Color Variations Adobe Photoshop

Snapshots and layer comps are fine and dandy as organizational tools, but how exactly should you create some of these variations? There are many ways to go about creating color variations, and not all are created equal.

Color Match

Color Match is a feature added with Photoshop CS. The concept is simple: Photoshop looks at the values in a selected area and adjusts another selected area to have the same color range. In reality, I’ve found that this works better on fairly monochromatic images (such as a lunar landscape) and for bringing a particular area to match a selected color, but doesn’t quite work for most other scenarios. Nonetheless, it is a powerful tool that is worth mentioning. Take a look at Figure below. Assume a scenario where the Art Director would like this image of a door built into a hill to have a ground color that matches three different ground pictures.You could try to color sample or eye it, but this is the type of scenario that Color Match is perfect for.

Change the ground of this image to color match the three sample colors

  1. Press L to select the Lasso tool and draw around the ground area you would like to affect. You can press Shift and drag to add sections to your selection or press Option (Win: Alt) to select areas to trim away from your selection. If you don’t make a selection, Match Color affects the entire layer. Figure shows your image with the ground area selected.
  2. Select the area you want to affect

  3. Make sure you are on the layer that you want to affect and go to Image > Adjustments > Match Color.
  4. In the Match Color dialog box, go to the Image Statistics area and choose the source file from the pull-down menu. The Layer menu becomes active (is no longer grayed out). The Match Color dialog box appears in Figure below.
  5. The Match Color dialog box.

  6. Choose Layer 1, the first ground color image that you are trying to match.
  7. Go to the Destination Image area. Make sure the Ignore Selection When Applying Adjustment option is deselected. You want the match color to apply only to your selected area.
  8. Go to the Image Statistics area and make sure to follow these settings:
    • Use Selection in Source to Calculate Colors: Not selected. (You use the Layer 1 in its entirety as the source.)
    • Use Selection in Target to Calculate Adjustment: Selected. You see your canvas update in real time. You can adjust the look of the results with the three sliders available and see simultaneously how it affects your image. The Luminance slider increases the Brightness. Shifting the Color Intensity slider saturates or desaturates the colors, and moving it to its minimum value of 1 results in a grayscale image. Fade blends in some of the original unadjusted image to make the effect more subtle.
  9. Once you have a look that appeals to you, click OK.
  10. Take a snapshot of your result and press Command+Z (Win: Ctrl+Z) to revert to your original image.
  11. Repeat Steps 2–8 and choose layer 2 this time. Repeat Steps 2–8 again and choose layer 3. Figure below shows your three variations that match your reference images!
  12. Your original and three variations.

Beware Variations and Brightness/Contrast

One of the features of Photoshop that I see used often is Variations. Back away from the keyboard…slowly….Although anyone can mess up an image with just about any function, Variations is one of two features that you should stay away from. Figure below shows the offending feature’s dialog box.

The Variations dialog box.

At first glance, the variations adjustment function seems like a good idea—a visual method of color correcting.There is one central image and you choose whether to work on the highlights, midtones, or shadows by adding any combination of green, yellow, cyan, red, blue, or magenta.

The main problem is that you have no way of finding out what exactly was done and no way to truly control it. For example, if you are working in an RGB space and add cyan to your shadows, what values are being considered shadows and what mix of RGB is cyan? In addition, all of its changes are linear, so your image tends to flatten out with too much adjusting. What’s worse is that there is nothing tracking your changes; no numerical slider or other input device can help bring back a neutral, unadjusted state. Did you add cyan to the highlights or to the midtones? And how many times did you click to add cyan, three or five? It takes more than a concentration whiz to keep track of the changes and replicate them. The last little jab with Variations is that there is no way to zoom in and see details. The little thumbnails may look great, but once you click OK and see the result in full resolution, you may be in for a big surprise.

If you insist on using the Variations feature, then use it as a form of visualization, cancel out, and make the corresponding changes in Curves and Hue/Sat.

What’s wrong with Brightness/Contrast? Nothing if all you need to do is to nudge the entire histogram over a bit for a final correction. The way people generally try to use Brightness/Contrast results in losing valuable tonal information; see Figure below. The function makes linear adjustments and often forces some pixel data off the chart an irrevocable loss. Brightness/Contrast shifts the histogram to the left or right for brightness, and linearly expands or contracts the histogram shape for contrast. The main point is that these adjustments don’t change the relationship between the values; they only shift them to a different location. Proper tonal correction involves changing the relationship between the different tones in the image.

