Advanced Editing

Selectively change a color in a photo

Written by Gail Bjork

Discover the Selective Color Correction tool and how to correct a primary color in a digital photo without changing others.

If you edit beyond the basics and haven’t discovered Selective Color Correction, it’s worth taking a look.

Change only one color

Selective Color allows you to change the amount of process colors in the primary colors in a digital image. A color can be selectively be enhanced, even changed, without affecting other primary colors.

Selective color options window

Click to enlarge

For example, Selective Color Correction can be used to decrease the amount of cyan in blue areas in a photo, all without changing the amount of cyan in green areas. Color changes in an image can be dramatic, but more often than not Selective Color Correction is used to achieve more subtle changes.

In the first photo accompanying this article, much of the grass in the lower foreground area was brown. With Selective Color, it was possible to make much of it appear greener.

Making selections

Selective color changes

The grass is greener

Portions of the brown grass were selected with the Selection tool so as not to alter neutral colors throughout the image. Only the selected areas were affected by changes.

You don’t have to make selections. But if you don’t and a color exists in may areas, the entire look of an image can change.

Picking and changing a color

Neutral was picked from the drop down menu. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black colors were increased or decreased via the sliders as shown in the illustration. The result: selected areas of the brown grass became greener.

There is no right or wrong about what percentages of each color to change. What’s important is to experiment until the selected area color looks the way you want it.

Layer or Adjustment Layer?

Selective color adjustment

Bottom photo: selective color adjustments made to increase yellow and decrease the intensity of the green leaves.

In programs such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, you can make a Selective Color Correction on an individual layer (Choose Image > Adjustments > Selective Color). A separate Adjustment Layer can also be used (Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color).

The value of using an Adjustment Layer is that you can apply a variety of color and tonal changes without altering the original image. Any tweaks are stored in the separate adjustment layer.

When using an Adjustment Layer, any changes affect all the layers just below it. If you don’t like the results, click open the Adjustment Layer and make additional adjustments to the layer. Or, simply delete it. The original image remains in tact.

Using the Selective Color Correction has many applications such as brightening certain colors in a photo, or removing a color cast from an image. It’s not appropriate for every image but, when used correctly, images can be positively enhanced.

Related reading: Introduction to Layer Masks

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.