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Photoshop Hue/Saturation

Change colors, change saturation, lighten or darken a color

Colorize an image

Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation
Or, click the Create new adjustment layer icon New adjustment layer at the bottom of the Layers panel.

The Hue/Saturation control allows us to change colors (hue), enrich or dull colors (saturation), lighten or darken colors (lightness) and even use it to create a color cast in an image.  It can also be used to adjust tone.  However, the Levels or Curves controls are used more often for tonal adjustments than Hue/Saturation.  You can learn more about these two controls on the Levels page and the Curves page.

So what is hue, saturation and lightness?  These are the three characteristics of light.  Hue is what most people call color.  For example, a green car has the hue green.  Saturation is how pure hue is.  Lightness refers to how bright, or not bright, something is.  A light green car and a dark green car have two different lightness values even though the hue is the same.  In this example, both cars have the hue green, one has a lightness value we call light and the other car has a lightness value we call dark.

Quick Example

Figure 1 is a quick example of what the Hue/Saturation control can do for us.


Figure 1A is an image showing yellow leaves.  We wish to change the color of the leaves to orange. Original image

Figure 1A.  Original Image

In Figure 1B, we selected Yellows in the Edit drop down box.  This selects all pixels whose dominate color is yellow.  We then change the Hue slider to -15.  This remaps the color yellow to the color that is 15° counterclockwise on the color wheel from yellow.  Specifically, this is orange.  The result is Figure 1C. Remap to orange

Figure 1B.  Select Yellows and Remap to Orange

Yellow to orange

Figure 1C.  Convert Yellow to Orange

In Figure 1D, we select the Red color range from the Edit drop down box and change Saturation to +15.  This increases the saturation of those pixels that fall in the red color range, which includes the newly colored orange leaves.  The result is in Figure 1E.  Note the increase in Saturation in the red vine on the pine tree in the foreground. Increase saturation

Figure 1D.  Target Reds and Bump Saturation

Enrich red and orange

Figure 1E.  Enrich Reds and Oranges

In Figure 1F, leaving the Red color range as the selected range, we decrease the Lightness.  The result can be seen in Figure 1G.

Mouse over Figure 1G to see before and after versions.
Decrease lightness

Figure 1F.  Decrease Lightness for Reds and Oranges

Darken reds and oranges



Figure 1G.  Darken Reds and Oranges


Hue/Saturation Dialog Box

Hue/Saturation dialog box
Figure 2.  Hue/Saturation Dialog Box

When we first create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, the dialog box will look similar to Figure 2.

The Edit drop down box allows us to choose the color range we wish to work with.  There are seven choices.  Master for all colors, the primary color ranges of red, green and blue and the complementary color ranges of cyan, magenta and yellow.  It is important to note when we make a choice in the drop down box, we are selecting a color range to work with and not a color channel.

Changing Hue

When we use the Hue slider, we are remapping existing color ranges to new color ranges.  As we move the Hue slider, the bottom color bar in the dialog box will shift.  The top bar represents the original color and the bottom color bar represents the new color.  This gives us a visual representation of what our colors are being changed to.  If the Preview check box is on, then we will also be able to see our change real time.

The two colorized, horizontal bars, are essentially the color wheel flattened out.  By moving the Hue slider we are scrolling through the color wheel.  More on this below.

Changing Saturation

Saturation is how pure or vivid hue is.  A color with absolutely no saturation is going to be gray.   A color that is 100% saturated is in its most intense form.  To increase Saturation, move the Saturation slider to the right.  To decrease it, move the slider to the left.

Changing Lightness

The Lightness slider should be used judiciously.  For most tonal adjustments, we want to use the Levels or Curves controls for two reasons.  First, in Levels and Curves, we can easily target the tones we need to adjust.  Hue/Saturation does not target changes by tonal range, it targets changes by color range.  If we use Hue/Saturation to lighten the Red color range, we lighten all reds from dark red to medium red to light red.  Second, Levels and Curves can adjust tone to a further degree than Hue/Saturation can.  To read more about the differences between Hue/Saturation and Levels or Curves, read the Comparison page.

Editing by Color Range

Edit Box

Color ranges
Figure 3.


Color wheel
Figure 4.  Color Wheel


Color bar
Figure 5.  Color Wheel Converted into a Color Bar


Color range presets
Figure 6.

As seen in Figure 3, the Edit drop down box lists the color ranges we can work with.  The seven choices are: Master for all colors, Red, Green and Blue for the primary color ranges and Cyan, Magenta and Yellow for the complementary color ranges.  It is worth mentioning, again, this is a list of color ranges, not color channels.  Levels and Curves allows us to edit by color channel.  Hue/Saturation allows us to edit by color range.

