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Accurately color correct images in 3 simple steps

Added on Friday 27th of April 2007 01:36 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Rarely do you have an image that doesn’t require some amount of color correcting. But misguided correction attempts will only make your image look worse. However, if you adopt this simple 3-step color correction process, you’ll soon bring all your images back into balance.


To color correct images in three easy steps we’ll:

     Identify the darkest shadow and brightest highlight in the image.

     Add a Curves adjustment layer and redefine the neutral highlight, shadow, and midtone target values necessary to maintain color balance.

     Remap the image to the newly defined values for pleasing color correction on any image.


Every image deserves individualized attention when it comes to color correction. Whether an image has a color cast, uneven tones, or low contrast—just to name a few problems—this three step technique is sure to bring your image’s color back into balance as shown in Figure A.




Choose your image


First you’ll need an image to color correct. Any image that needs a color adjustment will do. If you want to follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article. Then, extract the file boat.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in Figure B.




Other articles of interest

Check out these other Inside Photoshop articles relating to color correcting.

        “Don’t let color casts spoil your appetite for well-balanced images” (May 2006).

        “Quickly eliminate a color cast by targeting your midtones” (May 2006).

        “Eliminate color matching guesswork by using the right tool for the job” (July 2006).


Identify the strongest shadow and highlight

The first step in color correcting is to identify the area of your image that has the darkest shadow and the brightest highlight. Frequent color correcting will train your eye and you’ll get better at this over time. But if you’re new to color correcting and need some help identifying these areas, see the companion article “Quickly locate the darkest and lightest pixels in an image” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.

Once you identify the darkest shadow and strongest highlight, mark them with the Color Sample tool.


To mark the shadow and highlight areas:

1.       Choose the Color Sampler tool color_sampler from the Toolbox.

2.      Choose 3 by 3 Average from the Sample Size pop-up menu located on the tool options bar.

3.      Click the location on your image that has the darkest shadow. The sample 1 marker displays for this reference, as shown in Figure C.


4.      Click the spot on your image that has the brightest highlight. The sample 2 marker displays for this reference as shown in Figure D.



Define new target values

Next, we need to define new target values for the darkest shadow, brightest highlight, and neutral gray pixels in the image. Actually, we’ll make all of these values neutral to eliminate any unnecessary colorcasts.



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