Adjusting Color Tutorial

Have you ever taken photos in your home with the lights on, and using your flash? How does the color work for ya? What about horrid flourescent lighting? (insert full body shudder). Is there any way to save your photos from their awful state of color casting? YES! There is hope! And if you’ve got Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, here are some tips on how to adjust the color in a photograph that’s suffering from a color cast.

1. Open your photograph in Photoshop. Remember to first duplicate your image (Image>Duplicate>OK) when you open it, and close the original. This way you can feel free to play and retain a copy of your original image (just in case). Crop to the size you want it to be.

2. In my example, the first thing I notice is that the entire image is too dark. A quick fix for this is to click “Ctrl+J” and it will create a duplicate of the image in the layer pallette. (Look to the bottom right had side of the screen. The loooong way to do this same step is to go to “Layer>Duplicate Layer>OK” 🙂

3. Now if you want to brighten the image you can change the blending mode of your “background copy” to “Screen” (there is a drop down menu above your layers pallette that says “Normal” – click on the little arrow to the right and a long list of blending modes will appear – find “screen” and click on it.) This works in Photoshop and Elements.

4. You should immediately see your image brighten up. If the image becomes a little TOO bright, just adjust the opacity slider of your “background copy” layer until you think it’s bright enough. When you are done, and like the brightness, you can flatten the image (Layer>Flatten Image)

5. Now you are ready to adjust the color. You want to determine what’s off about the color. Remember, this part can be subjective to your liking, but this is a basic color fix. If you look to the right of your screen, there should be a little box on the top that has tabs called “Navigator, Info, and Histogram”. If you don’t see this little box, put it on your screen by clicking on “Window>Info”. Now, move your mouse over a part of the skin on your image. Look over at the “Info” box, you’ll see the letters “C,M,Y, and K” The C should be close to 10 for skin tones, and the M and Y should both be about 3 times more than the C. (C stands for “Cyan”, M stands for “Magenta” and Y stands for “Yellow”) If your “Y” number, for example,is like 6 times higher than your “C” number, you know that there is too much yellow in your photo. If your “C” number is too low, then you know that there is not enough Cyan in your photo, which also means the same as there is too much RED in your photo. These number can help you get an idea of WHY your color is off, but really, you can adjust the color to how you like it, without worrying about these numbers. They just help if you know what to look for.
6. There are many ways you can adjust the color, but the way I usually start with is with “Levels”. I go to “Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels>OK” This little screen will pop up:

For my image, I found there was too much red, too much yellow, and too much Magenta in the image. So, In Levels, I first selected”Red” from the drop down menu, then adjusted the gray slider to the right to lower the red levels in the image. Then I did the same thing with the Blue – sliding it to the right. The Green, I slid to the left, to add more because that off sets the magenta in the photo. Frankly, all you do here is select each color channel and move the middle (gray) slider to the right or left until you like the effect. Just play until you like the result! When you happy with the color change, you can flatten the image.

7. Now I’ve got the color basically where I want it. It will be very difficult to get it “perfect” when you are working with weird lighting, but do your best. Now is the time you can use “Curves” or “Brightness/Contrast” to fine tune the image to your liking. To my image, I added a slight”S” curve and bumped the contrast to 3. No big deal. Oh, and I also reduced the yellow saturation as well (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation>Yellow) by sliding the slider to the left. You can see the difference between the before (on the left) and the after (on the right):


Note: If you have full photoshop – you can acheive similar results by using “Color balance” instead of “Levels”. You can find it by going to: “Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Color Balance”. Just play with the sliders until you like the result.

Elements users (if you have version 5.0 or newer) have a neat little function called “Adjust Color for Skin tone” which works nicely most of the time. Go to “Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust color for Skin Tone”. Do not click “ok” yet. Move your mouse over a spot of skin on your image (you’ll see a little eye dropper tool appear on your image) and click. You might have to slide the screen over to side if it is covering your image. Now you can adjust the sliders on the “Adjust color for Skin Tone” screen to your liking. Try it! It worked great for this image:


Now go and try it! There is nothing wrong with playing, remember you have your original safe and sound – you are working on a copy! When you are happy with the results, just flatten and save your image! With some practice (and some courage to play!) you’ll notice a big difference in the color enhancement of your photos.

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