Color Wheel

Figure 4 is a typical color wheel showing the six color ranges.  A Photoshop standard is to begin the color wheel at red, so I have labeled red 0°.  I have divided Figure 4 into 24 colors; I could have used more and I could have used less.  Each color slice represents 15° of the wheel (24 sections by 15° per section = 360°).  If we were to take this color wheel, separate it at cyan and flatten it, we would get a color bar like the one shown at the very bottom of Figure 5.   This color bar is the same as the two color bars in the Hue/Saturation dialog box, also shown in Figure 5.

The range of the Hue slider is completely around the color wheel.  However, we do not do this by going from 0 to 360°.  Instead we go from 0 to +180° to go clockwise around the wheel and from 0 to -180° to go counterclockwise.  Therefore, regardless of which color we start with, we can change the Hue from -180° to +180° to remap to any other color on the wheel.

If we select Master in the Edit box, we are editing the entire color range.  If we change it to one of the color ranges, we are only editing that color range.  However, there is overlap between ranges.  If we look closely at Figure 4, we will see a color circle on the outside of the color wheel.  Starting at the top and going clockwise, the circle is composed of red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta.  This color circle shows the colors within a color range.  For example, if the Edit drop down box is changed to Yellows, the range of colors that will be edited are outlined by the yellow section of the color circle.  As we can see, the Yellow color range overlaps both the Red and Green color ranges

Color Range Boundaries

The colors in a range are preset for us but can be changed by us.  Looking at Figure 6, we will see the Red color range has been selected.  In between the two color bars is a small gray rectangle bounded on either side by two vertical bars and extended out are two pointed vertical bars.  These two pairs of bars define the color range's inner and outer boundaries.  The inner bars denote the range of colors that will receive 100% of the effect when the adjustment is applied.  The effect will be feathered until it reaches the outer bars.  Once outside the outer bars there will be no effect.

We will also note that the dialog box shows us two pairs of numbers.  These numbers tell us the exact range of the inner and outer boundaries.  In this case, the inner boundary ranges from 345° to 15° for a 30° range.  The left outer boundary goes from 315° to 345°, which is a 30° buffer.  The right outer boundary goes from 15° to 45°, which is a 30° buffer.  So the default setting for a color range is 90°, of which 30° will receive the full effect and the remaining 60° will received a feathered effect.

To change the color range boundaries, click on a boundary bar and drag it.  We can increase or decrease the size of the inner boundary and we can increase or decrease the size of the outer boundary.  We cannot totally eliminate the outer boundary.  Photoshop will retain a 4° minimum left and right outer boundary.

The color range boundaries are only active when an individual color range is selected in the Edit drop down box.

Eyedropper Tools

When we selected an individual color range, the Eyedropper tools became active.  These eyedroppers should not be confused with the eyedropper tools on the Levels and Curves command.  In Levels and Curves, the eyedroppers allow us to set the black, white and gamma points.  In Hue/Saturation they allow us to custom define our color range by selecting and deselecting colors in the image.

To use the eyedropper tools, select any color range.  The default inner and outer boundaries will be displayed.  Use the left most eyedropper Left eyedropper and click the color in the image we are interesting in changing.  If the color that was clicked is not in the existing color range, Photoshop will change the Edit drop down box to match the color.  By using the + eyedropper Plus eyedropper and clicking additional colors, Photoshop will expand the inner and outer boundary markers on the dialog box to include the additional colors.  By using the - eyedropper Minus eyedropper, Photoshop will shrink the the inner and outer boundary markers on the dialog box to exclude the selected color.


By using the eyedropper tools, we can take a lot of guess work out of the colors we are working with.



The Colorize option changes the nature of the Hue/Saturation control.  When checked, it removes the color from an image and overlays the image with a tint of a single hue and saturation.  Each pixel's luminosity remains unchanged (actually, it is changed, but very little).  With the Colorize option, the Hue and Saturation values are no longer relative numbers based on an offset from a starting point.  Instead, they are absolute numbers.  The Hue value ranges from 0° to 360° and represents an absolute position on the color wheel, as seen in Figure 4.  (0° and 360° are the same color; red.)  The Saturation value ranges from 0% to 100%.  If Saturation is changed to 0%, color will be negated and the pixels will go gray.

Using Hue/Saturation to colorize an image is not the same as making a duo tone.  A duo tone is a grayscale image where two different colors have been applied to different parts of the image's tonal range.  The colorize option of Hue/Saturation applies only one color.  However, similar to a duotone, it does it in a non-linear manner.  When using Hue/Saturation to colorize an image, whites and blacks will not be colorized, mid tones will have the most color applied and the shadow and highlight areas will show the least.  Think of using the Colorize option as the traditional black and white darkroom technique of toning a print.  Using Hue/Saturation to tone a black and white image is described in detail on the Black and White Toning page.