Introduction to Affinity Photo Blending Ranges
This tutorial is an introduction to the powerful Blending Ranges feature found in Affinity Photo. If you’re experienced in Adobe Photoshop, you may already know how to use the BlendIf feature which is similar but less powerful. At its simplest, Affinity Photo Blending Ranges allows you to blend the layers in an image together. What’s so special about Blending Ranges is that it allows you to control the blending based on how bright or dark areas of the image are.
To understand Blending Ranges, you first need to know a little about image tones in Affinity Photo. Here’s a simple tone strip which will illustrate what you need to know.
On the far left of the strip it’s pure black and there’s no white. Over to the far right of the strip there’s no black, so the strip is pure white. In the middle of the strip you see grey which is an even mix of black and white.
When we talk about tones in Affinity Photo, we use a percentage to indicate how much white there is. On the left of the strip we have a value of 0% as there’s no white. But on the right side of the strip, we have 100% as it’s pure white. In the middle where there’s an even mix of black and white we have a value of 50%.
Now let’s look at the Blending Ranges interface with some simple examples.
The Blending Ranges Interface
Before you open the Blending Ranges dialog in Affinity Photo you should first open an image to work with. You’ll also need two layers in the image to understand the Blending Ranges feature. In this example let’s blend the tone strip discussed above with a landscape photo.
Here you can see the two images as separate layers open in Affinity Photo. Over to the right you can see the Layers Studio Panel and a red arrow pointing to a small geared icon. Click to select the layer you want to control the blending for, in this case the tone strip. Then click the geared icon to open the Blending Ranges or Blending Options dialog.
The dialog can look a little confusing at first, but you don’t need to know all the controls. The two main areas are the square grids on the left and right of the dialog. The grid on the left has the title “Source Layer Ranges” and over the other you see “Underlying Composition Ranges”.
The “Source Layer Ranges” refers to the layer you have selected in the Affinity Layers Studio Panel. In this example it’s the Tone Strip. Any adjustments you make using the grid on the left control how that layer blend with the rest of the image.
The “Underlying Composition Ranges” refers to the other layers in the image below the selected layer. When you make changes using the right-hand grid, it changes how the other layers in the image blend with the selected layer. This may sound the same, but the results are different as you’ll see.
When you have the Blending Options dialog open, you can still click the different layers in the image to select them. Each layer has its own set of Blending Ranges you can adjust.
Affinity Photo Blending Ranges Example
Now let’s make a change to the Blending Ranges for the Tone Strip layer in our example.
Here I’ve dragged the left side of the Source Layer Ranges to the bottom of the grid. Notice how this causes the black part of the strip to vanish and show the image below it. As the stipe becomes lighter, it begins to hide the image. Where the strip is white it completely hides the layer below.
Let’s take a closer look at the Blending Ranges dialog to understand what’s happening.
The grid has a vertical and horizontal axis. The vertical axis controls the opacity of the layer that’s selected. The horizontal axis controls the image tones affected in that layer. The left side of the grid represents the dark tones (starting at 0%) and the right side of the grid the light tones (ending at 100%). By dragging the left black point down to the bottom of the grid we set its opacity to 0%. Wherever you see black in that layer it becomes transparent to show the image below it.
Now look at the other end of the line on the right side of the grid which represents white in the tonal range. Notice this is at the top of the grid which sets the Opacity to 100%. This causes the whites in the Tone strip hide the image below.
Finally, if you look to the middle point in the line it cuts through the centre of the grid. This means the midtones in the Tone strip are at 50% Opacity. They allow the image below the strip to show through, but you can also see the strip.
Extending the Blending Ranges Example
Now let’s extend the Blending Ranges example by adding a new point in the centre of the line and dragging it to the top of the grid. Because the centre of the grid is in the middle of the horizontal axis, we know it represents midtone grey. This means we are setting the midtones in the tone strip to 100% opacity, so they completely cover the image below.
If you look at the grid in the Blending Options dialog you can see all the tones between midtone grey and white are set to 100% opacity. The tones between black and midtones grey are set to between 0% and 100% opacity. This reflects in the Tone strip where tones lighter than midtone grey completely cover the image. Where the strip is darker than midtone grey you can see the image appear below it.
If we now set the Opacity of all the tones in the strip to 0%, the strip vanishes, and we just see the image.
We can now reset the Blending Ranges using the Reset button below the grid.
Blending Ranges for the Composite Image
The Composite Image blending ranges works in a similar way but produces a slightly different effect. The horizontal axis still represents a tonal range from black on the left to white on the right. This time it represents the tones in the image and not the Tone Strip. The best way to think of the vertical axis is as controlling the level at which you can see the image rather than the strip. The following example will help demonstrate this more clearly.
Here the black point on the line is set to the bottom of the grid. This tells Affinity Photo to set the Opacity of the Tone strip layer to 0% where the image below it has a tonal value of 0% (or black). This means you’re controlling the Opacity of the Tone strip layer based on the tones in the image it’s covering. That’s why you can see the entire rectangle as well as the image below it.
Now look at the other end of the line which represents white tones. This is set to 100% opacity and again controls the opacity of the Tone strip. This sets the Tone strip to have a 100% opacity where the image below it has a tonal value of 100% (white). If we move both the black and white points down to the bottom, the Tone strip becomes invisible as it did before.
Using Blending Ranges
One of the most useful ways to use Blending Ranges is as a substitute for Luminosity Masks. When advanced users of Adobe Photoshop switch to Affinity Photo they often look for ways to create Luminosity Masks (this isn’t as easy but you can still create Luminosity Masks in Affinity Photo). The easy alternative is to use Blending Ranges.
Using Blending Ranges, it’s possible to blend two versions of an image together based on the luminosity values of either layer. You can then control where you apply the effect using layer masks attached to one of the layers (I’ll publish a tutorial demonstrating this in the future).
Affinity Photo Blending Ranges offer users a powerful way to control the blending of image layers based on the tones in the layers. Whilst this introductory tutorial has focussed on a simple example, it illustrates the two main controls in the Blending Options dialog. If you find this feature helpful it’s worth exploring some of the other Blending Ranges controls. Also check the Affinity Photo tutorials page in case I’ve published the Luminosity Blending tutorial.