3 Techniques for Color Correction in Photoshop
Here are three options for color correction in Photoshop:
- Open either the Levels or the Curves adjustment layer.
- Click the AUTO button.
- Click Alt or Option (Mac) and the AUTO button again.
- Choose Find Dark & Light Colors and check Snap Neutral Midtones
- Save as defaults and press OK.
- Create a new Curves layer in the Adjustments palette.
- Double click on the black and white circle icon.
- Set the black, gray, and white points on your image using the three droppers on the left
- Open up the Color Sampler Tool.
- Adjust the Sample Size.
- Pick the colors to sample in your photo that best represent pure black, neutra gray, and pure white.
- Photoshop will automatically open up the Info palette. Notice the three numbers and their RGB (red, green, blue) values for each color.
- Create a new Curves adjustment layer.
- Open the Adjustments palette and the Info palette.
- Change the white balance one channel at a time.
- Hover your mouse over the first color you chose with the Color Sampler Tool and Ctrl + left click (Mac users Cmd + left click) on it. This will add a new point on the curve.
- left click and drag on the point itself in the Adjustments palette to control the color. Repeat this step for the G (green) values and the B (blue) values and for the black, neutral gray, and white areas you selected
If you’ve ever taken a photo of something and found the photo to have a yellowish or bluish tint to it, chances are you need to know how to color correct in photoshop. In this article, you’ll learn three different techniques (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) you can use for color correction in Photoshop through adjusting the white balance.
Regardless of which technique you use, they are applicable to just about any version of Photoshop you are using.
This simple, one-click beginner technique for color correction in Photoshop is the perfect place to start. This automatic adjustment tool will quickly get your photos looking reasonably accurate.
1. Open either the Levels or the Curves adjustment layer (this technique is the same in both).
2. Click the AUTO button in the top right-hand corner of the histogram.
3. Click Alt or Option (Mac) and the AUTO button again to open the Auto Color Correction Options menu.
4. Choose Find Dark & Light Colors and check Snap Neutral Midtones.
5. Save as defaults and press OK. This allows you to color correct in just one click of the AUTO button from now on.
This method isn’t extremely accurate, but it’s a great way to get a photo to look pretty good without a lot of work.
Here’s the original, unedited photo that we’ll use as an example for this quick ‘n dirty technique of white balancing.
1. Create a new Curves adjustment layer. This is found in the Layers palette as seen in the following screenshot.
2. Double click on the black and white circle icon in the Layers palette. This will open up the Adjustments palette. You can see what this looks like below.
3. Find the three dropper icons on the left side of the Adjustments palette. These set the color points in your image to give you a quick white balance. On top is the black dropper, the middle is the gray dropper, and on bottom is the white dropper.
Select the black dropper and click somewhere on your image that you feel should be absolute black. For this, we picked the black part of the mouse sitting on the table.
4. Then select the gray dropper and pick somewhere on the photo that should be a neutral gray. For our photo, we picked part of the computer sitting on the table.
5. Finally, select the white dropper and pick somewhere in the image that represents pure white. We chose a piece of paper that is sitting on the table. (It’s important to point out there will likely be some clamping that occurs.)
That’s all there is to it! If you compare this side-by-side comparison of the “before” and “after” you’ll see quite a bit of difference. The blacks are sharper and the whites are actually white instead of having an orange tint.
Even though this is a great technique, the steps above may not work for every situation. Some of the downsides to it are that:
Sometimes the black and white can have too much contrast.
Since it’s prone to clamping, you may lose some detail.
This next method is particularly useful for graphic designers. It is similar to the intermediate steps above, but allows you to take a lot more control over the results of your white balance.
For this technique, we’ll use a different photo that has more of a bluish tint to it. Here’s the “before” photo.
1. Open up the Color Sampler Tool located in the toolbar underneath the Eyedropper Tool. Or, use the shortcut Shift + / until you see the icon you see in this screenshot.
2. Adjust the Sample Size, found in the tool settings. You can use as many sample pixels as you want, depending on how much of an area you want to sample. If you’re not sure what to use, try using 3 by 3 Average until you are familiar with this technique. (For the most part, 3 by 3 Average is plenty as it’ll give you colors for pure black, neutral gray, and pure white.)
3. Now pick the colors to sample in your photo that best represent pure black, neutral gray, and pure white. Our first color sample will be some of the darker shadows. When you pick one, you’ll notice a number is assigned to it. Since we chose 3 by 3 Average, the number one represents pure black, number two represents neutral gray, and number 3 represents pure white. Note that you don’t necessarily have to choose the colors in the same order.
4. Photoshop will automatically open up the Info palette when you’re selecting the colors. This isn’t a step you need to perform, but it’s worth mentioning that this happens and it will be very important in helping you perform the white balance. The key here is to notice the three numbers and their RGB (red, green, blue) values for each color. These will come into play later.
