Anything Photoshop or Photography


Image link of Io Valley in Maui, HawaiiI have not often discussed using the Color Range Command to make selections, but I do use it all the time! This blog is a pretty long explanation, but maybe it will help you understand what is happening next time you need it. I have always found its dialog box a little bit confusing. It was updated in Photoshop CS4, and then a big update was done in Photoshop CC recently. So I will go over both versions. Richard Curtis, who wrote a great blog called Photoshop 14.1 Update – Color Range Enhancements and Micro Contrast, explains the new features. Color Range always has had the ability to find Highlights, Shadows and Midtones, but the results were based on fixed values. With the CC update, you can now select a range of tones for each as Adobe now provides Fuzziness and Range sliders for fine-tuning (but no eyedropper sampling yet). This is a major improvement, although I still was able to create a very nice berry image as shown below using the CS6 Highlights in the Select drop-down menu.

The image above of is of Iao Valley in Maui, Hawaii (see Battle of Kepaniwai link for the significance of this area), and is an example of Richard’s use of his Micro Contrast technique (see Micro Contrast section below for more info and a screenshot) which added contrast to the distant trees on the far hillside. To really understand how to use the Color Range no matter what version you are using, I would recommend taking time playing with the sliders on a test image to try out the different settings – it is much easier to understand. And note that what you are creating is a selection, so all the other selection tools will work with it for adding to or taking away from the selection (like the Quick Selection Tool, the Lasso Tool, etc.) Just be sure to use the SHIFT key to add to a selection or ALT key to take away from a selection when switching to different methods. And the Quick Mask Tool works good with this command also!

Dialog Box Definitions

For all versions, go to Select -> Color Range. There is only one level of Undo in the Color Range Command. (Just for your information, if you are in a Layer Mask with the Properties tab open, a bad option is to click on the Color Range button in the panel in CS6. It has been reported this can cause Photoshop to act a little erratic and may even crash the program. I have not had a chance to fully try this out – so just be aware there might be a problem. It seems to work fine with CC as far as I can tell and I used it without a problem for my berry image using CC.) The dialog box should open with these options available:

  • CS4 Through CC

Select: Default is set to Sampled Colors – check out the drop down menu (click downward arrow) to see if one of the other choices might work, but they have very limited capability with grayed out slider controls or eyedroppers as compared to the Sampled Colors choice, except in CC. To turn the Cancel button into a Reset button to set sliders to default settings, press the ALT Key and the Reset button. Very handy! To reset in CC use SHIFT+ALT keys. Note CS6 and CC also have a choice for Skin Tone that can be selected. See Detect Faces section below for more info. When selecting a Color in this field, I noticed that the Eyedropper will let you click on the image and does nothing, but it sets down a Color Sample point – to get rid of this, just highlight it with your mouse and drag it off the image. I also just found this nice tip in the free 798-page PDF download called Adobe Photoshop Help and tutorials. Here is a quote from their section on Color Range using a color in the drop-down: “To refine an existing selection, use the Color Range command repeatedly to select a subset of colors. For example, to select the green areas in a cyan selection, select Cyans in the Color Range dialog box, and click OK. Then reopen the Color Range dialog box, and select Greens. (The results are subtle because this technique selects parts of colors within a color mix.)” Also you may get this notice: “No pixels are more than 50% selected, The selection border will not be visible.” If so, the color chosen in the drop-down field does not contain any of that color’s hues with a high enough saturation to select.

Fuzziness: Martin Evening explains this best in his Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers book by saying it “….adjust(s) the tolerance of the selection, which increases and decreases the number of pixels that are selected based on how similar the pixels are in color to the already sampled pixels.” Its default is 40 similar to the 32 Tolerance default for the Magic Wand – same principle in place here. While the Magic Wand selects more solid pixels as you increase the Tolerance number, the Fuzziness Slider selects more transparent pixels which leaves edges softer. Think of the Fuzziness Slider as a feather slider – just not as dramatic as the other Feather options. That is the major difference between the tools. (Thank you Lesa Snider, from her Photoshop CS6, the Missing Manual, one my favorite reference book). Lesa recommends setting this fairly low to begin with. In CC the default is 142.

