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The Fade Tool

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Bill Sharpsteen
December 9, 2016 By Bill Sharpsteen
The Fade Tool www.sleeklens.com

I suppose anyone who has used Photoshop for awhile finds themselves relying on certain tools more than others because they best fit the type of image processing they do. For me, one of those basic implements is the fade tool. It doesn’t produce flashy results. In fact, it’s pretty subtle. But I find I go to it so often, I actually memorized the keyboard shortcut (shift-control-F/shift-command-F). Trust me, that means something.

Found fourth down on the list under the Edit menu, the fade tool has one basic purpose: to reduce the effects of anything you just did by adjusting a single slider. It’s a bit persnickety because you have to do this right after your previous action or the keyboard shortcut will do nothing (the menu item will be grayed-out). However, there’s a way or two around that and I will show you how to do that a little later.

Fade to Black

Here’s a simple example of how I use it. I needed to darken the above image’s overall exposure with a curves adjustment, but when I did, the sky went too gray and the foreground water turned too dark. However, they still needed to be a little darker but not as much as the entire picture.

Given that I have a layer mask, I could just grab the brush tool, guess at the amount I need to reduce the shadows, set the opacity to, say, 80% and start painting with black. Oops. That’s too much. Okay, so I hit control-Z/command-Z to undo that and try again. This time, I try 50% opacity, but that still isn’t right. Too dark. Too light. Guess again and re-brush. Repeat and repeat. Pretty darn clumsy.

Darkening the image with a curves adjustment made parts of the image too dark.

Or, I can save myself some work, and go to the Fade tool. I start by simply painting 100% black over the portion that I want to lighten, which will obviously eliminate the effect completely. Then I hit shift-control-F for the Fade tool where the slider will be set to 100%, that is, the full effect of whatever I just did. Then I begin moving the slider to the left and watch as the previously erased darkening in the shadows changes until I get the right look. The slider might land on only 18% or it might be 91%. Whatever works for the image.

As you see in the layer’s thumbnail, I painted with black over the sky and background hills, but that completely eliminated the curves adjustment, which I didn’t want.

I’ve backed off the black mask in the sky to 41% of the total while retaining the 100% curves adjustment elsewhere.

Here are all the other adjustments I made to the one mask.

Garrapata State Park, California coast. Canon 1Dx, 24-70 f/2.8 lens set to 65mm, 2 seconds at f/22, ISO 100

Fade to Light

Another instance where I use the Fade tool a lot is when I want to lighten up a person’s eyes. For example, this environmental portrait of Siphokazi Titi who managed the incredibly remote Narina Bush Camp in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park. Again, there are lots of ways to do this, but typically I’ll create a new adjustment layer—doesn’t really matter what you choose, but out of habit I click on Curves—and then tap control/command-I to invert the mask to make it black. Next, I change the blending mode to Screen. You won’t see any change until you start painting with white over one eye. It will probably be way too much.

Her eyes are just a smidge dark, but each one needs to be adjusted independent of the other. Out comes the Fade tool.

Not a problem. After the first eye is lightened, go to the Fade tool and change the adjustment until it’s right. And then repeat for the second eye, which may require a different percentage of fade (that’s why I do it one at a time). As you can see the screenshot of the mask, I lightened each eye by different amounts.

I’ve adjusted her left eye with the Fade tool.

 

screen-9_mini
Here are the two different masks. The one on the left held back the effect a little more than the one on the right.

Cheating the Fade

Okay, so say you’ve done this not only with the eyes, but other parts of the picture, and then you realize you didn’t go far enough with the fade on the right eye. Supposedly, you can’t use the Fade tool once you take another action, but actually, there is a way. Simply brush over the one eye (or whatever part of the mask you want to adjust) with black so that you essentially wipe out the entire effect, and then pull up the fade tool again to readjust. Problem fixed without breaking a sweat.

Another workaround is, say, you used the Fade tool to decrease part of an adjustment layer, and you decide you’d like to paint that same percentage of gray on another part of the image. Unfortunately, you can’t consult the now-closed Fade tool to see what the amount of fade was that you used. Simple. Alt/option-click on the mask which will now show you the mask itself. Take the eyedropper tool, click on the part of the mask you want to paint elsewhere. The paint swatch for the brush tool will now turn to that shade of gray. Alt/option-click on the mask again to bring back the image and you can now duplicate the effect elsewhere on the image.

As I said, the Fade tool isn’t something that will transform your images into brilliant works of art, but it just makes life a little easier.

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Bill Sharpsteen
Bill Sharpsteen has seen photography evolve from the primitive days of film (his first camera was a cheap metal box with plastic lens and a hundred light leaks) to digital sophistication (he now works with a Canon EOS-1D X). Not once has he ever uttered the words, “Real photographers only use film.” He's a freelance photographer and writer; his first book project, Dirty Water: One Man’s Fight to Clean Up One of the World’s Most Polluted Bays, was released in 2010, and his next book, The Docks, about the Port of Los Angeles was published in 2011, both by University of California Press. His latest book, self-published in 2015, is a collection of essays and photographs about the sport of canyoneering called Canyon Deep: Descents Into Hidden Landscapes.

His photographs have appeared in Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Emmy, Westways, Washington Journey, Outdoor Photographer and Photo Techniques. He has published more than 60 articles for such publications as Los Angeles Times Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Washington Post, TV Guide, Entrepreneur, Photo Techniques, Outdoor Photographer and Alaska Airlines Magazine. The topics covered a wide range of interests including business, television, the environment, personalities, travel and entertainment.

Sharpsteen also worked during the early 1980s as an award-winning documentary director covering Alaska Natives and the social issues facing them. Those shows garnered such awards as a silver medal in the 1983 International Film & TV Festival of New York, the Lincoln Unity Award and Alaska Press Club awards for best documentary and best video photography.

He lives in the Los Angeles area.

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