5. Create a new Curves adjustment layer in the Layers palette.
6. Open the Adjustments palette and the Info palette.
7. You’ll need to change the channel in the Adjustments palette. By default, the channels that display are RGB, but this intermediate technique for white balancing is done one channel at a time instead of all together.
With the Red channel selected, if you hover over the image, you’ll notice there is a little circle that appears on the curve in the Adjustments palette. If you don’t see this, make sure you have the highlighted button enabled (as shown in this screenshot).
8. Hover your mouse over the first color you chose with the Color Sampler Tool and Ctrl + left click (Mac users Cmd + left click) on it. This will add a new point on the curve in the Adjustments palette as seen in the screenshot below.
If you can’t get a curve point created on pure black or pure white, it means the value you selected is too close to the default points Photoshop already has. In this case, you can either pick something slightly further away (a little more toward gray) or use the existing points on the far left and far right in the Adjustments palette. If possible, it’s recommended to pick something a little more toward gray, but depending on your photo, sometimes the best results require adjusting those original curve points.
Since we did pure black first, our point is in the bottom left corner.
9. With the point added, you can left click and drag on the point itself in the Adjustments palette to control the color.
As you’re adjusting the curve point you’ll want to pay attention to the values for the color channel you’re working on in the Info palette. The two numbers are the original and edited numbers. For instance, a number of R: 24 / 15 means the red channel originally had a color value of 24, but you’ve adjusted the curve point to be a value of 15. The second number is what you’ll want to focus on.
Since we’re focusing on the red channel now, we’re focusing on the R value by #1 in the Info palette. You’ll repeat this step for the G (green) values and the B (blue) values.
10. Repeat the same steps for the black, neutral gray, and white areas you selected.
Black = ~15
Neutral gray = ~188
White value = ~245
These values don’t have to be exact, but they are a target of what to aim for when white balancing using this more accurate technique. In fact, you’ll notice in the screenshot below that our example values don’t match that because every photo is going to be different. You can always come back and adjust these later on if you need to.
As a rule of thumb, keep the numbers across all of the RGB channels within 3 to 5 values of each other. For instance, red could be 12, green 16, and blue 18. Otherwise there will be way too much of one color in the photo. After you have all of the channels edited, you can break that rule and make more tweaks while letting the photo itself be your guide.
In the below screenshot you’ll see a range of R: 190, G: 180, and B: 222. Since the blue channel was the last one we edited, we pushed the value for the second point just a little further to help the white balance accuracy.
You may notice sometimes that as you’re making adjustments to the other channels, the original values you had set in a previous channel might change slightly. That’s perfectly normal and completely alright. This is what happened in the above image when we pushed the blue value.
It’s also worth pointing out that the photo itself might look strange throughout this process. Don’t let that discourage you. It’s the end result that matters. Get all the channels done first and then you can go back and make your final tweaks to make it look better.
Here’s what the final photo looks like after the white balance is adjusted.
Your color correction doesn’t have to stop here. If you want to continue on to more advanced color correction in Photoshop, you’ll get much better results.
Whenever possible, always use the Adjustment Layers for color correction. This will let you work non-destructively so you can add your stylizations to the photo while always being able to get back to the original if needed.
Depending on your photo, the actual steps you take to color correct will vary. So, if you like the stylized look tinting the photo gives, you can use a Photo Filter to apply a nice tint to the white balanced photo.
Another popular adjustment layer is Levels. Like the Curves adjustment layer, Levels will let you tweak your colors on a per-channel basis and can get some really great results this way. Just drag the three arrows in the Levels palette just under the histogram. The one on the far left is the pure black, middle is neutral gray, and the one on the right is pure white.
Keep in mind that not every photo needs perfect white balance. In many cases, you may want a more stylized look instead. However, by going through the process of white balancing first, you’re able to get that baseline setting before determining whether or not to keep it or change it in favor of a more stylized approach.
A Word About RAW
It’s worth mentioning that if you have a camera that can shoot RAW, you’ll find the white balancing and color correction capabilities in general are a lot better than when shooting JPEG. The primary reason for this is because the RAW format of your camera will bypass the automatic color correction that occurs when the camera takes a photo, and lets you make these adjustments manually after the fact.
3 other reasons to shoot RAW are:
You get the original, unprocessed data which gives you greater creative control on the backend.
The photos have a higher bit depth (24 bits vs. 8 bits).
You don’t have to worry about artifacting because there isn’t any destructive compression happening.
To change your camera to RAW:
Canon = Click MENU, click Image Quality under the first camera tab, rotate the dial to select RAW.
Nikon = Click on QUAL and rotate the main command dial to NEF (RAW).
Fuji = Click the MENU/OK button, select IMAGE QUALITY, click MENU/OK.
However, you won’t be working with the white balance on RAW files in Photoshop. You will require a different program or extension to adjust RAW photos. But, if you’re a photographer, shooting in RAW is a good idea.
Now that you know how to color correct in Photoshop for beginner, intermediate, and advanced, it’s time to jump in and get started. If you haven’t already, take some Pluralsight courses on Photoshop to up your skills in a major way!