Selective Color Adjustment in Adobe Photoshop

This is the full text of an article that was recently published in Photo Technique magazine, PhotoTechMag.com. (there may be some minor differences in the text)
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Selective Color Adjustment in Adobe Photoshop, by David Saffir

There are quite a few ways you can edit color in Photoshop, even down to the colors of leaves on a tree. The advantages? You can target specific parts of an image for a simple color boost, change the color completely, add a color tint or color cast, improve dimensionality and more. I define selective color adjustment to also include selective color replacement.

I encourage the use of Photoshop, because many of these techniques can be applied to a new layer, or an adjustment layer, or a series of layers. This gives you maximum flexibility in editing although it can sometimes increase file size. I’ll review several methods I use, but keep in mind that there are also many more color adjustment options in Photoshop.

Figure 1 (iStockphoto)

Figure 1 (iStockphoto)

Some of the tools in Photoshop require working knowledge of the color wheel. Figure 1 is a modestly stylized version of a color wheel.

Note that that color blue is opposite yellow, red opposite cyan, and green opposite magenta. If an image has a blue color cast, adding an appropriate amount of yellow can balance the image and give a more neutral appearance. Adding even more yellow would result in a yellow color cast, or “warmer” appearance.

Color Balance Adjustment Layer

The Color Balance adjustment layer is a powerful tool: you can activate this from the Layers Panel, or go Layers>Adjustment Layer>Color Balance. Note the “warm tone” in this image. (I think of the Color Balance panel as a selective color adjustment, because you can balance the image using the color wheel as a guide, and also work selectively among highlights, shadows, and midtones).

Figure 2

Figure 2

I suggest that you work in small steps. For example, add a small amount of blue in the highlights, then switch to midtones, and repeat the cycle until the image is pleasing. Figure 2 is the ‘before’ photograph. In Figure 3 I’ve “added” blue to the image in the highlights and midtones, pushing it toward a more neutral appearance. In this case, I’ve added a bit more blue than necessary just so you can see the effect on this printed page.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Selective Color Adjustment Layer

This option offers a wide range of combinations. First, the panel offers a drop-down menu that contains six main colors that can be adjusted: red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta. (Familiar, aren’t they? These are primary points on the color wheel). It also offers adjustments for white, neutral and black. Figure 4 is the ‘before’ photograph.

Figure 4

Figure 4

In a way, this panel is a “cousin” to the Color Balance tool set. It offers much more flexibility, however—examine the example in Figure 3—we have the option of increasing or decreasing the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow, or black in any of the choices offered in the drop down menu. In this case, (Figure 5) if we select red and increase cyan, its opposite on the color wheel, the reds become subdued. Small steps are best.

Figure 5

Figure 5

You may find it necessary to combine adjustments and/or corrections to get the look and feel you want. If you change the layer blending mode to “color” you can create multiple adjustment layers, and stack them for cumulative effect.

Replace Color

This is one of my favorite tools in Photoshop, particularly when editing landscape or still life images. It is frequently used by photo retouchers to change hue and saturation in commercial photography—and it can be adapted to use in landscape and scenic photography to add depth, dimensionality and tone separation to an image.

Here’s an image (Figure 6) that I took near the California Poppy Reserve some time ago. Basic adjustments, such as levels and curves have been completed. Partially overcast conditions make colors on the ground looks a bit subdued, and a little flat.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Next, we’re going to open the Replace Color panel (Image>Adjustments>Replace Color). At the top of the panel, enable “Local Color Clusters”. This will improve your control of any changes, in many cases limiting those changes to a patch of color, or a patch and its neighbors.

Next, use the left hand eyedropper to select a color area. In this case, (Figure 7) I’ve selected the yellow patch in the distance, on the left hand side near the horizon. I’ve also pushed the Fuzziness slider to the right, to include some of the colors in the grass. (Note that I’ve enabled Selection view in the panel, which provide a black/white view similar to the Threshold tool—the white areas show the selection quite clearly. You can use the +dropper tool to select additional areas—but take care to limit your selections to colors that are close to your original choice).

Figure 7

Figure 7

I then increase the saturation in the selected area. Note the change in the yellow areas of the photograph, Figure 8.

