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Adjusting Exposure with Blend Modes in Premiere Pro

Jason Boone
By Jason Boone

Learn how to use blend modes to adjust exposure in Premiere Pro CC with this helpful video tutorial.

Top image via Shutterstock.

Video editors use blend modes for a variety of different purposes. From advanced color correction and motion graphic design to adding texture and light effects, there are many possibilities. In this tutorial, I’ll give you a brief introduction into the world of blend modes.

To accomplish this I will focus on a simple task — adjusting exposure. First, I will darken an overexposed image and then brighten an underexposed image. Finally, I’ll show you how to adjust the exposure of isolated areas of your footage. Let’s get started!

The Blend Modes

First, let’s take a look at the blend modes in Premiere Pro. When I use a blend mode, I am essentially creating a composite an image created from two or more source images. I can create a very basic composite by simply lowering the opacity of a layer with an underlying layer. Blend modes offer a more complex method of creating a composite.

Furthermore, when I select a layer, I can find all of the various blend modes in the Effect Controls panel under Opacity. The modes fall into six different categories. These categories aren’t clearly labeled; they are simply separated by lines.

  • Normal
  • Subtractive
  • Additive
  • Complex
  • Difference
  • HSL (Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity)

Because this is an introduction to blend modes, I’ll be using only subtractive and additive modes. First, we will darken an overexposed image and then brighten an underexposed image.



Adjusting Exposure with Blend Modes in Premiere Pro — Darken

First, I’ll make adjustments to an overexposed clip. If I look at the waveform monitor in my Lumetri scopes panel, I can see that my video levels are pretty high. I want to bring the exposure down to improve my image. To use the blend modes, I need to duplicate the clip and overlay the copy over the original layer. With two layers, I can now change the blend mode of my top layer, resulting in a composite of the two images.

The subtractive category offers up several modes that will darken your clip. After testing out a few, I’ve found that the multiply mode gives me the best result. According to Adobe’s support page, multiply “simulates drawing with multiple marking pens on paper or placing multiple gels in front of a light.”


Adjusting Exposure with Blend Modes in Premiere Pro — Brighten

Next, I’ll fix an underexposed clip. To brighten my dark footage, I’ll be using modes from the additive category. These additive blend modes simulate the method of mixing projected light. You’ll find that many of the modes in the additive category are the opposite of subtractive. Again, if you want to see details of each blend mode, check out Adobe’s support page.

I can fix the exposure of my clip by duplicating, overlaying, and changing my top layer to screen mode. Screen mode is “similar to projecting multiple photographic slides simultaneously onto a single screen.”


Adjusting Exposure with Blend Modes in Premiere Pro — Isolate

Finally, I will show you how to get a little more control over your exposure adjustments using blend modes. For this example, I’m going to decrease the brightness of the background of an interview. To do this, I’ll use the crop tool so I can quickly isolate my subject from the background. This will allow me to focus on the area that I would like to adjust.

Next, I can switch my top layer to multiply, darkening the background. I can also fine-tune the adjustment by feathering the crop mask. Furthermore, lowering the opacity of the top layer allows me to control the brightness of the background. If 100% is too dark, I can lower the opacity to brighten things up.

When it comes to working with blend modes, this tutorial is only the tip of the iceberg. If you play around with other blend modes, you’ll start to realize just what you can do with this tool. Using blend modes in conjunction with the Lumetri panel will give you a strong color correction workflow.

Do you know other tips for adjusting exposure using blend modes? Let us know in the comments.