How to Approach Color Correction

New users often have a difficult time when color correcting or enhancing images. They generally lose sight of the goal: making the image look better while still being believable. Many users go “too far” in their quest to fix images. If the image starts to look fake or too altered, it will be distracting. Although getting it “right” requires some practice, here’s some general advice to get you started:


  • Identify what’s wrong. Before you can fix a picture, be sure you have decided on what’s wrong. Is it too dark? Is the sky washed out? Has the picture faded over time? Make a list and prioritize the issues you find in each image. It’s easiest to fix one problem at a time, and if you identify those problems, you’ll know when to stop twiddling with the image.
  • Work with a copy of the image. Before you start to color correct an image, you should duplicate it. This way you can return to an original version if you make a mistake or go too far in your image touch-up. After opening your file, choose File > Save As and name the duplicate version that will be corrected. Color correction can be a destructive process, meaning that you cannot revert to the original state at a later time. By preserving an original version of the image or employing adjustment layers, you make nondestructive editing possible. Some users also choose to duplicate the Background layer at the bottom of the layer stack.
  • Edit with adjustment layers. Adjustment layers allow you to apply most of the image correction commands as nondestructive effects. They are added as a layer above the actual image; the adjustment layer can be blended, masked, or deleted at any time. Additionally, if you select the adjustment layer, you can modify its properties in the Adjustments panel. The same modifications are available in both the Adjustments menu and Adjustments panel. You should work with an adjustment layer whenever possible because its flexibility will be important for future revisions.
  • Get a fresh opinion. It’s not a bad idea to step back and examine your work. Open the backup copy of the original image and compare it to the image you’ve been working on. This before-and-after comparison can be very useful. If you have a fresh set of eyes nearby, ask that person for his or her opinion.
  • Use Smart Filters. This will open up most of the filters and several of the image adjustments including the Shadows/Highlights command and Variations. Just choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.

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