Notice how the Brightness/Contrast feature affects the histogram.

For brightness and contrast issues, it is better to use levels and curves. Not only do they give better control, but both allow for saving and loading adjustment value sets. Notice how the histogram in Figure below shows the loss of data involved with the brightness adjustment.

The picture on the far left is the original image with its histogram. The middle picture uses Brightness to brighten the image and the picture on the far right uses Levels to bring brightness to the picture.

Adjustment Layers

Several adjustment layers can create variations of color and tone. The draw of adjustment layers is that the original image is not touched and can be fully reverted to with no loss of data.What this means is that the effects can be reversed or tweaked and you can zoom in tightly to see the details of your changes.

The only questionable adjustment layer is Brightness/Contrast. This is an overused adjustment tool.With simple sliders that set the brightness or contrast between 100 and –100, most people think they are increasing the brightness or contrast by a percentage. This is not the case, and there are other reasons this adjustment tool should only be used rarely, if at all. Read the “Beware Variations and Brightness/Contrast” sidebar for why this is mostly a no-no.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create 15 variations for the Director before he comes by in 15 minutes. (Figure below shows your original.) Given that Hollywood is notorious for being fashionably late, you may have a few minutes more but don’t count on it. This is to be a solo mission, with the adjustment layers as your main tools. This book will not selfdestruct, but if you don’t get the variations done, you might. Without further ado….

Your mission is to create 15 variations of this object.

  1. Open your texture file and go to Layer Menu > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Figure below shows the Hue/Saturation dialog box
  2. The Hue/Saturation dialog box.

  3. Reduce the saturation, slide the hue over a bit, and click OK.
  4. Go to your Layer Comps palette in the palette well and save a layer comp.
  5. Double-click your Hue/Sat adjustment layer to bring up the dialog box.
  6. Readjust the sliders, click OK, and save a new layer comp. Do this two more times to create four variations (with 13 minutes to go). See Figure below
  7. Four color variations were created and saved as layer comps.

  8. Hide your Hue/Sat adjustment layer and apply a new adjustment layer. This time choose Selective Color.
  9. Play with the sliders on a few colors and save layer comps for three more variations. You now have seven color variations (see Figure below) and 10 minutes to go.
  10. In five minutes you already have seven color variations saved in the Layer Comps palette!

  11. On top of all your layers, add a Channel Mixer Adjustment layer.
  12. Select the Monochrome check box at the bottom and create a nice-looking grayscale for use as a bump map.
  13. Click OK and make a layer comp of your bump map.
  14. Click a layer comp that has a different contrast ratio than the image you used to make your first bump map.
  15. Click the Eye icon next to the Channel Mixer layer and apply the adjustment to this other image. See Figure below.
  16. The Channel Mixer gives you two bump maps.

  17. Make another layer comp and call it bump map 2.
  18. Create a new layer at the top of your layers and paint with a 50 percent gray brush to erase some of the bumps from the bump map. See Figure below.
  19. A few quick strokes of the brush give you your third bump map.

  20. Save this as another layer comp. You now have seven colors variations, three bump variations, and seven minutes to go.
  21. Choose a color variation layer comp.
  22. While on an active layer in the Layers palette, press Command+Shift+C (Win: Ctrl+Shift+C) to create a copy of your visible layers.
  23. Go to the top layer of the Layers palette and press Command+V (Win: Ctrl+V) to put the copy of the image on a new layer.
  24. Choose another layer comp that has colors complementary to the image you just pasted. Photoshop hides your newly created layer and shows the layer comp you selected.
  25. Click the top layer, which has the copy of the previously chosen image, and click the Add Layer Mask button.
  26. Making sure that you have the layer mask selected, use a black brush to reveal the underlying layers and create a combination color map like the one in Figure below..
  27. Use two color variations to create a third.

  28. When you like your result, save a layer comp of it.
  29. Create a new layer at the top of all your layers by pressing the New Layer button; press G to get to the Paint Bucket tool.
  30. Fill the layer with the color of your choice.
  31. Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and add some subtle noise.
  32. Save this as another layer comp for a total of nine color variations and three bump variations.
  33. Go to File > Scripts > Layer Comps to Files and save out your layer comps in the file format of your choice. Although you have enough maps to create more than 15 variations, you can also open your maps and layer one over another with a different layer blend mode and save it as another variation.

Take a look at Figure below for the 15 variation renders I created. Mission accomplished.

These are my 15 variations, with all the maps (both color and bump) created in 15 minutes!


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