Archiveschanging colours

Solid Colour Layer

Solid colour layers are deceptively simple, and can be a really flexible and useful tool!

In essence, it is just a solid layer of colour.

Its true strength lies both in choosing blend modes to alter how the layer is used/how it appears, and in altering the opacity to tone down the effect.

We’ll be learning more about blend modes in this lesson, but there’s only a couple I use in regards to solid colour layers.

The ways you can use a solid colour layer is really up to what you need to achieve (as always), and you can get really creative with this tool if you want, or keep it simple.

This is how I tend to use them.

Desaturate Yellow Chests

Sometimes the hue/saturation tool to desaturate just doesn’t work, or it turns the fur grey.

Try using a solid colour layer of the opposite colour (eg., blue when desaturating yellow). Change the blend mode to hue. The hue blend mode keeps the luminosity (lightness) and saturation (strength of colour) from the image beneath (including all your adjustments to that point), but just changes the hue.

This means in terms of a yellow chest, the blue will show stronger where there is more saturated yellow, less or not at all where there is no colour (eg., a black dog or area that is already quite white). This means that you don’t end up with areas of grey from adding blue where you didn’t need to.  It also doesn’t change the luminosity of the area so won’t make it darker or greyer.


Change the Colour of "Stubborn" Things in the Image

This is one of my favourite ways to use this tool.

Sometimes, you’re working on an image, and no matter how much selective colour you do, there’s a patch of colour that just won’t blend in with the rest of the image. This is a quick and easy way to match its colour up with the rest of the background/leaves/foreground/whatever. 

Let’s say you want the stump in the image above to be the same red/brown as the foreground, but it’s just being difficult.

The colour blend mode works similarly to the hue blend mode, but keeps the saturation of the blend (solid colour) layer as well as the colour.

So if you choose a really strong, saturated colour here, you will get a really strong, saturated colour. What won’t change is how light or dark the colour is – the luminosity stays the same. 

If you have an area of blown out highlights that are completely white, adding colour with the colour blend mode won’t help, as the luminosity of the white will stay white. 

Using a solid colour layer like this is a great way to fix little bits and pieces. If you use it too much (eg., to recolour a whole background) it can look very strange, as everything suddenly has the EXACT same colour, and exact same saturation, and in nature, there are varying hues and varying degrees of saturation. Nature is never one singular colour.

There are possibly times in more controlled environments where you may need one specific hue across the whole background – in that case, this would be a great tool for you!

Add brightness/colour to eyes

Another time that you could use this tool that I forgot to mention on the video, is to add the appearance of brightness/colour to eyes. 

Often eyes appear very dark because they’re just black – they don’t have any colour. 

You can make a solid colour layer, set the colour to a rich chocolate brown, change the blend mode to colour, mask it in and turn down the opacity.

Remember, this won’t change the luminosity! So making the colour lighter won’t help! But sometimes all an eye needs is just a bit more “pigment” or colour, so it doesn’t look quite like a black hole.

Remember not to go over the pupil. That should be black!

When & Why Might You Change Colours

Before we jump into the how of changing colours, let’s look briefly at the why.

You may not know this yet, but I’m a big fan of having rationale behind the choices I make in my photography. So, rather than change the colours willy-nilly and hope for the best with them, there are generally informed decisions behind why I’m changing them, and what I’m changing them to. 

Analogous Colours

Also known as “monotone”. This is when the colours in an image match, or are consistent in some way.

The leaves in this image were originally tinged more green. But by shifting them to a more amber/yellow colour, they match Loki’s eyes perfectly. You’ll notice that many of my photo of Loki feature him in warmer, more orange-toned scenes, generally because of his eyes. 

Using colours like this can make things harmonious, but it can also be more challenging, as you have to then find ways to make your dog stand out in a scene where he may be the same colour as everything around him. A red dog in autumn woods is a good example of this! 

Contrasting / Complementary Colours

Another way to consider adjusting colours is to use opposite colours on the colour wheel. 

Doing this does tend to make the dog stand out better against his background… but it can be challenging to do naturally, if you consider that the opposite colour of yellow (for example, a yellow lab) is purple… and purple isn’t often found in nature (lavender fields notwithstanding)


Again, you can use this concept not only for the dog’s coat (and keep in mind that dog’s coats tend to have undertones, as well. A black dog usually has red or brown undertones especially if they’ve been in the sun), but also for their eyes. This is especially interesting when working with a blue merle dog who has blue eyes, for example! 

There is a reason you’ll often see Journey (red dog) amongst rich, deep greens. Because he stands out beautifully! 

Other Considerations

For me, there are always other things to think about:

  • the season. If I’m taking photos in summer, I could easily enough shift everything to orange for Loki, but it doesn’t make any sense. Everything feels vibrant and alive. And why waste summer’s green just so the photo will match his eyes?
  • the light. If I’m working with backlight, that light will be warm. I want to make use of that warmth. This can be interesting when the rest of the photo is made up of strong, rich greens. 
  • the scene itself. Personally, for my style, if the scene was a place that was obviously made up of green bushes, I generally want to keep those bushes green. If they already had yellow-y undertones, sure, I might make them more orange. But in general, I prefer to work with what was naturally in the scene.

Which way to take the colours in this image? A red dog with a blue eye, warm golden backlight and very green leaves. In the end I stripped a lot of the green out – I didn’t want to turn it all yellow/orange or it felt too fake, and kept everything more or less the same tones as the dog, the warm yellow acting as both analogous and complementary in this case.