How to Replace a Color in Photoshop
Perhaps one of the most powerful tools for a visual artist is color. Whether it be through a lack of it or an abundance of it, color allows us to communicate with the viewer, hence allowing us to create a piece that holds a much greater meaning.
Capturing an image that naturally displays meaningful colors is something to celebrate, yet it is a rare occurrence for photographers. In fact, most visual artists import their image into Photoshop, either to enhance their colors or to change them altogether.
After you have read this tutorial, you will know how to replace a color in Photoshop, and you should have an understanding of how doing so can give your images a new life, making them stand out.
Step 1: Opening Your Image
Recoloring has an endless amount of uses. Whether you just want to brighten up an area, desaturate an area, or completely change the color of an object in your image, you can do it all with Photoshop.
So let’s start by opening the image in the program. To do this, simply open up Photoshop, and head to File > Open. From here, you can select the photo that you wish to apply the edits to.
For this tutorial, I used this landscape photo by Tom Swinnen from Pexels
Your screen should look something like this.
Step 2: Creating an Adjustment Layer
Although there are many ways to recolor areas of an image, doing so through the use of an adjustment layer is probably one of the easiest and most efficient.
Adjustment layers are great since they allow for non-destructive photo manipulation. This means that through applying edits to your image, you aren’t losing any quality, as Photoshop doesn’t have to continuously redraw pixels (which itself causes a decrease in quality).
It also means that the original colors of your image are maintained, meaning that you can return to your original, unedited photo by either deleting the adjustment layer or making it invisible. They also make it easier to apply edits to just a portion of your image rather than the whole thing.
So let’s go ahead and create a new adjustment layer by clicking on the half-filled circle at the bottom of the layers window.
Clicking on this will bring up a menu that displays the different types of adjustment layers that you can create. We’ll start by selecting a hue / saturation adjustment layer.
Step 3: Working with the Adjustment Layer to Edit Colors
Upon the creation of a new hue / saturation adjustment layer, a new window should open up (as shown below), from which you are able to edit the properties of the colors in the image.
In the image above, you can see that there are options to change the hue, saturation, and lightness of the colors. The tick-box entitled Colorise allows you to decide whether changes to the colors affect the entire image or just some of the colors that Photoshop selects by default.
You can play around with this option to see its resultant effects.
If you want to change the color properties of your entire image, then you can do so by playing with the sliders in this window until you get the effect that you want.
However, if you would prefer to just change one color in the image, then you will first have to let Photoshop know which color you want it to work on. Let’s say you have an image of a tree, and you want to change the green leaves to an orange color. You would first have to tell Photoshop to apply edits to only the greens in the image, rather than other elements such as the sky.
One way to do this is to click on the hand icon (as displayed in the screenshot below) in the adjustments layer window, which should already be open given that it opens automatically upon the creation of an adjustment layer.
Once you have selected the icon, click within the photo on the color that you would like to swap out, and click OK.
With the relevant color selected, you can now go ahead and edit the properties of that color in the photo, by moving the sliders for hue, saturation, and lightness:
HUE – completely changes the color itself (for instance, from red to blue)
SATURATION – determines how vivid the color is. A low saturation will make the image almost black and white, stripping it of color, whilst a high saturation will make the colors extremely vivid.
LIGHTNESS – changing this will alter the shade of the color. Decreasing the lightness will give you a color that is darker and seemingly more grey, whilst increasing it will cause the color to appear almost faded and whiter.
If the edits apply to more areas than you had wanted them to apply to, then you can solve the issue by adding a vector mask to the adjustment layer, by selecting the icon shown below (located at the bottom of the layers window.
You can then paint on it with a black brush to create corresponding areas to where the effect of the layer will be invisible.
Using a white brush will enable you to bring back invisible areas, making the effect visible again.
Step 4: Making Alterations to the Size of the Color Selection
So, we’ve discussed just above what to do if the color selector ended up not being specific enough, and selecting more areas than we wanted to apply the effect to.
But what happens if we want it to be less specific, and select a wider range of colors? This will be the case if you want to apply the effects to more areas of the image, if your current selection has only edited one small amount of the colored area.
The answer to this problem is to increase the width of the color selection.
In the adjustments window you can clearly see that there is a color spectrum, ranging from blue, through to red, and back to blue. Here, there is a slider with which we are able to fine tune the color selection, to decide more manually which shades are selected by the hand tool.
The grey brackets on this slider indicate what range of colors you have selected. So, by dragging these outwards, you can increase the color range, and by dragging them inwards you will decrease the range.
You will see that the slider is divided into three ‘sections’ by the grey brackets. The inner, middle section determines what the main color is, whilst the two outer sections will cause the effect to be applied to some of the colors that surround the main one on the spectrum.
TIPS: If you are finding it difficult to see which colors, and therefore which areas of the image, have been selected, then it’s a good idea to temporarily make a drastic adjustment to the hue or saturation (eg turn it up all the way).
That way, you will be able to see more easily which areas the effect is being applied to. Once you’re satisfied with the color selection, you can edit the hue, saturation, and lightness to whatever value you want.
Here are just a few examples, other than general recoloring, of what you could use adjustment layers for, and how to mimic the effects exemplified:
– Making an Area Black and White
To create this effect, use the above steps to select a relevant color, and then decrease the saturation on the adjustments layer.
– Making a Sky More Blue
This is a great example of an everyday scenario, where you can put into use what you have learnt in this tutorial.
If you have an image with a fairly grey sky, you can make it bluer by adjusting the hue until you get a shade of blue that you are happy with, and adjusting the saturation and lightness to get a realistic effect.
You could even play around with the hue to achieve a sunset or sunrise effect in your image.
– Whitening Teeth
If you have a portrait image, you could easily whiten the subject’s teeth by decreasing the saturation of the selected area. Small adjustments to the lightness can also be effective in this case. Brightening them with the creation of a brightness & contrast adjustment layer is also an option.
If you want more information about whitening teeth with Photoshop, we made a complete tutorial about the subject here: Whitening Teeth Free Tutorial
– Changing Eye Color
Another example of how you could apply this technique to portraits is the manipulation of a subject’s eye color.
This can be done by altering the hue (if you want a dramatic change), the saturation (if you want to keep their original color but make them stand out more), or the lightness (which can be changed slightly alongside other edits to make the outcome more convincing).
And that’s how you can use adjustment layers to replace a color in Photoshop! Now that you have learned the basic skills, you can apply them to pretty much any creative scenario, whether it be to create a realistic or a supernatural effect.
Want to explore further into the world of recoloring on Photoshop? PiXimperfect has the perfect video on how to add color back into a black and white image.
Martin is an amateur photographer and digital marketer who has more than 15 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop. Register for his newsletter here and get a FREE Brush Pack!