Have you ever wanted to make a selection of a specific color in Photoshop but not been quite sure how? Have you tried with Luminosity Masks or another type of selection but failed? Have you been so frustrated that you’ve just manually painted a mask instead? You’re not alone.
Luckily for you, though, creating a precise mask based on color value isn’t as hard as you may think, and it’s done by following only a few easy and straight-forward steps!
Unlike Luminosity Masks, the technique we’re looking at today will create a precise mask based on the color value of the pixel rather than its luminosity. This is especially useful when you want to make an adjustment to a specific color range.
This is a technique that I often use when working on an image’s color balance, particularly for sunsets, as I find that it creates a more precise mask than a Luminosity Mask (which doesn’t take the color into consideration).
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 have 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…
When you click on Color Range… a new box appears. It’s through this box that we’re telling Photoshop what pixels to select for our mask. Make sure that Sampled Colors is selected before we continue. You can use a solid color or one of the other choices as well but manually sampling the colors will result in the most precise selection.
Beneath the Save button, there are three different Eyedropper Tools. To begin with, we’re only going to use the first. With the first Eyedropper Tool selected, simply click on the color that you want to make the selection of (for this example I chose the brightest and most saturated orange in the sky).
The Black & White image below the Fuzziness and Range sliders represents the mask that will be created based on the color you selected. 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“. As a quick reminder; adjustments will only affect the white areas of the mask while the black parts will remain untouched (white reveals, black conceals).
If you want a slightly broader selection (meaning a selection that selects the exact color you chose plus the colors most similar to it), pull the Fuzziness slider towards the right. The further right you pull it, the wider the selection becomes. If you want a more restricted selection, simply pull it back towards the left. I prefer to keep it at approximately 70.
By clicking OK, the Color Range window closes and the new selection is created. With this 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 add more colors or an even broader spectrum of a specific color. This can easily be done by selecting the second Eyedropper Tool (or holding Shift when selecting a new color).
When selecting a color with this tool, you’ll keep the previous selection and add the new to it. 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. I prefer using this Color Range technique when adding color to the sky (using Photo Filter) or working on the Color Balance of a specific color; for example, if I wanted to work specifically with the greens in the grass.