Have you ever wanted to make an adjustment that only affects a specific color range in your image? Maybe you’ve tried and failed using Luminosity Masks for this and instead manually painted your selection?
You’re not alone.
Creating a precise mask based on a color isn’t the most talked about Photoshop technique but, luckily for you, it’s not difficult at all. In fact, it only takes a few simple steps.
I often use this technique when working on the color balance of an image. It’s especially powerful for sunset photography, as it creates a much more precise mask than, for example, Luminosity Masks (which target the brightness of a pixel rather than its color) This will be a game-changer if you’ve only used the brush tool to manually create your selections.
It’s simply not possible to get as accurate masks without using this, or a similar, technique.
Create a Precise Mask Based on Color Value
Let’s use the image below as an example. I want to work on the orange & red colors in the sky and add some saturation and contrast to them, without affecting any of the other colors in the image.
So how do you create a mask that only targets the specific color(s) that you want? It’s actually quite simple.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to make sure you create a Merge Visible layer (you can delete this later if you prefer working non-destructive but you’ll need it as a reference point for now). With the merged layer selected, go to Select -> Color Range…
A new window appears when you click Color Range… Here you find all the sliders and settings you need to create the color mask.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure that Sampled Colors is selected from the dropdown list. You can use a solid color or one of the other choices as well but sampling colors will result in the most precise selection.
Beneath the Save button, there are three different Eyedropper Tools. To begin with, we’re going to use the first. With the first Eyedropper Tool selected, click on any color in your image that you want to select. In this example, I chose the brightest and most saturated orange in the sky.
The grayscale preview below the Fuzziness and Range sliders represents the mask that will be created based on the color you selected. The preview is only temporary and the selection isn’t made until you click OK. That means you can change it by clicking on another color if it didn’t target the areas you wanted.
If you’re new to Photoshop and don’t yet know what a mask is, I recommend that you read our article Understanding Layers & Masks in Photoshop. Here you’ll learn that adjustments will only affect white areas of a mask while the black parts will remain untouched. A phrase to remember is: white reveals, black conceals.
To further refine the mask you can use the Fuzziness slider. This slider is used to control how wide the selected range of colors is. Increasing the value will include more of the partially selected pixels and vise versa. I find somewhere in the range of 60-100 works most of the time but this is image-dependant.
If you’ve checked the Localized Color Clusters option (used to create a more accurate selection when using multiple colors) you’ll also be able to use the Range slider. This is used to tell Photoshop how far from the sample points a color should be included. For example, if you have an orange sky but also orange elements in the foreground, you can sample the orange sky and use a low range value to eliminate the foreground from the selection.
By clicking OK, the Color Range window closes and the new selection is created. With the selection active, you can now create the adjustment you want to.
Add More Colors Values to Your Selection
The Fuzziness slider is a simple way of creating a wider selection based on the color you chose but sometimes you want to include more colors or shades of a color. This can easily be done by selecting the second Eyedropper Tool (or holding Shift while sampling another color).
Using this method, you’ll keep multiple sample points. That means if you click two different places on the image, both become included in your selection. You can use several sample points at once.
This can be very useful when you’re making adjustments to the sky and want to affect a broader range of colors.
You can repeat the process as many times as you want to add more colors to the selection. It’s also possible to subtract a color by using the third and last Eyedropper Tool (with a – symbol next to it).
Suggestions for Adjustments
Selections such as this can be used for a large variety of purposes, either to add a mask when blending multiple exposures, or adding saturation to only a specific part of the image. Still, these selections are most commonly used with Adjustment Layers, whether it’s Curves, Color Balance, Photo Filter, Levels, Hue/Saturation or something else.
I prefer using Luminosity Masks when working with contrast as it’s something you want to add based on the luminosity rather than the color tones but the Color Range technique is best when working on a specific color (surprise, surprise).
A good example is when enhancing the color in the sky using Photo Filter. This can be done by following the steps above and then applying a warm Photo Filter. Alternatively, you can use the Color Balance adjustment to adjust the shades of the targeted color.
There are many ways to create masks in Photoshop but using the Color Range tool is the most precise when targeting colors. As you now know, it’s not nearly as difficult as it first appears. It only takes a couple of steps to create.
With this selection activated, you can make a series of adjustments to your image. However, it’s often best to stick to adjustments that are based around color and color balance. There are other masks better for contrast, sharpening, etc.
So, what are you waiting for? Open up Photoshop and give this a try!
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