Figure 8

Figure 8

If you want to use a different color, you can move the Hue slider to the right or left. Keep in mind that this adjustment is very intense and challenging to control. I prefer to use the Color Picker, which can be accessed by double clicking on the color square just to the right of the Hue slider. You can select almost any color via mouse click, or by typing in the RGB or HSB numbers for a color (Figure 9). The Lightness slider can also be useful—particularly if you’ve increased saturation in an area, and it’s looking a bit too prominent. You can pull the Lightness slider to the left just a touch to subdue it.

Figure 9

Figure 9

You can continue this process of selected color modification in targeted areas. Note the changes in the grass and flowers on the left side of the image—and now, off in the distance, you can see a stronger hint of the orange color of the poppies in bloom. (In Figure 9, I’ve exaggerated the effect a bit to improve visibility on the printed page).

Final image - all images © David Saffir 2010

Final image – all images © David Saffir 2010

It takes a light touch to get well-controlled and realistic results. Color intensity, dimensionality and tonal separation can be improved. Practice is the key to success—and of course, take full advantage of multiple layers to mix and match and create your final image.

Photo Plus Expo, New York City, October 2012 – David Saffir and David Tobie

Will you be attending PhotoPlus Expo in New York City, October 25-27? If so, David Saffir (me!) and David Tobie will be speaking at the Midwest Photo Exchange Stage, booth # 1027 at the show. We are currently scheduled:

Thursday 10/25
11:30: David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers
1:30: David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers

Friday 10/26:
11:30: David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers
1:30: David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers

Saturday 10/27:
11:30: David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers
1:30: David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers

AND…….

Be sure to visit Datacolor, nearby at booth #1239. See some of the latest technology in color calibration, the Spyder4, and
lots of other cool stuff!

© David Saffir

Free Webinar: Color Management for Fine Art Reproduction Sept 12

Join us for a webinar on Color Management for Fine Art Reproduction

Fine Art Reproduction is a great business opportunity for photographers. Photographers can photograph flat artwork, and provide true-to-life prints for their customers’ sales, exhibitions, promotional activities, and more. Prints can be made on a variety of fine-art media that are colorfast, archival, and can last up to 200 years. In the digital age, prints can be created in almost any quantity: single print, on demand and large quantities.

On Wednesday, September 12th from 3 pm – 4:15 pm EDT, join us as Datacolor Color Management Experts, David Tobie and David Saffir discuss color management techniques, review photographic methodology, demonstrate printing on fine-art media, and provide marketing tips for recruiting artists in your area. An interactive Q&A will take place throughout the webinar to answer any questions you may have.

One lucky webinar guest will win a free Spyder4PRO!

Register Now! https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/260744370

Photography Quote of the Day – May 11, 2012

© David Saffir


“Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject.” – Eliot Porter

See details of our upcoming Palouse Photo Tour and Workshop, June 2012 – click here

Fine Art Scholarships – Bonny Lhotka / Digital Alchemy

Bonny Lhotka, creator of Digital Alchemy and some brilliant workshops on alternate printing processes, is offering a class on Vintage Tintype &
SuperSauce Transfers (link).

She’s also offering two scholarships ($625 each) for college students only, for the session on June 2 and 3rd. The attendee would have to pay the $75 materials fee.

Applications can be made to Bonny via email: BLhotka@digitalartstudioseminars.com. They should include a brief background/statement, link to their website, and at least 6 jpeg images of work
completed.

Here’s the link for the workshop: http://www.digitalalchemybook.com/Digital_Alchemy_Book/Workshops.html

Selected Hints and Tips – Fine Art Printmaking for Print Competition

Selected Hints and Tips – Fine Art Printmaking for Print Competition

Sounds obvious, but only use your very best images. Test some of your better prints with friends and colleagues.

When you do this, watch for reactions. Which images create that “wow” response? tell a story effectively? show a subject in a new or unique way?

Composition – keep the “rule of thirds” in mind, and create a print that really provides focus on the main subject. Unneeded objects in foreground/background can ruin your score, as can distracting bright areas or intrusive shadows.

Generally, prints made on luster, pearl, or glossy paper show better in a competition environment. Fine art and “watercolor” papers tend to wash out under the bright lights used by judges.

Make sure that your colors, highlights, shadows, textures, and the like are presented as you want them to be. In general, you’ll want to see at least some detail in highlights and shadows, colors should be smooth, realistic, and show detail where appropriate, etc. Make sure uniform colors, such as skies, are free of digital artifacts like banding.

Make your prints a little darker overall than usual – again, we’re working with very bright lights.

