenta that suits your images. It’s a fast an easy way to get a moody haze on your photo.

4 Comments on Understanding the Exclusion blending mode – Or getting a Retro or Vintage haze on your images

  1. Marla
    May 11, 2010 at 10:51 am (10 years ago)

    Awesome. Thanks for the info. I LOVE learning new photography things.

  2. Aunt Tea
    May 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm (10 years ago)

    Thank you tons!!!!!!! I have been wondering about that effect and hadn't figured it out.

  3. Amanda
    May 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm (10 years ago)

    Thank you for explaining how to do this. I've been searching net for how to do a retro look!

  4. Kristina
    May 19, 2010 at 4:31 am (10 years ago)

    thank you for the tutorial, Isabelle, it is always a pleasure to read and to learn. i use blue color in exclusion very often but i have never used magenta, i'm excited to try.
    love the new look of your blog.


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