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Improving Color Photos in Photoshop

Started by rajoe, May 14, 2009, 04:22 PM

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Improving Color Photos in Photoshop

Colors for the better

before and after It's not always easy getting the perfect digital shot, even under fairly good conditions.

When this manufacturer photographed some settings around the plant, their own digital camera made the project quick and easy. This shot was taken, then turned over to me for their web site.

The photo was okay, but in just a few quick clicks, it would be much better. It was dim and "brown; the subject was hard to pick out of the background because of the brown shirt, and the flash seriously burned out the foreground. Fixing this would take several techniques combined -- but it would be painless.

First we had to tone down the burned in foreground, brighten up the deep shadows of the background, and get the image into balance.

A gradient mask is the key to success here

There was no reason to get complicated since the solution was so easy.

    * A click on the QuickMask button put us in Mask mode, and with the
    * Gradient tool (tap G) we ran a quick
    * gradient from bottom to top. (Top being white, and bottom being black -- or the red masking color.)
    * Always remember to save your quickmask to a channel, because it's only temporary until you save it. (Save Selection under the "Selection" menu.)

Returning to normal mode (click the Quit QuickMask mode buttom,) we returned to the art and used the brightness slider, levels, etc., to lighten all but the deep foreground where the image was already bright.

It would have been just as easy to use a new "Fill" layer (Layer Menu > New Fill Layer > Gradient) and save that to a channel, or let it ride out the life of the file.

With our photo balanced out, now we needed to work on the subject a bit.

Changing Colors

The worker's shirt and cap were dingy, muddy colors and didn't seem to stand out enough to follow the editorial part of the story. We needed a new shirt and cap. These too were easy to accomplish.

Use the Lasso tool and make the quick selection around the shirt. (Actually, the Extract tool would work better here. But we want to show two different techniques to answer two different questions from readers, so we'll demo the Extract in just a moment.)

    * Now open a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer
    * Select: Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation),
    * click the Colorize button and
    * swing the color slider to the desired color.

Note that a new layer has been created, a new icon is in that layer, and now our shirt is Green.

Since it's overlaying the previous layer, adjust the brightness and turn the saturation way down. And, we can fine-tune that color change with the opacity slider in the layer palette.

Do the same for the hat. Presto, blue hat.

There are more complicated processes, like "Replace Color" but for such a simple change -- particularly of an already dingy image -- the Hue/Saturation route was the most direct.

Still lost in space? The photo still had one more little adjustment to pull that subject out of the quagmire. This time we will use the "Extract" filter for this task.

Next, we'll use the EXTRACT filter to separate the subject from the background

Using the Extract Filter in Photoshop

Extract came along with Photoshop 5.5, and then in version 7 they moved it to the Filters menu. Since then it's been a valuable tool -- although misunderstood. It works the same, which is quite easy, and straight forward. Think of it as an artificial intelligence masking and selection tool. It has changed location and function only subtly since the CS series

We use the Extract command to make some difficult selections that require a sophisticated way to isolate a foreground object from its background. It's actually best suited for objects with wispy, intricate, or undefinable edges that need to be clipped from their backgrounds with a minimum of manual work.

This one was a cakewalk, but first we need to duplicate the image to a new layer.
Drag layer and drop it on the New Layer button at the bottom of the layers palette.

Extract will delete the unwanted portions of the image.

Ordinarily, when making a montage, you would Extract the subject from its background in one file, then (Move Tool "V") drag it into the destination Montage file, creating its own, new, layer. Here, we're extracting from the SAME file, so we have to work on a duplicate. (This is the way Dave will handle his montage project.)

    * Choose Filter> Extract

The Extract working window appears with the edge highlighter tool selected in the upper left area of the dialog box. Notice too, in version 7 you get a little "hint" window which prompts you for the next step. Sweet.

The Extract process is straight forward:

    * first highlight the edges of the subject to be modified or removed
    * then you define the object's interior with a special magic color
    * and preview.

It's as simple as that. You can refine and touch up the selection to your liking, but most of the time the tool is accurate.

Outlining the Subject to be Extracted

Get started by setting the brush size for the edge highlighter tool to about 6 in the Brush Size box. The fatter the brush, the more touch-up you'll have to do, although the fatter brushes make for easy (and sloppy) selections. Start with a large brush to outline a general selection, and then switch to a finer brush for the touch-up work. The green part is colored Green. Note in some areas of the green you see a hairline thin yellow line. That's the selection zone.

Keep in mind these images are from a previous version of Photoshop, however, the process is still essentially the same. Open first "Extract" diagram)

Draw the outline highlight making it slightly overlap both the foreground and background areas around the edge you want to cut -- in fact that's the way the Extract command makes its selection! It looks for the difference in contrast between pixels in the selected zone.

Designate the "Lift" with the Fill Bucket

Once the outline is drawn, simply click the "Fill Bucket" and then click inside the object to fill within your selection. The default Fill color is bright blue, and the highlight color is green, but you can change those.

Set Preview to begin Touch-up

In a perfect world, your extraction will be perfect. But just in case it isn't, you'll need some touch-up

Click the Preview button and, presto, highlighted, extracted subject. At the bottom right of the work window you can select various preview options. Here we just see the checker-board background.

To refine your selection, or make corrections, use the other tools to paint-in or paint-out image as need be. I made the background "white" so I could see where the inaccurate selections were. Now I just used the eraser tool to get rid of the faults.

Once you've got it just right click OK to apply the extraction.

Finishing Up

Notice that all the background has now been trimmed away from the subject. Since I actually want to slightly blure the background of the image we need to activate our selection...

    * Command/Click (control/click) the layer name (Makes selection active)
    * Now click in the original image layer,
    * Choose: Select Menu > Inverse,
    * Hit Cmd/H (Ctrl/H) to hide the ants, then...
    * Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and adjust to taste.

Watch as the background softens, simulating a narrow depth of field photo.

Now the subject pops forward, and becomes the prominent, more important, focal point of in the photo.

You can play lots of other tricks now that you have both the subject and the background selectable. But at this point we decided to flatten, save and run with it.

The Solution that Satisfies

The whole process took less time than it took you to read this page, and the client was pleased.

"Looks pretty good" he said upon seeing the web page.

We just smiled and said, "You took the picture, we just put it up there."

So, there you have it! Simple and direct.


This is really great to read about Improving Color Photos in Photoshop. It is very useful information for me about it. You have nice describe with steps.  Out of all the point I really like one of them named A gradient mask is the key to success. It is really great to read.

pradeep prem

improving color photo in photoshop its amazing to get this information
and they clear explanation about to improve color photo in photoshop