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Selective Colour

This is definitely my favourite tool for changing colours.

It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

On one hand, making two small changes to the settings can often get you the effect you want…

… on the other hand, making experimental changes to a number of settings in the Green and Yellow hues, over a number of different selective colour layers, can create some super interesting and unexpected effects!

My advice to you with this one is to start simple! Don’t overwhelm yourself! Don’t go out there feeling like you need to change every single slider and do multiple layers and get complicated effects.

The majority of my photos have had colours adjusted using this tool relatively simply. Recently, as I’ve been experimenting more with different effects, moods, colours and looks, I’ve been playing and experimenting with it (and feel like I understand the scope of it even less than I did when I was using it more simply!)

So, start simply. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to achieve 90% of what you want without getting too complicated. And when you have a handle on it, and want to try some other effects, start to experiment.


Most of the time with this tool, we will be working in yellow or green. 

Obviously if you’re doing landscapes, dawn or dusk and so on, you may need to use the other tones. But for normal “out in nature” photos of our pets, we will mostly be using yellow and green. Even if our whole image is in a green green forest, I suspect you will still want to use the yellows to make changes!

This tool works by adjusting CMY colours – Cyan, Magenta and Yellow within a certain range of colours. It’s important to think about how each of these tones has an opposite, and also how they relate to the colours you are adjusting. Below the table, you will be able to see examples of how these colours work, but I think it’s important to understand exactly what’s being affected first, so you can refer back to the table when looking at examples. 

It’s important to remember that how the colours are altered is relative to the colour tone you’re working on. Unlike a hue/saturation adjustment which will shift the hue of all colours, this will target and affect only a particular hue, and that hue will be altered differently depending which one you’re working on and how you adjust it.

When working on yellows:

Left (minus)
Right (add)
Removes Cyan (eg., blueish green) from yellows /Adds Red. Great for shifting yellows to be more orange, adding warmth to backlight, turning green leaves yellow.
Adds cyan (blueish green) to yellows, making them more cyan. Removes red. Good for green forests, to turn yellowy-greens to more of a “true green”
Removes Magenta (pink-ish) and adds green. I rarely use this effect. Makes greens fluoro green and a bit fake. Can change yellow tones more to green, but it’s not my favourite colour. This may be useful in backlit situations when everything has gone a bit “pink” and you want it more orange/yellow
Adds magenta/removes green. Can be a good way to desaturate strong greens. Also when you have a bit of “residual green” in backlit or autumn tones and want everything more yellow/orange/red.
Removes yellow (from yellow) / adds blue. As we’re working with yellows this essentially desaturates the yellow tones. If you do it extreme enough, you’ll have whatever tones are left (eg., cyan and magenta)
Adds yellow/removes blue. This will add saturation to your yellows, making them stronger.

When working on Greens: 

Left (minus)
Right (add)
Removes Cyan (eg., blueish green) from greens /Adds Red. Will make your greens a more yellow/green tone as it’s taken out the cyan(blueish) part of the colour.
Adds cyan (blueish green) to greens. This will make them more blue-tinged.
Removes Magenta (pink-ish) and adds green. Add saturation to greens.
Adds magenta/removes green eg., desaturates green.
Removes yellow (from yellow) / adds blue. Will make the greens much more cyan, even tending toward quite blue. Can be an interesting effect.
Adds yellow/removes blue. Warms up the greens. Usually pretty subtle effect.

An Example

I chose the image below because it was the best example I had of  “true greens” in the plants of the foreground, as well as some interesting yellows in the background.

Obviously you don’t have to use the sliders to +/- 100! But seeing the results “in the extreme” can help you get a feel for what is being affected by each change.

The Original Image (basically)

Another example

I chose this image because the greens were a much more “normal” yellow-green and more the tone you’re likely to find when taking photos out in the woods in nature.

The original image

Combining Effects, Multiple Layers, and More

The real fun of Selective Colour layers for me, comes from both combining effects in a single layer (mixing different sliders), and also using multiple layers to really mess with the colours. Because Photoshop is reading the image as it is at that layer, you really can get some interesting effects by stacking layers on top of one another.

What I mean is, each time you add a layer, Photoshop is utilising the hue/colours in the current image, not reverting back to the original one.

This allows you to get really creative with the kinds of colours you’re getting, as the tones shift and change with each adjustment layer.

And of course, you don’t have to make changes across the whole image! You can mask in parts here and there, just change the upper or lower part of the image, or just change one specific bush! The possibilities are endless and down to your creativity, style, and what you want to achieve.

Just keep in mind, especially with coloured dogs (eg., not black/white dogs), that the bigger and more extreme your adjustments, the more precise and perfect you need to be with your masking. An extreme colour change doesn’t affect Loki very much except for his eyes, but Journey will turn a completely different colour. 


The last slider in the selective colour tool is blacks.

This either removes or adds black to that hue.

This can be a fun tool to play with to give you:

  • pale pastel colours
  • more light/bright colours

And the opposite, of course, although personally with my work-flow, I tend to add black to RGB/all colours with curves layers, rather than specific colour tones. 

Removing black this way, however, can give you some fun and interesting effects. Just keep in mind: our eye is usually drawn to the brightest part of the image, so if we make the background/bushes/grasses bright and pale, where is our eye likely to be drawn?

As always be asking:

  • is this helping my dog stand out?
  • does this help support the mood I’m trying to create?