Range: Adjusts the range of colors selected. This slider works with the Localized Color Clusters and will be grayed out if the the Localized Color Clusters checkbox is not checked.

Localized Color Clusters: When checked, the Range slider will be set to 100%, default setting, and looks across the entire image. To quote Martin Evening again , “….the Range slider lets you determine which pixels are to be included based on how far or near a color is from the sample points that are in the selection.”  If Localized Color Clusters is unchecked, the Range slider is grayed out and cannot be adjusted. This feature allows you to isolate just part of an image. This is useful if you have two objects with the same color, and you only want one of them selected – just reduce the Range slider so that only one is selected.

Radio Buttons: Set to Selection. You can go between them while selecting to see the original image in preview pane. Since the pane is so tiny, I do not do use the Image button often.

Selection Preview: Many people leave this set to None as they find it distracting. Personally I like to see the selection on the image so I set it to Grayscale – this helps me tweak my edges since this is important for the texture selection and you can see the effect of the Fuzziness slider. This shows what the selection would like if applied to a Layer Mask.

Eyedroppers: To select, just click with the left eyedropper anywhere in your image that you want to select. SHIFT+click will add to the selection or click the Eyedropper with the plus sign and use ALT+click to delete or the Eyedropper with the minus sign. TIP: Can SHIFT+drag in your image to increase selection size quickly. You can also click inside the preview box if needed. Notice that when you click with the Eyedropper, the Foreground color in the Toolbar swatch changes to the sampled color.

Invert Checkbox: Remember White reveals (this is your selected area) and Black conceals. If it is easier to select what you do not want, go ahead and then check the Invert box. I do this a lot. Pixels that are partially selected will appear gray.

  • CS6 and CC

Detect Faces Checkbox: For CS6 and CC users, this option is available. It helps make quick selections of faces so you can adjust just that part of an image or protect that part of the image in a layer mask. When using the Skin Tones in the Select field, it does not do a good job on all ethnicities. The Detect Faces Checkbox will become available if Skin Tones is selected. Lesa Snyder says it works only on a limited number of images – it tends to select anything in the image with the face colors present.

  • CC Only

Select: (These are all notes and settings from Richard Curtis’s Blog from above who gave great examples. Watch the short video to really understand what I am repeating here.)

Highlights – Small Fuzziness value (like 20 for a 20% feather) keeps the selection tight with a Range of 190 (all pixel values of 190 thru 255 are selected just like on a Histogram or in Curves and Levels). These are the default settings. Change Range to 250 and it narrows the overall selection for Highlights. Set Fuzziness value to something like 80 (80% feather) and Range to 250 – the results of the feather start to include other tones. The Fuzziness slider gradually fans out the selection.

Midtones – Has two tabs that can be set. The default settings (area between the two tabs will be selected) for the Range black tab is 105 and white tab is 140 and the Fuzziness slider set to 40. Set black tab to 120 and white tab to 130 for a very narrow long blended selection. Change Fuzziness to 10 and the feather is restricted to 10% thus reducing the selection.

Shadows – Works like the Highlights sliders except Range selects lower values – for example a setting of 20 selects all pixel values between 0 and 20 for the selection. Default settings for Range is 65 and Fuzziness is 65.

Can save the settings as presets and use them in actions and scripts. Legacy default values are obtained by SHIFT+ALT and the Cancel button turns into a Reset button. For more info on the new update on this tool for CC, check out another Adobe free PDF download called Adobe Photoshop CC 14.1 update.

