How to Adjust Color in Photoshop

Sometimes when I take a picture, I am looking at the “big” picture like composition or lighting conditions. It’s not until after I am back at home and I have imported the picture into Photoshop that I realize I am unhappy with some detail. More often than not it has to do with the color of an article of clothing, like a shirt or pants, which are washing out into the background. Instead of pulling my hair out or trying to reschedule for a re-shoot, here is a nifty little trick I’ve picked up to fix this type of problem.

First off, open up Photoshop (for this example I am using the CS version of the program, although this technique will work for previous versions as far back as 7 and in the latest version, CS2). Once the program is opened you are going to want to import the picture. Select FILE from the menu bar located at the top of the program window. From the FILE submenu select OPEN and then select the photo you wish to use from the window that pops up. You may have to browse around a little to find the one you want.

There is a tool bar that rests on the left hand side of the screen. It’s a vertical bar that holds all of the goodies that help you work in the program. There are only two things you need to use from the toolbar for this process: the QUICK MASK and BRUSH tool. With the picture now imported into Photoshop, you need to select just the part of the photo that you want to change. This can be accomplished by creating a QUICK MASK. Hit the “Q” key a couple of times while looking at that vertical toolbar. Do you notice anything changing while you’re tapping that key?

Toward the bottom of that toolbar you will see that there are two buttons that sit side-by-side that toggle on and off. These buttons are your QUICK MASK buttons, and they are the main ingredient of this technique. The button on the left is the STANDARD EDIT MODE, self-explanatory, and the one on the right is the QUICK MASK EDIT MODE, which is the one we want. So, go ahead and tap that “Q” key to bring up the QUICK MASK mode. This will also be indicated in the title bar of your picture to make things even easier.

Okay, so you’re in the right mode, now how do we mask out what we need? It’s time for the BRUSH tool. Look at that tool bar again. If you stare close enough you can see that one of the icons is a little paintbrush, four icons down from the upper-left. We need to select the appropriate size to paint on our mask. Let’s pull up our options and find the right size for this job. Hit the F5 key and the BRUSH sizes will pop up in a handy menu. Scroll through the choices, you will notice all sorts of sizes, some are fuzzy and some are solid. For this masking business, we need a solid brush and since we are dealing with masking an area that has many curves we should use a smaller head to get the job done. I find that using the SIZE 3 solid head brush works the best; it’s small enough for detail work but not so tiny that you lose track of it in your workspace.

Here, you are in QUICK MASK mode, with the right sized brush, now you need to paint over the desired area. You could spend a lot of time slowly going little by little trying to freehand all of those curves and twists but I’m here to give you a faster way. Photoshop is the most user-friendly program I have ever used, and it is geared toward fast results. I want you to do something for me. Let’s conduct an experiment here, hold down the SHIFT key, and click on your photo with your mouse, remember don’t left go of that SHIFT key keep holding it down through this whole experiment. Click any where else on the picture with that SHIFT key still down. Did you notice anything? It made a straight line from your first mouse click to the second one right? Now with that SHIFT key still down click somewhere else on your photo and look what happens. Another straight line connected to your last mouse click. Wow. You can make the BRUSH tool move around the workspace by holding down the SHIFT key and clicking on your mouse, cool. Undo all of that clicking around I had you do, just hit the CNTRL key, the ALT key, and the “Z” key simultaneously until your experiment goes away. If you go back too far just hit the SHIFT KEY, the CNTRL key, and the “Z” key to move forward to where you need to be. All of these cool things you’ve been doing are referred to as “shortcuts” or “hot-keys”.

Here we are back where we need to be, you’re in QUICK MASK mode with your SIZE 3 solid brush head and you know no how to do some quick-edging to boot. Let’s get painting. Trace around the edge of the desired area with the brush. Shift-click that brush head around those edges, going in smaller increments in tight corners and larger spans on the straight-aways, if you aren’t 100% perfect on the edging you can go back and touch-up with brush tool later. With the desired area completely outline we can now “dump” paint into the outline and finish the mask. To “dump” there is one more tool in that vertical bar you will need to make this process work. Hit your “G” key and you will see an icon lit up that looks like a bucket. Select the BUCKET tool and you’re in business.

When your cursor enters the workspace, you’ll see a little bucket instead of your usual little arrow. Move that bucket into the outline you just made and click twice. Presto, you now have a red transparent blob staring you right in the face. This blob is your mask and defines where you want to do the color work. Hit the “Q” key to enter the STANDARD edit mode. Now instead of a red translucent blob there are dotted lines on the screen that look like they are moving. These are called MARQUEE LINES and they just tell us what we have selected in the workspace without getting in our way. If you noticed we have two sets of these lines, one set is where our mask used to be and the other set is completely around the outside edge of the picture, framing it.

Another way to think of the QUICK MASK tool is like a stencil. When we created the mask around our desired area, we in fact created a stencil, and in reverse no less. The red blob is actually the part of the picture that “masked off” or protected from the changes you wish to make. So since this is a reverse of what we really want, we need to switch things around. Hit the SHIFT KEY, the CNTRL key, and the “I” key. The MARQUEE line around our outline stayed put but the big line that hugged the entire edge of our workspace disappeared. Hit the “Q” key. Whoa, now the red translucent blob is everywhere in the photo except where we originally placed it. That’s what the QUICK MASK should look like. Just as a stencil has a hole to allow ink or paint to go only in specific areas, our QUICK MASK does the same thing. It’s faster to “mask off” a smaller area and inverse it after the fact that sit there and paint everything around the outside. That’s what the “I” key in that SHIFT+CNTRL+I shortcut stands for, “INVERSE”. “Wait, why couldn’t we have just dumped the paint around the outside of the outline we made in the first place?” I hear you ask. Good point, we could have done that, but I wanted to teach you another cool shortcut and also explain what the QUICK MASK tool is all about. Sneaky, I know, but it’s the only way to learn this stuff quickly.

Hit that “Q” key so you’re back in STANDARD mode. We’re in the homestretch now. There are a million ways to do this next part, so I’m going to share with you one of my favorite ways to get the color you’d like to replace the original photo’s color. In the top menu bar you’ll notice that there is an IMAGE option, right next to the EDIT function which sits next door to the FILE option. Select IMAGE and a submenu will appear. Select the ADJUSTMENTS option and one more submenu will appear. Here it is the holy grail of this lesson, select the REPLACE COLOR option. A popup window surfaces with a little square window in the middle; this is the REPLACE COLOR tool. There is the FUZZINESS slider bar above that square window. Drag that slider all the way to the right. You’ll see a number climb up to 200 near that slider bar. 200 is a good thing, especially when it comes to replacing color. We have completely selected every pixel in our desired area, so every little morsel within will be affected. There are three sliders below that little square window; these are you controls to adjust the color. I’d like to introduce you to HUE, SATURATION, and LIGHTNESS, move these sliders around and you will see the color change in your desired area. I suggest moving the HUE slider first since this controls the overall color change of your selection. The SATURATION slider controls the variation of tone in the selection, while the LIGHTNESS slider takes care of the brightness. Play around with these sliders; get to know the subtleties and nuances of this tool. Once you have the color the way you want it hit the OK button.

Your selection has now been recolored to your exact specification. You will notice that the MARQUEE line is still around your desired area, go ahead and hit the CNTRL key and the “D” key to deselect the line and make it go bye-bye. There you have it; you now have a new skill that will make you a Photoshop master.

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