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How To Manipulate Colors With Selective Color

Selective color is a function whereby general colors can be changed/altered selectively using four sliders. One can either apply it as an adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color) or straight to the image (Image > Adjustment > Selective Color). A more detailed explanation is available at the end of this tutorial.

There are 9 general colors to choose from basically, each having its own Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black properties/color values.

Dragging these sliders to the right adds amount (in percentage) of that color into the selected general color. Similarly, dragging to the left will detract it.

Relative/Absolute Radio Buttons Relative: color changes are relative to where they are currently. Absolute: adds/detracts exactly the amount entered.

Example: If an area already have 50% of yellow, adding 50% with Relative radio button will yield an extra 25% of yellow which is 75% (50% of 50% is 25%). When Absolute radio button is checked, adding 50% will yield 100% of yellow, as it adds the exact amount dialed in. Absolute radio button results in a more drastic color change.

If you wish to change a color in an object, just identify which color group it belongs to and dial in the values to acquire a desired color. Note that 1 object usually falls into a few different color groups, so it’s good to know which aspect of the image needed to be changed and be extra cautious when tweaking them. This is to ensure the color of other objects doesn’t change too drastically, and to minimize undesired results.

Masking using a very soft brush, or applying Feather to a selection is one of the fastest way to ensure color change isn’t obvious to other objects at all.

There are a number of common uses of Selective Color. Below are a few examples.

Example 1: Bringing out and altering certain colors.  I want to bring out the lush green of grass and add a more prominent blue to the sky. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color.

Original Image – Image ID: 1357014 © Pavel Siamionau

Set “Yellows” values. Once done, click on the drop down box to alter “Blues” values. Note that since the face area (circled) contained some yellow, the color has been changed as well though not so drastic.

We can use a soft brush and roughly mask out areas that we do not wish to affect.

End result.

Example 2: Correcting certain aspect of an image. Some part of the image doesn’t look right. Take the hair for instance. It looks quite green.

Original Image – Image ID: 354386 © Sylwia Horosz

We can use selective color (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color), select black color, and drag the sliders until the hair is of a more original/natural color.

You may still find unwanted residual of greens on the hair and car.

We shall remove them by accessing the same adjustment layer, this time selecting green. Apply these settings so that the greens will blend in with the color of the model’s hair.

Selective color “Black” and “Green” is affecting a lot of areas on this image. Since only certain areas should be affected (e.g. hair), we should mask it out using the Lasso Marquee Tooland Feather Selection.

Invert the selection (Shift+Ctrl+I) and click on the masking icon. We’re done here.

Example 3: Adding/reduce highlights.  Too much light is causing an over exposure on the man’s shirt.

Original Image – Image ID: 2739757 © orangeline

We can mitigate the effect by dragging the black slider towards the right to reveal more details in the object. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color and apply the settings.

The shirt might still look a little over exposed after applying the settings. Try checking the Absolute radio button again, this time adding a little black on white color.

Apply the setting and you’ll have shades of gray on top of the over exposed areas. Done!

A few tips when using Selective Color: Tip 1: To make your results reversible, it is best to add Selective Color as an adjustment layer, instead of executing and applying the changes straight.

Tip 2: When using Selective Color, always double check to ensure the color/brightness altered doesn’t reveal/create noise, or jagged pixels.

Tip 3: In print/CMYK mode, adding cyan to black areas of an image will result in a richer black. This method is commonly used in commercial printing when creating large black areas of a print.

If you liked our tutorial, feel free to share it with your friends or even bookmark it!

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