This article is part of our series Photo Editing 101 by Ian Pullen. This series will cover 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 will provide an excellent foundation. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss future articles you can subscribe to our newsletter or follow 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.
The Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop offers a number of controls that allow you to make both corrective and creative adjustments to the color values of your photos. The feature allows you to adjust all of the colors equally or to target specific colors differently. I’ll first describe the main features of Hue/Saturation applied to all of the colors and then show how you can adjust individual colors only.
How Do You Open Hue/Saturation?
To open the Hue/Saturation controls you can either go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation or, if the Adjustments palette is already open, just click on the Hue/Saturation icon which is the second from the left in the second row of buttons.
How Do You Use the Preset Values?
The easiest way to make use of Hue/Saturation is to apply one of the presets from the drop down menu at the top of the palette. In the screen shot above, you can that I’ve applied the Increase Saturation More setting to my image, which has given the image a bit of a color boost.
Another useful aspect of the presets is that you can apply them to your images and then see what settings they adjusted. This can help you to understand the tool and make your own adjustments.
What Does the Hue Slider Do?
The first of the three sliders allows you adjust the hue of your image. By sliding this, the color values are shifted through the spectrum, creating surreal results. If you look at the two spectrum bars at the bottom of the palette, the top bar shows the original color and the bottom shows the color that has now replaced it. In the screen shot above, you can see that cyan has now been switched to red. If you enjoy making dramatic creative edits to your photos, you may like this effect, but I personally find it is more useful for targeting specific color ranges.
What Does the Saturation Slider Do?
The name of this slider is quite descriptive and it allows you to boost or reduce the saturation of your photo. Dragging the slider all the way to the left will create a mono version of your image, but be aware that the default will look a little flat and there are better ways to create a mono image.
When boosting the saturation, you should take care not to go too far as this can create both an unnatural appearance and introduce color artifacts. The screen shot above demonstrates this, particularly on the solar panels and the hills behind.
What Does the Lightness Slider Do?
Again, this is quite obvious what this control does, merely making the image lighter or darker. Applied to all of the colors equally, it’s of little use for improving your images, but may be of interest for creative results.
What Does the Colorize Checkbox Do?
The Colorize feature makes it very easy to convert your image to a monotone, converting all of the hues in your image to a single hue. This can be useful for creating effects, such as a sepia tone, though be aware that the results may look a little flat. The Black and White tool with Tint will usually be a better option.
How Do You Target Specific Colors?
I’ve already mentioned that you can target specific colors and this is where Hue/Saturation becomes most useful. You select a color by clicking the drop down menu that defaults to Master and making a choice from the options. In the screen shot above, you can see that I selected Cyan and then adjusted the Hue slider to change cyan to blue. I also increased the saturation a little and reduced the lightness. You should see the effect in the sky, which is now a more consistent blue than originally.
You could also use this to reduce a slight color cast in an image, by selecting the color that is tinting the image and reducing the saturation of it and/or changing its hue a little.
You may have noticed that when you select a color, the eyedropper icons become active and new sliders appear between the spectrum bars at the bottom of the palette. The dark gray area shows the range that the currently selected color applies to. The lighter gray areas show how the effect drops off. You can move any of the four sliders to adjust how adjustments affect your image or use the eyedroppers to click on the image and add or remove colors from the range.
To try and illustrate this, this screen shot above shows the Yellow color selected and the range reduced as much as possible with an immediate drop off. You may just make out that only the yellow is more saturated and there are obvious outlines around some of the leaves.
In the screen shot above I’ve dragged the drop off areas to the maximum and you should see that almost all of the colors have become more saturated, though the effect will be a little less on the blue and cyan hues, as these are very near the end of the drop off zones.
While the Hue/Saturation controls can offer very quick and easy creative results, used with care, they can offer a great degree of control over how colors in your photos are presented.
See more articles in the Photo Editing 101 series.