Much to my dismay, I've recently discovered that many photographers are unaware of the power of selective coloring. With its versatility, I'm convinced it's one of the most powerful tools for photographers today. It sounds insane, but I've used selective coloring for the majority of my photos over the last few years, and have left largely everyone impressed with my techniques. And no, I'm not trolling you.
Before you scoff this post off, let me explain. I'm not talking about making flowers red while the remainder of the photo is in black and white. I'm not talking about making that babies blue eyes pop in an otherwise dull grey background. I'm talking about the powerful tool found in Adobe Photoshop that allows you to work within a color histogram, in a non complex manner.
Despite it sharing the name with one of the worst photography techniques to come along since angel wing cladded models on railroad tracks, Selective Color is a tool found in Photoshop to help tone and cross process your images properly. Still not convinced? What if I was to tell you that this is the main tool used by some of the top photographers in the world today? Okay, I've won over your skepticism.
What Is Selective Coloring?
Selective Coloring is a tool used in Photoshop that allows you to cross blend your individual color channels using sliders within Photoshop. This allows you to add blue hues to your shadows, gold/yellow tones to your highlights, and everything in between to help make your photo look great. The dialog for Selective Color can be found in your Adjustment panels within Photoshop, and I've found is best used when put onto a layers mask. The panel itself is broken into 9 different color channels (Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas, Whites, Neutrals & Blacks), each with their own color channel adjustments (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black). Sounds complicated, but it's not.
The color channels (Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas, Whites, Neutrals & Blacks) will be where you select the colors within your image. For example, if you have a blue sky that you want to tone down a bit, you're able to make adjustments to the color within the Cyan and Blue color channels. When you've selected your color channel, you're then able to make adjustments to it by adding and subtracting the various Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Blacks.
Working With Opposites
The general breakdown of the color channel adjustments are as follows -
Absolute or Relative
The difference between these two settings within the panel is pretty simple. Relative is going to be a much more subtle technique for the tool. What Relative does is it takes the value of the color tone in the image, and then changes it by a percentage of the total. So if your image is 50% red tones, adding 10% to the red slider is actually going to add 50% of the 10%....bringing the total to 55%.
Absolute is going to work in absolute values, meaning the 10% adjustment is going to adjust that color by 10%. For the sake of simplicity, just think of relative being a much more subtle option to use, and absolute being far more dramatic in it's adjustments. For me personally, I use relative, cause I prefer the fine tuning you can get from it.
Using Selective Color to Adjust Skin Tones
Getting skin tones to look correct can sometimes be complicated. Using the Selective Color tool allows you to make global adjustments to skin tones easily and on a layer mask, which then allows you to go through and correct where needed. The three color channels you'll use for this are the Reds, Yellows and occasionally Green (for olive skin tones only). Using this, you're able to push back pink tones in skins, and give a much more muted, beautiful tone.
Using Selective Color for General Toning
This is where the true power of Selective Coloring comes into play. Using the Whites, Neutrals and Blacks, you're able to cross process your images easily, by working on a basic histogram to adjust your images. The idea is pretty simple - Whites will control the color cast of your highlights, Neutrals are your mid tones, and Blacks are your shadows. Using this technique, you can make your shadows stark, faded, or even with a blue cast with ease.
How I Use Selective Coloring
Like mentioned above, the bulk of my uses comes in toning the image itself. While I use other techniques for correcting skin tone issues, there is nothing that can really compare to the versatility found in the toning tools for the selective coloring dialog. I, more often than not, go into the dialog, and start on the midtones, as that should be adjusting the majority of the image as a whole. I then take my sliders one at a time, and slide them all the way to the left, and then to the right. This is my way of "clearing my palate" so to speak. From there, I center the slider once again, and then make my subtle adjustments to tone the image as needed. I then will often go into my Blacks color and adjust that if needed. Personally, I like a strong black point and white point in my images, so the adjustments on this color selection is usually pretty minimal. However, if you're looking to get the muted film tones found commonly in today's photography, you're able to make adjustments in to Blacks to mute your shadows, giving a vintage feel to your images. I then will make any adjustment I may need to correct and colors within the image.
For me, each image is different, so I don't have set presets or styles that I'm able to use in my images. But by having the visibility of the layer on during my adjustments, I'm able to see the changes in real time.
There is no right or wrong way to use this technique to tone your images. Whether your technique is using subtly or breaching the extreme side of editing, I'm convinced that the Selective Coloring tool is one of the best default tools within Photoshop, and that every photographer should be experimenting with it.