CS6 Color Range Example

Red berries on a texture imageOne of the best uses of Color Range Selections is for creating a detailed Layer Mask. For this image done completely in CS6, I decided I wanted to use a texture in the background instead of the out-of-focus background. The first step was to decide what you want to select – what you want to delete or what you want to keep. It was easy to select the whites – just went to Select field and choose Highlights. See Screenshot below – the sliders are grayed out.
Screenshot of Color Range Dialog Box image link

On a duplicated background layer, a Layer Mask was selected which added this selection to it. Now the Highlights (whites) are in the Layer Mask. Next the background layer was duplicated moved on top of the layers. Once again the Color Range Command was opened and this time a Sampled Color was used – browns and greens on the berries and branches were selected using the eyedroppers. It was not inverted since I wanted these items selected – it seemed easier than trying to select all the greens in the background. It really does not matter how you select, it can always be inverted once added – just click CTRL+I inside on the highlighted mask or go to the Properties Panel and click Invert button. The screenshot below shows what the second Color Range dialog looked like with the sliders working when using Sampled Colors.

Screenshot of 2nd use of Color Range Command image link

In Photoshop the top two layers with the layer masks were highlighted by shift clicking the layers. Right click and choose Merge Layers – the layer masks are applied and the layers are combined. See Screenshot 3 below with the bottom background layer turned off.

Screenshot 3 showing the Merged layers and layer masks image link

This gives results that look a little messy, but can be cleaned up really easily by adding a Layer Mask or using the Eraser brush on the obvious areas. Now textures can be added below or above or both (which I did with this image using French Kiss’s Atelier MayDay texture twice, once set to Normal blend mode underneath and Divide blend mode at 44% above). Some clean up was done. To get the pretty colors in the texture, Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) ReStyle plug-in was set to the Mongoose and Nutmeg preset with a few adjustments.

Photoshop CC Color Range Example

I am using the same image so you can see the differences between the dialog boxes and some of the results. This time I used a little technique that I learned from Deke McClelland, another one of my favorite Photoshop gurus, on using the Properties Color Range button from some videos he did at called Photoshop Masking and Compositing Fundamentals.
Red Berries with illustrative look image linkTo create this image, I duplicated the layer and added a Brightness and Contrast Adjustment Layer. It was set to Screen blend mode and used the settings Deke used, Brightness -125 and Contrast +100. Select the Layer Mask and go the Properties Panel where there is a Color Range Button. By clicking on it, the Color Range Command dialog comes up. In this case the new Highlights were chosen and the selection appears immediately in the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Pretty cool and quick! This was done again with different slider values using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.
Screenshot of Photoshop CC's Color Range Command image linkNext one of 2 Lil Owls Workbook Bonus Texture Set 13 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) was added underneath the duplicated berry image. A layer mask was added to the berry layer to remove some areas that did not come completely out of the image since the green leaves in the background and the green leaves on the branches were very close in color, but overall it came out pretty clean and it was fast to clean up the Layer Mask. To get the final illustrative look, Topaz’s Black and White Effects was applied – this is a preset I created a long time ago that just works sometimes. This plug-in is simply fabulous for giving a different feel to an image.

Micro Contrast Technique

The top image is a good example of how selecting the Shadows in the new CC update can really add incredible contrast to an image. I followed Richard’s steps in his video and was able to get a really great image from a pretty flat one. By first over-sharpening the image in Lightroom, then selecting the Shadows in the new Color Range Command  in Photoshop, and lastly adding a Selective Color Adjustment Layer, the image got the extra contrast it needed to make all the little trees on the hillside show up. This is a really great way to improve your landscape images! The screenshot below shows a comparison of before and after adding the Micro Contrast. Just an OnOne PhotoFrame was added to finish up the image – no Sharpening or Curves Adjustment Layers.
Comparison of before and after adding Micro Contrast technique to imageIt is definitely worth the time to learn how to use this selecting method. Once you have applied a selection to a layer mask and see how it can be tweaked, it will be one of your favorite Photoshop Tools. The Micro Contrast technique is something that can be quite useful on the right images. Hopefully this info will help you out if you get stuck. Enjoy!…..Digital Lady Syd


5 responses

  1. I think your blog posts are some of the best on the web. I teach Photoshop to photographers and your work has been incredibly useful. I am a huge fan of yours.


    09/28/2013 at 5:30 pm

    • Thanks for the kind words Michael. One reason I do the blogs is to remind myself how to do some of the techniques – I look things up here all the time. I am glad you are finding my blog posts useful. Digital Lady Syd

      09/28/2013 at 9:03 pm

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