Think about presentation – prints should be mounted on firm, flat stock, no irregularities, bumps, ripples, orange peel, and the like. Watch for color or saturation changes after mounting; although this rarely happens, mounting at high temps can ruin a great print.

If you use an outside printmaker, provide a digital file that is edited and ready to print. Use Adobe 98 RGB or ProPhoto RGB color if printing on inkjet, and usually sRGB if you are using an outside lab (ask them). Take care with your pixel dimensions – a 16z20 print can be 4800 x 6000 pixels at 300ppi. Ask your printmaker about image preparation.

Good luck!

© D Saffir

Click here for details of our upcoming Palouse Photo Tour, June 2012!

Complete Text – “The New Black and White” – Article Pub in Photo Technique Magazine May 2012

The New Black and White: Digital/Darkroom Large Format Printing

I’ll always remember my first experiences in the darkroom, watching my prints come up, feeling like something magical was afoot. In recent years, I’ve frequently wished that there was an effective way to use my digital images in the darkroom, and make prints on fiber-based paper that have that special silver-based depth and luminosity.

Mesquite Flats, © David Saffir 2011

Hewlett Packard Company has developed updated technology* that makes it possible to create a “digital negative” using a digital file or film scan. That digital negative can be used in a traditional darkroom to make prints of any reasonable size. HP calls this the Large Format Digital Photo Negative Solution. In this article, I’ll review the process in detail, including some of the methods used in the darkroom-printing phase.

The process consists of six steps:

1. Creating a base digital file via camera capture or film scan
2. Performing normal editing of the image through Photoshop or other application
3. Adjust image file for correct printing density
4. Flip and invert file
5. Print to HP Designjet Z3200 printer using the Photo Negative pre-set for the printer driver
6. Make a contact-style darkroom print, using your preferred chemistry

*Printing large format photo negatives with inkjet ink is an old concept. There are a number of books and methods that helped pioneer this. The goal in creating this solution was to make the process of printing large format photo negatives easier, and to achieve maximum quality using the HP Designjet Z3200 printer.

Creating a Base File

Image quality is, as always, a key driver in final print appearance. Obviously, a high-quality DSLR will (all else being equal) yield a better digital file and final print. Similarly, a high-resolution drum film scan will give better results than a scan made on a low-end tabletop flatbed scanner.

At the end of the day you’ll want a digital file that would also provide excellent quality as an inkjet print−a print the same size as the negative you plan to make. So, if you want a 16×20 negative, ideally you’ll want to have a digital file with pixel dimensions equivalent to a 16×20 @ 300 dpi. You can improvise at lower resolution, but your mileage may vary.

Image Editing

Initial image editing follows a normal path, with adjustments as needed. Keep a close eye on highlight and shadow detail−remember that you’ll be printing to inkjet film, not paper−and the film is somewhat sensitive to clipping, particularly in the shadows.

Flip and Invert

You’ll be making a negative, so of course you’ll flip the on-screen image horizontally, and invert it.

Flip and Invert The Image

We’ll make one last adjustment to the file before printing the negative−but first, we have to create a test chart and evaluate the results.

Adjust Image Density

HP recommends printing a test chart, and making a test print to set image density correctly. I’ve found that one can in many cases use a shortcut for this. I’ll review the process by the book in summary form, and then describe the shortcut. (Please refer to the HP instructions for full details).

The adjustment for image density enables creation of a negative that will yield a darkroom print with best possible shadow, mid-tone, and highlight values.

Print the 256-step target generated by the HP software. Here’s the original test target:

(The digital test target is printed on the inkjet film, and then a test image is printed in the darkroom.)

You can print from an image-editing application, or directly through the HP Z3200’s Embedded Web Server (otherwise called EWS−Postscript model). Quoting from the manual “If the printer driver is used to send the image to print, make sure to select “no color management” in the application used to print the image and “application color management” in the driver. Select the plug-in preset for the digital negative film type using “HPPhotoSilverNegative 1.0 for clear film, and HPPhotoSilverNegative 1.0d for translucent film. The printing parameters must be “maximum quality,” “no gloss enhancer” and “more passes.””

The figure below illustrates the settings to use when printing using the EWS’s “job submitter” interface.”

This “gray” chart negative can now be used in the darkroom to create a print using your silver paper and your standard printing time−once completed, find the patch that yields “paper white”. The “value” of this patch in this case is 200. This value is used to adjust the digital image file when printing the digital negative (described below).

