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How to Pop Color Selectively Using Channel Mixers and Layer Masks in Photoshop

By Jodi Friedman of MCP Actions: Photoshop Actions and Training

There are literally dozens of ways to saturate your colors in Photoshop. For this post I am going to focus on one way to pop colors using “Channel Mixer” adjustment layers.

To start with, locate an image that could benefit from more vibrant color, overall or in selected spots. Of course, you likely will want to correct exposure and white balance prior to working on color. At this point, we will pull up a “Channel Mixer” adjustment. In CS4, you can use the adjustment panel – in CS3 and below, use the layers palette and go to “Channel Mixers.”

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Once you pull up the adjustment layer, you will adjust settings in the dialog box. You will adjust all three output channels: Red, Green, and Blue. Use the same relationship for each. You want all numbers to total 100%. The higher your number for the output channel you are working on, the more saturated the colors will be.

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For example, if you start with red, and put red at 150%, then you would split the difference to = 100%. So green would be at -25% and blue at -25%. Then you would drop down to green for the output. For this channel, you would do 150% for green, -25% for red, and -25% for blue. Lastly, you would drop down to the blue channel and do the same. Blue would be 150%, green -25% and red -25%.

Remember, all three outputs need to be treated the same. The output gets the high number in all three channels. The other two equally subtract the same amount so that the total is 100%. Using 150% is rather high, but if you will be painting your color on, as I am here, or if you want a lot of pop, this number may work well. You will want to experiment on your image to find the best settings. I recommend 116-120% for the main output channel light pop, 122-140% for medium pop, and 142-160% for intense pop.

When you saturate color, make sure you are not losing details and that your colors are printable. The printer I use handles intense color really well, so I mainly check to make sure I am not losing details or getting any color noise. Also, if photographing people, unless you are using low numbers, your skin tones WILL BE impacted. That is where “painting” comes in.

With masking, you have 2 choices. Either you can show the effect everywhere, white mask. And hide it on parts where you do not want it, such as skin. Or you can hide the effect everywhere, black mask. And you can paint it on specific areas, just where desired.

For this tutorial, I am going explain, hiding the effect and painting it on where desired. Either way would work.

So after getting your channel numbers set, you will invert your mask. The shortcut keys are PC: “CTRL” + “I” or Mac: “CMD” + “I” – which turns your white mask from black. You will not longer see the popped colors.

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If you have never used layer masks before, this video tutorial and tips on layer masking will help you.

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With the mask black, then select white as your foreground color, and pick a soft round brush. You will vary the hardness of the brush as needed. I usually set my opacity at 30%-35% and paint over the desired items where I want the color more vibrant. You can do this at 100%, but with a low opacity brush, you will have more control as you can build the effect by painting multiple times.

For the before and after image below, I painted on the image with the mask selected, using a 30% brush at 19% hardness. I painted over the entire image once. Then I painted on the truck until 100% of the effect was reached.

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The only change in these two images was the channel mixer layer. I hope you learned a lot from this tutorial about using channels to enhance your color and about using layer masks.

About the Author: This post was written by Jodi of MCP Actions, the popular creator of Photoshop actions, training and of the MCP Blog. MCP Actions provides great products and resources for both hobbyist and professional photographers who want to improve their post processing and take their photography to the next level. If you are serious about the quality of your images or your photography business, visit MCP Actions.

You can also find Jodi on Facebook, Twitter, and through her RSS Feed.

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