photo of dan scott introducing color range selection in adobe photoshop

Mastering Photoshop's Color Range: A Comprehensive Guide

Daniel Scott

@dan

Hi, everyone!

In this post, color range is the star! This is an incredible selection tool that is awesome if you are working on images with high color contrast. Color Range allows you to make precise selections based on tone and color. From changing an image’s background to replacing original colors with your own choices, this is a read you don’t want to skip.

I’ll guide you through a step-by-step tutorial that you can follow along at your own pace, absolutely stress-free. Join me and learn why color range is an essential skill. 

This post is based on one of the courses from my Photoshop Advanced Course. If you are new to image editing you can also take my Essentials Course available at Bring your Own Laptop.

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Ready? Let’s hit the beach!

Changing an Image Background with Color Range

If you were surprised by the expression “hit the beach”, now it will all make sense. We’re going to work with the image below and make some of these colors more intense and inviting to our viewers.

beach landscape in adobe photoshop

These colors feel quite natural but today we are looking for a more intense vibe.

Color Range is also fantastic for masking complex elements in our compositions, but for this post’s purpose, we’ll stay focused on color editing.

  1. Finding the Color Range Panel

We can access the Color Range panel by clicking on Select on the top menu bar and selecting the option “Color Range…” Easy!

color range panel in adobe photoshop

The Color Range panel offers a set of advanced options.

  1. Color Range Options

Let’s have a quick look at the available settings for Color Range.

The first setting is Select. Click on the drop-down menu to find these quick and easy presets Photoshop offers:

drop-down menu with color range select presets in adobe photoshop

The Select settings allows us to choose from a diverse set of presets. Use them wisely.

Sampled Colors – This is the default option. We use an eyedropper to manually define the color we want to select.

Hues – Photoshop selects any element showing one of these colors: Red, Green, Blue (RGB mode, used for screens), Cyan, Magenta, or Yellow (CMYK mode, used for print).

Highlights – Photoshop selects the brightest parts of our image.

Midtones – Photoshop looks for the middle tones of our image, isolating the parts that are neither too dark nor too bright.

Shadows – Photoshop selects the darkest parts of our image.

Skin Tones – Photoshop selects colors that resemble skin tones. Great for working with images of people or portraits.

Out of Gamut – Photoshop targets colors that won’t be accurately reproduced on specific devices, like CMYK printers.

Pro Tip: If we choose Skin Tones from the Select drop-down menu, the option Detect Faces will become available for us to check. Use both for optimal results.

Detect Faces magnified on color range panel in adobe photoshop

Combine Skin Tones with Detect Faces when you’re working with images with people.

After picking a select option like Sampled Colors and, for example, sample a green color from the image, we can adjust our selection’s Fuzziness. This option ranges from 0% to 100%. Low values will narrow the selection to the specific green tone that was sampled while higher values increase the number of similar tones included.

We can also find the Localized Color Clusters option available for checking.

localized color clusters magnified in adobe photoshop

Localized Color Clusters assist you with the range of selected colors.

With this option set to active, Photoshop can focus on pixels which are in close proximity to the one we’ve sampled. We can also adjust the Range slider to fine tune our selection. At 100% Photoshop widens the selection’s green color range to the entire image. At lower values like 10%, we only select the color green around the sampled point we’ve clicked.

This is great for when we are editing an image with several objects showing the same color and we have to target only one of them.

range slider magnified on color range panel in adobe photoshop

Adjust Range to control how Localized Color Clusters affect your selection.

When it comes to previewing our selections, we have a small preview window that offers two options: Selection shows a grayscale view of the current settings and Image displays the original image view.

We can also observe the selection in real time outside the Color Range panel, on the image we are editing. We have four Selection Preview options for this:

Grayscale – the image gets previewed in black, white and grays. This ranges from full black, that means no color is selected, to full white, that shows the targeted color for selection.  

selection preview modes magnified from color range panel in adobe photoshop

Selection Preview Settings display four preview modes.

Black Matte – shows the sampled color over a black background. Black means no color is selected.

White Matte – shows the sampled color over a white background. White also means no color is selected.

Quick Mask – shows the sampled color over Photoshop’s Quick Mask red background. Full red means no color is selected.

quick mask preview mode in adobe photoshop

If you are used to the Quick Mask, this is a great preview mode for you!

Now we’ve covered most of the options from the Color Range panel (I leave two of them for later on), let’s practice our skills! 

Timeout #1

When you finish reading this post, check out this cool article on the importance of color in image editing and photography

  1. Fixing image color with Color Range

Let’s come back to our beach and start editing! Lets enhance the blues and the greens to add vibrance to our scene and show it as a true paradise!

