How to Use Selective Color In Photoshop

How To Use Selective Color In Photoshop

How to Use Selective Color in Photoshop

When you hear the words "selective" and "color" side by side, you may get a little bit nervous, but I promise you I am not talking about the 1990's selective color photography trend.

Instead, I will to show you one of Photoshop's most powerful yet underutilized features: the Selective Color Tools.

Most conceptual photographers I know use the selective color panel with every photo they edit, but it seems to be a bit less common among portrait and lifestyle photographers.  Portrait and lifestyle photographers, listen up: the Selective Color panel wants to be your new best friend!

Now, lets go over how you can utilize the Selective Color tools in your editing workflow:

Photoshop Lens Flares

1. Selective Color Adjustments

Possibly the most useful feature of this panel for photographers is how easily you can correct color casts in your images.

Let's start by creating a new Selective Color adjustment layer either by:

  • Method A: Selecting Layer>New Adjustment Layer> Selective Color -OR-
  • Method B: Selecting the New Adjustment Layer icon in your Layers Panel

Method A

Photoshop Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Method B

Selective Color Photoshop

As you can see Selective Color Panel image below, there are six main color channels, as well as channels for Whites (highlights), Neutrals (midtones) and Blacks (shadows).

Photoshop Selective Color Tool

This portrait image we are working with contains quite a bit of red, particularly on the subject's face, so we are going to edit within the Reds channel first.

You will also notice there are two different modes of color processing: Relative and Absolute.  Relative will display changes that are much more subtle than Absolute.

For basic color management, editing in Relative is sufficient.  If there is a major color cast showing up on your image (for example, you used the tungsten white balance when you were shooting in the direct sun) you can edit in Absolute.

As you can see below, the cyan slider in the Reds channel in Relative is set to +75, whereas cyan in Absolute only needs to be set to +20 to achieve the same effect as Relative at +75:

Selective Color

Within each color channel (Reds, Yellow, Greens, Cyan, Blues, Magenta, Whites, Neutrals and Blacks) you will have the ability to adjust Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

As you can see in the selective color panel image below, you can see which color each slider affects.  Moving the slider to the right will increase the color, and moving the slider to the left will increase the opposite of that color.  For example, when using the Magenta slider - if the slider is moved to the right, it will increase the magenta, but if the slider to the left, it will shift to the opposite of magenta (which is green).

Photoshop Selective Color Tool

For my image, I want to reduce the red cast, so in the Reds channel, I will move my cyan slider to the right, away from red, because I want to increase the cyan (and decrease the red).

After applying an adjustment, you can use the soft black brush to remove the adjustments in areas that you would like to remain untouched.  In my example image, I want the subject's face to show less red, but I still want to retain the warmth on the hardwood floors behind her, so I will remove the Selective Color adjustment from the floors:

Selective Color Photography

To make her blue eyes and sweater have a bit more pop, I will go to the Blues channel, boost Cyan and Black all the way to +100 in order to give the sweater and her eyes plenty of blue and contrast, and also reduce the yellow to -45.

Then, I will use the black brush, once again, to remove the effect from everything except her eyes and sweater:

Selective Colour Photography

Next, I want to add a touch of warmth to the subject's face (the addition of cyan made her skin very cool) without making it red again, so, back in the Reds channel, I am going to boost the yellow slider:

Photoshop Selective Color Adjustment Tool

I also removed the addition of yellow from everything except her face:

How To Use Selective Color Photoshop

Once you are satisfied with your selective color adjustments, you may find it useful to group your layers - Ctrl + G (PC), Command + G (Mac) - to keep them organized.

You can also reduce the opacity of the group in order to minimize the effect of the selective color adjustments:

Photoshop Selective Black and White

Here is the before and after of all the adjustments that we just completed, with the adjustments grouped, and opacity reduced to 50%:

Selective Color

2. Selective Contrast Adjustments

Since the Selective Color panel gives you the ability to edit Blacks, Whites and Neutrals, you can use it to increase or decrease the contrast of the image.

Let's look at how moving the black slider within the Blacks channel affects an image:

As you can see below, increasing (moving to the right) the black adds more contrast - this is due to the fact that this particular channel affects the shadows in your image (so by upping the black, you are increasing contrast).

Selective Color Presets Photoshop

The opposite is also true: if you move the slider to the left, the shadows will get lighter and gradually flatten out.  This is one way to create hazy, soft blacks.

3. Selective Exposure Adjustments

You can also adjust the exposure of an image when working in the Whites and Neturals channels.

For my image, I added a bit of cyan in the Whites channel to bring a cool tone to my highlights (this also helped me reduce any remaining red on the subject's face).

I also reduced the black slider to brighten the highlights for the entire image:

Selective Color Photography

In the Neturals channel, I did the same thing that I did in the Whites channel.  Since the image is made up of mostly midtones (neutrals) this had a greater affect on my image, so I made a more subtle adjustment to the sliders than I did in the previous (Whites) channel:

Using Selective Color in Photoshop

Here is the before and after of the original image and the image after ALL of the steps described above:

How To Use Selective Colour In Photoshop


We hope that this was a helpful introduction to the Selective Color panel in Photoshop!  When it comes to editing color, everyone has their own style and idea of how they think their images should look, so be sure to use this panel in a way that suits your style.

Additional Reading Just For You:

1. 3 Best Ways to Enhance Color in Photoshop

Do you have any questions or comments about How to Use Selective Color in Photoshop?  Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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