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When I discovered the selective color tool for the first time, I felt a little intimidated. It looked like a language that only Photoshop experts could decipher. When I finally began to experiment with it, I entered a world of independent creative control. The language I was so afraid of using turned out to be a language I already knew.

To make the most of this handy feature, all you need is a little patience and enthusiasm. If you’re passionate about altering very specific colors in your photos, Photoshop’s selective color tool will help you enhance your workflow flawlessly. Here are some examples of what it can do:

The following tutorials will help you understand how to use selective color to enhance details in portraits and how to make an entire image look better. Let’s begin!

Tutorial #1: Perfecting Details

Instead of working on a single layer, you can edit various parts of an image using adjustment layers. An adjustment layer is usually found at the bottom right of Photoshop, as pictured above. Click on the icon and choose Selective Color. This type of layer will save all of your settings and allow you to readjust details later on, saving you lots of time and energy.


Selective color allows room for lots of flexibility, but there are specific routes you can take to increase your workflow’s efficiency. I usually start with general and simple color correction. This allows me to set the foundation for my images before I focus on important details. I’d like to neutralize the colors in this portrait – at the moment, they’re a little too yellow for me. To alter the intensity of a specific hue, click on Colors and select any section you wish to change. I’ll start with Yellows.


Dragging the yellow slider to the left intensified the magentas in the photo, something that feels a little too extreme. Luckily, there are 3 other sliders in this section which will help fix this color dilemma. As you can see, dragging the Black slider to the left subtly neutralized the intense reds, resulting in a more natural-looking portrait.


By adjusting the yellows, I lost a lot of valuable shadows. To recover darker colors in your image, work with Reds, Neutrals, and Blacks. These are particularly ideal for fixing overexposed photographs, as you’ll see in the next tutorial.


Now it’s time to perfect a few details! I’d like to change and darken the subject’s lip color. Instead of selecting the entire image to achieve this effect, I can highlight a very specific area using the Lasso Tool. Roughly select your desired spot (don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be perfect right now) and create a new selective color adjustment layer. Now you can edit the selected area without affecting the entire image. If the results are too intense, you can always change the layer’s opacity.


To fix any imperfections created by the selection, click on the Brush tool and select your layer mask. This will let you erase any mistakes. I usually set my Brush’s opacity to 100% to ensure that every unnecessary detail will be removed. Before you start erasing, make sure your foreground color is set to black. If it’s set to white, it’ll do the opposite of what you want (by affecting the surrounding area with your new adjustments).


If you want to subtly correct several colors or enhance a few details in your photo, all you need to use is the handy selective color tool.

The next tutorial will focus on more dramatic enhancements. These are ideal for images that haven’t been taken in the best lighting conditions.

Tutorial #2: Fixing Lighting Mistakes

As mentioned in the previous tutorial, recovering shadows is possible thanks to selective color’s reds, neutrals, and blacks. The photo I’m working with is completely overexposed, so I’ll start by darkening every neutral and white color in the shot.


Sometimes, fixing extremely overexposed images requires the use of multiple adjustment layers. If you’re unhappy with your results, create another selective color adjustment layer and further neutralize your image’s colors and highlights. You can do this as much as you like, but remember not to overdo it. If your image ends up looking too edited, you can always fix your layer’s opacity to get the perfect results.


Once the lighting looks more natural, experiment with various colors. To make this photograph look slightly nostalgic, I adjusted the Whites to create a faded yellow look. I also darkened the image’s Reds and Yellows to create a subtle contrast between the subject and the sky.


Many artists use selective color to transform their shots into dreamy portraits reminiscent of 18th century paintings, to highlight the most appealing parts of their images, or to simply fix minor lighting mistakes. As you can see, this tool can be used in almost every way. Once you familiarize yourself with it, you’ll be one step closer to having a quick, creative, and fun editing routine. Most importantly, your photos will look even more incredible than they already are.


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