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Q: How can I use Photoshop’s Selective Color feature in my photo workflow?

A: You can use the Selective Color feature for portrait retouching.

By Kim Herrera, Adobe Certified Expert, Photoshop

For example, if we look at this portrait image there are several things to be addressed from a retouching standpoint. I will concentrate on the overall color.

Image to be corrected

This image needs overall color correction.

The image lacks contrast, the blacks aren't deep enough, and he has a very red chin, nose, and cheek. His teeth are yellow, his eyelids are bright pink and it has a cold blue cast to it.

First, I duplicate the background layer:  Layer>New>Layer via copy (Command+J) or (Control + J). I recommend doing this for every retouching job. A good workflow when retouching is to first address overall corrections to be made (such as color, toning, and shadows) and then to do the brush work. To address the color corrections I'll be using Selective Color.

To do the necessary color corrections I will need to make a new adjustment layer: Window>Show Layer Palette. Use the shortcut at the bottom of the palette or: Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Selective Color.


Selective Color

Use Selective Color as an adjustment layer.

Click the Absolute method button at the bottom of the Selective Color dialog box. The Relative method is okay, but it takes a lot more adjusting to see results. This is different than using Absolute or Relative for soft proofing in the printing process, and is only for image work before printing. Click here to read LexJet technical support director Tom Hauenstein’s soft-proofing advice.

Dialog window

The Selective Color dialog window.

With my Information palette open (Window>Info), I use the Eyedropper to measure my portrait subject’s chin, which looks very magenta to me.

The key to using Selective Color is learning what Photoshop interprets reds, neutrals, blacks, or other colors to be.

However, when I use Selective Color's magenta palette to remove magenta there are no visible changes. Why? Because it's not what I think magenta is; it's what Photoshop thinks magenta is. In this instance, not much is magenta, so his skin must be red.

To test this theory on images I recommend that you go through each color in Selective Color and make exaggerated moves (50 percent or more) just to see what Photoshop considers these colors to be. Then you will quickly know which colors you need to adjust. These are the adjustments I made to this image…

Corrections to be made

Example of corrections made to sample image.


If you have a set of images you will be making the same correction to, then you may wish to use the SAVE option on the Selective Color dialog window. Then you can easily LOAD them back in for the next images.

Before, after

Before-and-after results with Selective Color.

One of the quickest fixes to an image that is overall on the cool side is to use Selective Color and remove 5 to 10% cyan from the neutral. Photographers love Selective Color’s ability to "punch the blacks only" by adding 5 to 10% to the black. I'd be lost without this feature. I use it daily for all my color-critical work. The final result here is flattened and saved.

Kim Herrera, Adobe Certified Expert, Photoshop, is the color management expert for Logan Photography at Studio Exchange, Santa Ana, Calif., and runs KCH Digital, a digital artistry, education, and consultancy firm.

Volume 3  -  No. 4


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