Color Balance Course on Photoshop Adjustment Layer | Free PS Course

Free Photography Bundle ($180 value): PS actions, LR presets, photo overlays, & print templates!
Get it here.

Color balance adjustment layer course is part of our Photoshop series Photo Editing 101 by Ian Pullen. This series covers all of the basics of using Photoshop for editing photos. If you’re just getting started with Photoshop or photo editing, or if you’re looking to improve your skills in this area, this series provides an excellent foundation. Make sure that you receive future articles by subscribing to our newsletter or following us on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. You can also find the articles that have already been published by visiting the Photo Editing 101 course page.


Introduction to the Color Balance Adjustment Layer in Photoshop

Color balance adjustment layer course is part of our free Photoshop series Photo Editing 101 by Ian Pullen.

The Color Balance adjustment layer in Photoshop gives users the ability to make adjustments to the coloring of their images. It presents the three color channels and their complementary colors and users can adjust the balance of these pairs to change the appearance of a photo.

If you’ve ever used an image editor that allowed you to adjust the color temperature of a photo, you may also have seen that you were able to adjust the tint, either increasing the magenta or green values. This is very similar to how Color Balance works, except you can make adjustments to all three channels.

How Do You Activate the Color Balance Adjustment Layer?


If the Adjustments palette is already open, you can just click on the Color Balance button, which is represented by the weighing scales icon, which is third from left in the middle row. Alternatively, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and you can give the layer a name in the next dialog if you like, though I left mine to the default.

How Do You Control the Color Balance Adjustment Layer?

As already mentioned, the tool allows you to control the three RGB color channels of your photo. It’s worth noting that if you’re working in CMYK while preparing a print job, the Color Balance tool will still only operate on the red, green and blue values and their complementary colors, even though the Channels palette will be showing the four CMYK channels.

The three channels are represented by slider controls that default to the center point in each case. Above the three sliders are the three Tone radio buttons. These allow you to limit your changes to different areas of the image based on the tonal values.

To make an adjustment, you just need to move a slider in either direction to increase or reduce the amount of red, green or blue in one or more of the tonal ranges. The changes that you make can be very subtle, perhaps to counter a slight color cast, or more extreme and designed to apply a more creative result.


In this first screenshot, the coloration of the image appears quite a bit cooler than the original. Achieve this by setting the Cyan/Red slider all the way to Cyan (-100%) for both Shadows and Midtones. I also set for the Highlights, but the image was too bright. Counter this by reducing the Highlight values of the Green and Blue sliders.


In the second screenshot, I just made a single change to the Highlights, pushing the Blue/Yellow slider towards the Blue end to counter the warmth that appears present in the brighter areas of the image.

What Does Preserve Luminosity Do?


Default is a check in the Preserve Luminosity checkbox. In this state, it maintains the same tonal values across the image. In the screenshot above, you can see the image is darker with the checkbox off.

How Do You Make a Split Tone Using Color Balance?


You can also use Color Balance adjustment layers to produce a simple split-tone effect. In the screenshot, I added a Black and White adjustment layer below the Color Balance layer to desaturate the image. Next, I selected the Shadows radio button. Then I slid the Blue/Yellow slider to the right applying a blue tint to shadow areas. I then clicked the Highlights radio button to move the same slider to the left. This applies a yellow tint to the brighter areas.


The Color Balance tool offers a few useful features to users and while you may not use it with great regularity, it’s handy to know what it can do for those occasions when it can be a helpful addition to your toolkit.

See more articles in the Photo Editing 101 series.