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Color is an essential part of any design. The right color can invoke the right mood and set the entire tone of a design piece. Cool tones can have a calming or tranquil effect, a saddening effect, and give you the feeling of being cold. Warm tones can give you a sense of warmth, happiness, and can give you the sense of feeling angry, or parched. With this in mind, it is important to know how to correct colors inside of Photoshop, so that your image will send just the right message to your audience. Photoshop has several tools for adjusting colors built right in. In this tutorial, we will be discussing the Hue/Saturation method of correcting colors within an image.

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Hue/Saturation

The image above was taken during a wedding ceremony, where light passing through a stained glass window created a blue glow to everything in site. There are several tools available, but the hue/saturation setting is ideal for this situation, because of the extent of the glow. Open up your image in Photoshop and go to the top menu, and choose Image> Adjustments> Hue/Saturation. A dialog box comes up, and here, we are going to select the color that is overpowering the image, which is cyan (or light blue), and we are going to use the sliders to adjust the image. Click on the drop down menu labeled “master” and change it to Cyans. The three sliders each have a different effect on the image. Hue, will take the selected hue “cyan” and change it to the hue selected. This setting is for an image that has an area with a certain hue that you would like to change to match another hue in an image. For example, if an area of your image was yellow, and you wanted it to be green, then you would use the hue slider, set the master drop down menu to yellow, and then use the hue slider to change it to the green hue that you would like. This would be fine if we were changing the glow to another color, but we want to remove it.

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To accomplish this, we will keep the selection set to cyans, leave the Hue setting alone, and focus on Saturation. Saturation determines the strength of the hue. A hue with a low saturation will appear duller and dismal, but a hue that has a high saturation amount will look vibrant and bright. Since the cyan hues in this image are so strong, we are going to set the saturation levels to -100, taking out cyan altogether. Make sure to have preview checked, as this will show you a live preview of the results of your changes without having to exit the dialog box.

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This took out the bluish glow from the window and her blouse, but if you look closely, the ceiling still has a little cyan in it. The last slider setting, Lightness, will help us to get rid of it. Lightness takes the current hue chosen, in our case cyan, and adds shades of black or tints of white in order to darken or lighten those hues in our image. If we choose to bring the lightness slider to -50, you can see it removes the soft glow from the window from her hair, but the ceiling, our main problem area, still has cyan hues mixed in, and now is much darker and grainy. It also brought back cyan on the walls as well, and made them to appear grainy.

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The correct direction to choose is to move the slider to the positive side, and make the cyan areas lighter.

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Setting the lightness to +70 for this image smoothed out the ceiling and the image looks more natural now, without any grain or noise added to it.

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The Hue/Saturation dialog box has other options for color correcting an image, which may save you time. This method is more visual than it is technical, but if you click the option circled in the example below, Photoshop gives you an eyedropper where you can click directly on the hue in the image that you want to correct.

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I clicked the eyedropper tool directly on the bluest portion of the ceiling. You will notice in the dialog box that it will auto select the closest hue from the master list, and you can adjust it accordingly. Drag the cursor to the left to decrease the saturation, until the cyan hue is gone from the image. Dragging the cursor to the right would have increased the saturation of the cyan hues in the image, making them stronger. You still have to adjust the Lightness slider to taste to finish correcting the image, but you will notice that you will end up with the same settings.

*Important Note: Using this method means that once you have completed these steps and click ok, you can only go back by going to Edit>Undo, or by selecting Edit>Step Backward multiple times. This can be a real pain if you need to make minor adjustments to your setting later. The best way to use Hue/Saturation, or any of the other adjustment settings is to go to the layers panel and selecting the icon shown below.

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This is called an adjustment layer. You want to do this for multiple reasons. It allows you to go back and edit your settings individually, so if you are almost done with editing your image, you can tweak your settings without having to undo everything that you have done since you adjusted the Hue/Saturation. It also allows you to choose if you want the adjustment layer to affect all of the layers of your Photoshop document, or if you want it to only affect the layer below. This gives you more control over your adjustments. Each adjustment layer also comes with its own layer mask, where you can mask or blend your adjustment, so that it only affects a portion of a layer or image. This gives you more flexibility, and allows you to create more sophisticated adjustments. If you want to find out more information about adjustment layers and masking view our sections on these topics.

The Hue/Saturation adjustment is a powerful menu that you can use to drastically alter an image, and correct difficult problem areas. You can remove unwanted colors altogether with the saturation adjustment slider, make a certain color in an image lighter or darker with the lightness setting, or even change a color in an image to a completely different color using the hue setting. Combining the Hue/Saturation setting with other tools in Photoshop, such as masks and adjustment layers, you can fix even the most problematic of images.