Color Theory and Photoshop

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Jennifer Berube
  By Jennifer Berube
Color Theory and Photoshop

Ever taken a picture that came out looking odd but you couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it? Ever taken a picture that looked find but you wished that you had worn that red dress instead of the blue one? Colors affect our life on a daily basis, and a clash of color can sometimes ruin a whole image.

The good thing is that with modern technology we are able to fix these blunders. By using color theory and some basic Photoshop skills, it’s easy to fix any color-gone-wrong image, or even just used as fun to imagine what you’d look like with bright purple hair.

Working with Color Theory

Despite what you might think, colors opposite each other on the color wheel complement each other. Colors that are next to each other on the wheel tend to clash, and if they’re both present in your image, it can come out looking odd without the problem being obvious. You can use any basic color wheel or even an advanced one to help you get the shades right in your photo. All you have to do is find an image or get a screenshot of your preferred color wheel and open it up in Photoshop.

Color Wheel for Photoshop

Next, take the image you want to work with. If you’re trying to fix a color error, pick one of the colors that you want to stay the same, and find that on the wheel. The color you want to use in the next part of the image is the one directly across from the original. (If you’re using three or more colors, you’ll need to make lines on the wheel that divide it into thirds or more to make sure that all colors accurately match each other.)

Choosing the Right Colors

For this image, we chose the red of the girl’s dress, and used the opposite green to change the boy’s clothes. If we wanted to keep the boy’s clothes blue, we would have done a yellow-orange for the girl’s dress to complement them.

Once you know the colors you’re going to use, you have to select the exact part of the image that you want to change. Make sure all of your work is being done in a second layer, so that you don’t accidentally change the original image. You could simply use the magic wand to select the boy’s clothes, but there’s a faster way using the Color Range selection.

This allows you to pick out a color in the original image, using the eyedropper, and selecting all of that color in the photo. You can change the range and fuzziness of the selection to include only that exact shade, or allow it to pull in similar shades, such as both the light and dark blues of the boy’s shirt created by the shadows.

Coloring Your Picture

Now that what you want to change is selected, you have to choose the color on the wheel you want with the eye dropper and paint over the boy’s clothes. However, it is very important to keep in mind the type of layer you’ve created.

Using the normal setting will create a solid block of color that will lessen the look of your image even more. To ensure a nice overlay of color that doesn’t look blocky, choose either color burn or color dodge. Here, we used color burn, but either of the three will work, with varying looks of outcomes.

On the left, the finished product using the color burn layer. On the right, the same image but with the normal layer on

Finishing Touches

If, after you’ve done this, your colors still seem to be off, or some are popping out of the picture more than others, go into each layer and try adjusting the opacity of each. Increase the opacity of any dark and dingy colors to help bring them to light, and lower the opacity of any colors that are too bright or saturated. This will help your image look more realistic and original.

Beginner classes in any art form will have you start out with black and white before you move into the complex world of colors. Understanding how the color wheel works will help you take photos that are visually pleasing. Being able to edit colors in Photoshop will help you fix any errors and even create whole new looks for yourself and those around you.

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Jennifer Berube
Jennifer Berube is a freelance writer and photographer with a background in journalism. She contributes regularly to and enjoys writing about all things arts!

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