Adjust Color

What You'll Do

In this lesson, you'll modify settings for color balance and curves to make dull colors look more vivid.

Making Color Corrections

Learning to recognize which colors need correction is one of the hardest skills to develop. Adjusting colors can be very difficult because, although there is a science to color correction, you must also consider the aesthetics of your image. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you must choose how you want your work to look and feel. Add to this the problem of reconciling hardware differences, in which my red may look very different from your red, and you can see how color management can become a can of worms. A color management system reconciles the differences between different devices.

Using a Color Management System

Photoshop has a way to deal with hardware discrepancies: the device profile. A profile (also called an ICC profile) can be created for specific devices and embedded in an image, and is used to define how colors are interpreted by a specific device. ICC stands for International Color Consortium. You can create a profile by clicking Edit on the menu bar, then clicking Color Settings. Use the list arrows in the Working Spaces section. You don't have to use profiles, but you can assign a specific profile by selecting the ICC Profile check box in the Save As dialog box. Doing so embeds the profile in the working space of an image. An image's working space tells the color management system how RGB or CMYK values are interpreted. Assigning an ICC profile is different from converting to an ICC profile. Converting occurs during output preparation, when you can select color management options in the Adobe PDF Options dialog box.

Balancing Colors

You can balance colors by adding and subtracting tonal values from those already existing in a layer. You do this to correct oversaturated or undersaturated color and to remove color casts from an image. The Color Balance dialog box contains three sliders: one for Cyan-Red, one for Magenta-Blue, and one for Yellow-Green. You can adjust colors by dragging each of these sliders or by typing in values in the Color

Levels text boxes. You can also use the Color Balance dialog box to adjust the color balance of shadows or highlights by clicking the Shadows or Highlights option buttons.

Modifying Curves

Using the Curves dialog box, you can alter the output tonal value of any pixel input. Instead of just being able to make adjustments using three variables (highlights, shadows, and midtones), you can change as many as

FIGURE 1

Variations dialog box

16 points along the 0-255 scale in the Curves dialog box. The horizontal axis in the Curves dialog box represents the original intensity values of the pixels (the Input levels), and the vertical axis represents the modified color values (the Output levels). The default curve appears as a diagonal line that shares the same input and output values. Each point on the line represents each pixel. You add curves to the line to adjust the tonal values.

Analyzing Colors

When you look at an image, ask yourself, "What's wrong with this picture?" Does the image need more blue than yellow? Preserve your work by creating an adjustment layer, then try adjusting the color sliders, and see how the image changes. Then try modifying the curves. Much of the color correction process involves experimentation—with you, the artist, learning and applying the subtleties of shading and contrast.

FIGURE 1

Variations dialog box

Additional adjustment options

Current selection Color variations

Additional adjustment options

Current selection Color variations

Using thumbnails to adjust color

You can make color adjustments by viewing thumbnails of variations on your current image. You can see a variety of thumbnails that show you some specific results of color correction. Start by clicking the layer you want to adjust. Click Image on the menu bar, point to Adjustments, then click Variations. The Variations dialog box, as shown in Figure 1, will open, showing your current layer with its settings, and thumbnails of the same layer with lighter, darker, or more of the individual colors from the Color Balance dialog box. This tool lets you see what a layer would look like if it had more of a particular color, without making any modifications to the actual image. You can use the Variations dialog box as a tool to help you develop your color correction skills.

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