Final Image Adjustments: Printing the Negative

First, go to the Channels palette, and fill the Red channel with black. (Select the Red channel, then Edit> Select All, then Edit>Fill>Black).

Next, click on RGB in the channels palette to reselect all channels. Create a Curves adjustment layer, select the Red channel. Left click, hold and drag the low left point of the line upward until the output level indicates 200.

Generally, an adjustment in the red channel between 195 and 210 will get the job done. Keep in mind that small adjustments may have significant impact on image appearance, particularly in shadow detail and midtone transitions.

Printing On Inkjet Film

Print the negative the same way you printed the test target, above. Please keep in mind that these negatives are a bit fragile; handle the film and printed negative with care. Use lint-free gloves. Carry the negative in a folio with interleaving sheets to prevent scratching.

Darkroom Printing

We used fiber based fine art papers in our darkroom printing. Here are a couple of examples of methodology:

Example 1
Silver Halide Paper: ADOX Premium MCC VC FB (glossy)
Enlarger: Omega Super Chromega D Dichroic II
Developing: LPD, Hypo cleaning, Selenium Toning,
Archival Wash and Dry

Example 2
Silver Halide Paper: Ilford Multigrade FB Fiber
Enlarger: Devere 810 w/ Dichroic Head
Developing: Dektol D 72, Sprint Record Fixer/ Sprint Archive Fixer remover
Archival Wash and Dry

Prints are made using a contact frame. You can purchase one or simply adapt an old picture frame as we did. Ensure that the frame is completely flat, and that there are no gaps or spaces between the glass, negative and paper.

Given the size of these negatives and the material used, tend to attract dust. When possible, handle with lint-free gloves and use a hand-held blower when mounting/dismounting from the contact frame. We also used an archival-style washer that featured continuous low flow of clean water.

We used enlargers listed here for a number of reasons, including the ease of filter selection, and high quality adjustable lenses. On the ADOX paper, for example, we finalized settings of f/22 or f/27, approximately 24 seconds, with magenta filter (ranged from 45-80).

Islands in the Stream, © David Saffir

Tips and Hints:

The manufacturer suggests that any light diffused light source can be used. Certainly we tried this; however I have found that sharper prints can be made with a lens mounted in the enlarger. Another benefit of this setup is that an adjustable aperture makes exposure easier to control.

Use reasonably fresh chemistry. Once you immerse the exposed paper in the developer, try to be patient. It may take a while for the print to come up (be visible) and then the process seems to accelerate a bit to completion. If you’re working with a low-key image, watch the shadows carefully; it seemed that even with the modest contrast of the ADOX that it was possible to over-do and lose detail in this area. I suggest in-process inspection (after initial wash), as you may find that you’ll want to make small adjustments.

Some photographers suggest that they like the idea of using dodging/burning to enhance the image in-darkroom, however, it’s a pretty big negative for this. My personal preference is to do as much of the image editing on the digital file− if nothing else, once the adjustments are “locked down” in the digital file, the printed negative can provide very consistent prints.

We also found that image contrast continued to improve, as did some high-light detail, after dry-down. Take a close look at this stage−if you find that shadow/highlight detail, or transition areas are not exactly as you’d like, consider making a small adjustment to the density of the negative using the curves adjustment described above. You might also try adjusting the enlarger filter settings.

Results

It all starts with the negative−it has to hold its own in critical areas. The darkroom work is straightforward−just be sure to attend to the details. We made a number of prints, ranging in size from 8×10 up to 20×24. I feel that image quality was excellent, showing good depth and dimensionality, holding up well in shadow/ highlight areas. One model I had photographed had very fine blonde hair and the detail shown was remarkable. Another image with strong textures held up very well, even at larger sizes. And of course, silver-gelatin fiber-based prints are unequaled for their inherent luminosity and presence!

This process asks that the photographer/printmaker adopt a modified workflow. I found most of this work to be only moderately demanding, with the curves density adjustment requiring a few trial and error cycles be-fore I felt completely comfortable. Overall, the prints looked great and it was well worth the effort!

My sincere thanks to Tony Zinnanti, print-maker, of Santa Clarita and Eric Luden of Digital Silver Imaging for their support in this project.

Photo Technique Magazine

SPECIAL NOTE: We have a new photo tour and workshop in the Palouse (Pacific Northwest) coming up in June 2012. For more information, click here.