Undestanding color adjustments in Adobe Photoshop


While one tends to relate to a color palette with paint when drawing, truth is that the presence of color in all aspects of life is immensely rich. Thus, color is important in several respects: it allows us express moods, to present and share what makes our identity; even to distinguish our product at the market, to communicate through color of clothes we are wearing, etc. Given the importance visual communication has reached nowadays, ciety, color certainly has a great importance.

At the art of painting, graphic design, visual design, photography, print and television, color theory has established a basic set of rules in which regards to mixing colors in order to achieve the desired effect; combining colors of light pigment. White light can be produced by combining red, green and blue; while pigments combining cyan, magenta and yellow produces black color. The latter one is the substractive color theory, used widely for printing purposes.

Then, the use of colors in Photoshop images is a very important aspect and it is advisable to obtain certain knowledge of color theory in order to create images that are more pleasing to the eye and express the very same feeling on these products. This article will show considerations regarding to color and tonal correction adjustments to images inside Photoshop.


Powerful Photoshop tools can enhance, repair, and correct the color and its tonality (lightness, darkness, and contrast) of an image. Here are some items to consider before making color and tonal adjustments.

  • Work with a monitor calibrated and profiled. Complex image editing requires calibration and profiling as the way of error-correcting our work. Otherwise, the image you see on your monitor is likely to differ from what you can appreciate at other monitors or when printed.
  • Think ahead your way of using adjustment layers to correct the tonal range and color balance of your image. Adjustment layers let you go back and make successive tonal adjustments without discarding or permanently modifying data from the image layer; this is a non-destructive workflow. Keep in mind that using adjustment layers increases the file size we are working with, and demands more RAM from your computer. By accessing the color and tonal commands in the Adjustments panel you can automatically create adjustment layers.
  • If you don’t want to use adjustment layers, you can apply adjustments directly to the image itself. Remember that this destructive-method discards image information, so if you apply several adjustments to the image you are working on, perhaps you are not going to be able of returning to the original point.
  • When working on complex adjustments, for maximum preservation of image data is best if the image you work on is 16 bits per channel (16-bit image) rather than 8 bits per channel (8-bit image). Since data is discarded when you make tonal and color adjustments, loss of image information is more critical at an 8-bit image than a 16-bit image. Generally, 16-bit images have a larger file size than 8-bit images.
  • Duplicate or make a copy of the image file. Working on a copy of your image preserves the original just in case you want to use the image at its original state.
  • Remove any flaws such as dust spots, blemishes, and scratches from the image before making color and tonal adjustments.
    Open the Info or Histogram panel in Expanded view. As you evaluate and correct the image, both panels display invaluable feedback on your adjustments.
  • You can make a selection or use a mask to confine your color and tonal adjustments to part of an image. Another way to apply color and tonal adjustments selectively is to set up your file with image components on different layers. Color and tonal adjustments are applied to one layer at a time, meaning only the image components on the targeted layer are affected.



Here is the general workflow you follow when you correct the tonality and color of an image:
1. Use the histogram to check the quality and tonal range of the image.
2. Make sure that the Adjustments panel is open to access color and tonal adjustments. Click at the icon to access the adjustments described in the following steps. Applying corrections from the Adjustments panel creates an adjustment layer, which gives you more flexibility and doesn’t discard image information.
3. Adjust the color balance to remove unwanted color casts or to correct oversaturated or undersaturated colors.
4. Adjust the tonal range, using either the Levels or Curves adjustments. Begin tonal corrections by adjusting the values of the extreme highlight and shadow pixels in the image, setting an overall tonal range for the image. This process is known as setting the highlights and shadows (or setting the white and black points). Setting the highlights and shadows typically redistributes the midtone pixels appropriately. However, you might need to adjust your midtones manually. To adjust the tonality in just shadow and highlight areas, use the Shadow/Highlight command.
5. (Optional) Make other color adjustments. After you correct the overall color balance of your image, you can make optional adjustments to enhance colors or produce special effects.
6. Sharpen the edges in the image. As one of the final steps, use the Unsharp Mask or the Smart Sharpen filter to sharpen the clarity of edges in the image. The amount of sharpening required for an image varies according to the image quality produced by the digital camera or scanner you use.

7. (Optional) Target the image for printer or press characteristics.
You can use options in the Levels or Curves adjustments to import highlight and shadow information into the gamut of an output device, like a desktop printer. This procedure can also be done if you are sending your image to a printing press, and know the characteristics of the press.
Because sharpening increases the contrast of neighboring pixels, it’s possible that some pixels in critical areas might become unprintable on the printer or press that you’re using. For this reason, it’s best to fine-tune the output settings after sharpening.


1. ADOBE (2013), ADOBE PHOTOSHOP Help and tutorials, link [https://helpx.adobe.com/pdf/photoshop-elements_reference.pdf] visited as of 2015-06-01.
2. ADOBE (2014), Adobe® Photoshop® CC Help, link
[https://helpx.adobe.com/pdf/photoshop_reference.pdf] visited as of 2015-06-01.

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