We start by opening the Color Range panel, by clicking on Select and Color Range from the top menu bar.

Let’s pick Sampled Colors and set Fuzziness close to 100 for now. Next, we use the eyedropper to click on one of the blue tones from the sea.

eyedropper sampling blue color from an image in adobe photoshop

Click with the Eyedropper to sample a color for your selection.

Now I’ll show you the first option I’ve kept “secret” so far.

We have selected a tone of blue that we can now preview in grayscale – or any of the views I’ve shown you before. Remember that in this preview, black means no color is selected and full white signals the tone we’ve just sampled.

But we’re still not happy with our selection. We want to add some other tones of blue so we can edit them all together. Let’s move to the eyedropper icons on the right, click on the Add to Sample icon, the one with a “+” sign on it, and move back to our image to sample another tone.

add to sample eyedropper icon magnified  in adobe photoshop

We can add more color samples to our selection with the “Add to Sample” Eyedropper mode.

If we ever feel we may have gone a bit too far, we can reduce the Fuzziness value to narrow color tolerance and keep our selection accurate.

fuzziness setting slider magnified in adobe photoshop

Adjust fuzziness to enhance or narrow color range tolerance.

When we are ready, we hit the OK button to close the Color Range panel. Our selection of blue is now visible in the image.

selection area of blue tones in adobe photoshop

You can confirm your selection by observing the “marching ants” on your image.

Now we edit the selected area to bring up the magic. The quick and easy way to do this is by moving our cursor to the Adjustments panel on the right side of our workspace and choosing Hue/Saturation.

hue and saturation icon on the adjustments panel in adobe photoshop

Pick Hue/Saturation from the Adjustments panel to edit your selection.

We have a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer over our background and the selection is masked inside it – this means that whatever change in Hue or Saturation will only affect that area. And because we love non-destructive design, the original image is left unharmed. Cool!

Let’s adjust the Hue first. Let’s move it a bit closer to a Cyan tone. Next, we increase the Saturation level (not too much) to really bring more life to our tropical waters!

hue and saturation level sliders magnified in adobe photoshop

When we adjust Hue and Saturation in an image, Photoshop creates a new adjustment layer.

Let’s move on to the greens! We want a finish with lovely green tones, intense and fresh. This is also quick and easy!

With the background selected, we go back to the Color Range panel, choose Sampled Colors and this time set Selection Preview to None, for a clear sight of the tones we are sampling.

We move back to our image with the Eyedropper set to “+”, click on the first tone that feels more yellow than green. Then we click on a second color, and a third, and more until we are happy with the selection.

using the eyedropper to select a color sample from palm leaves in adobe photoshop

We’re looking to isolate faded greens, yellows and light browns to edit them afterwards.

Let’s say we’ve gone a bit too far with our Eyedropper and sampled too many colors for the selection. Can we fix this?

color range selection preview in grayscale mode  in adobe photoshop

While selecting yellows and light browns from the leaves, we also get the same tones from the sand below.

Of course we can! We can reduce the Fuzziness level, but we can also click on the Subtract from Sample icon, the one with a “-“ sign over it. This Eyedropper setting will subtract any unwanted colors from our selection! We can click to remove a color as many times as necessary to have an accurate selection.

subtracting colors from sample with the eyedropper subtract option in adobe photoshop

With the Subtract from Sample eyedropper option, we can remove unwanted parts from our selection.

 Hit OK when ready and let’s edit those greens and make them really luscious. Once again, we move to Adjustments, select Hue/Saturation, and adjust levels until we are happy with the result.

hue adjustment slider magnified in adobe photoshop

Time to adjust the greens hue and saturation to wrap up our image editing.

Wow! We now have a bright and vivid image to amaze everyone! Ok, I may have pushed it a bit too far for you to see the difference between the original and edited images, but I’m sure you will absolutely make it perfect!

before and after comparison image of a beach landscape in adobe photoshop

We can easily see the difference between the original photo and the edited version.

Timeout #2

The more you know about photography the better the image editor you will become. Check out these tips for adding extra impact to your projects and photographs.

And there we have it!

Isn't the Color Range tool amazing? Now you know all the available options and some cool techniques that help you achieve maximum precision on your selections, I’m sure you’ll use all these skills to rupgrade your image editing portfolio!

What 's Next?

To go deeper with Photoshop, join BYOL and you will gain access to my Photoshop Essentials and Advanced courses as well as my 30+ additional courses on Figma, PhotoshopLightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Get started here. 

See you in class! – Dan