Precise Color Masking in Photoshop

Photoshop color Mask tutorial

Level: Advanced

In general I hope you agree, painting all our masks in Photoshop by hand is not the most precise way of post processing. Even if using a Wacom tablet some kind or automation would be helpful. So let’s see whether we can make Photoshop work for us a little bit in combination of making use of the techniques we learnt in the previous tutorials.

Colors in the Image

What if we could tell Photoshop to separate just one color in our image? We could for example add a Vibrance layer for pushing only the green tones of the wall in the featured image – without changing the saturation of the chair or the window shutters and the ground.


First open the copy of any image in Photoshop where you have one dominant color, or two dominant colors. Create a Vibration layer by clicking the icon in the adjustment tools panel. Move the saturation slider to the far right (it’s pretty much overdone now, I know, but it will best show you how the mask works).

Presently the whole image should be way over-saturated. We now try to apply the effect on the one dominant color only (a car, a coat, or the skin in a portrait).

As first we have to add a mask again by clicking the rectangular symbol with circle found in the bottom of the layers panel. The white rectangle (which is the mask) shows up in your Vibration layer.

Working with the recently described method of painting the mask with a black brush to block the effect in the undesired areas might be too rough. Therefore this time we automate the masking process.

Create a Color Mask

Double click the white mask in the Vibrance layer and the mask properties window will pop up (the one with density and feather slider). This time I want to take you to the “Color Range” button in this window. Click.

A new small window opens, most probably with a black mask shown. Move the Fuzziness slider to the left if it not already is.

Your cursor should look like a color picker now. I personally set the checkbox under the black box to “Selection” (instead of “Image”). Move the adjustment window on your screen to not cover the actual image.

With the color picker now click anywhere into your real photo, wherever you discover a strong color, the one you want the saturation change to be applied, be it blue, yellow, red, green, or whatever.

Have you seen the change in the black mask in our small window? It turned white in the part we clicked into as well as in all other areas with the same color.

Just remember, the black parts of the mask don’t allow any of the adjustments to be applied, but in the white areas the adjustments of the layer will take effect. That means with our color picker we now tell the mask to apply the effect of saturation to the color we clicked into.

In the example of the featured image therefore I would click on the green wall to have the saturation applied to the wall only. Pretty simple – and we are almost done. This mask is not really big magic.

With one click the mask nearly always still is way too rough. But we have a couple of options how to make our color selection more precise.

Refine Color Mask with Clicking

There are three ways of refining the color selection – and we will need all of them together.

Often due to some broader tonal range, due to darker shadows, one click with the color picker is not enough to properly mask the whole colored subject. We have to extend the mask a little bit to also include the darker and brighter tones of our chosen color.

Hold the Shift-key down and click into your photo again, somewhere else now.

Baaam, more white in the mask. Ah, with holding the Shift key pressed and clicking into the mask we seem to add either some slightly different tones of the same color or a completely different color – depending on where we clicked.

If we went too far with extending, hold the Alt-key while clicking into your image for taking some areas out again. The Alt+click will unmask the color you click into, reducing the white areas in the mask.

Once you have created a mask, where all areas we want the saturation effect (or any other effect) to be applied are more or less white in the mask, we can step into further fine-tuning.

Refine Color Mask with Slider

Additionally to adding colors or taking some tones out, we can fine-tune the mask even further with the Fuzziness slider. Move it to the left and right until you think to have a pretty good mask of the colored areas you want to have more saturated.

When you are done click ok and the mask is applied to your saturation layer. With clicking on the eye icon of the layer you see where the saturation effect is applied and where not.

Tipp: Clicking the eye icon switches the whole layer on and off. In case you just want enable and disable the mask Shift+click on the mask.

Since we had overdone the saturation effect just for demonstration purpose double-click the Vibrance icon in the layer (the triangle) and move the saturation slider further to the left again, lowering the strength).

As another option of fine-tuning the strength of the effect you can lower the opacity of the layer.

Refine Color Mask with Brush

Unfortunately a color we chose might show up several times in an image. For example blue can be on a car as well as in a shop window in the background, and also in a coat of a person.

If we don’t want to increase saturation in all of the subjects but just the car’s color, then we have to get rid of the other subjects in the mask, means making them as black as all the other things not being affected.

Pick the brush tool (“b”-key), choose black as color to paint, make sure the brush opacity is 100%, activate the mask by once clicking on the mask in the Vibrance layer. Then paint over the areas in your image you don’t want the effect to be applied. Some white areas in the mask should disappear. In our made-up example only the car would be left white in the mask.

Tipp: If you discover to paint black and white areas into your image you might not have activated the mask but the whole layer instead. Make sure to click on the mask once before starting to paint the effect away. 

If you want to work in the full size mask directly (which actually often makes sense when refining a color mask), then Alt+click on the mask.

All of the brush part here is similar to the previous tutorials where this technique was explained in much more detail already.

Hide Our Steps

Mostly we want to hide our steps after working on a mask, especially when using the brush. Then simply double-click on the mask for access to the properties panel. As in previous tutorials, use the feather slider for smoother transitions.

Tipp: In the special case of color masking sometimes the effect works better without feathering the mask in the end. So just test and have a look whether a smooth or sharp transition is more desirable.

Pros and Cons Color Mask

Color masks are an extremely fast way of masking things if the image allows.

This special technique often works well for masking skin in a portrait or for making adjustments to things we can clearly separate by color, e.g. the featured image of a green wall and a red chair.

On the other side if colors are not clearly separated in an image, color masking can drive you crazy.

Tipp: Instead of working with the Saturation slider for more saturated colors better try the Vibrance adjustment layer. Vibrance treats your image much more gently.

I personally often take the extra step of increasing saturation in the Lab color mode instead of in RGB mode, and then masking this change after having added the lab layer to my original image again.

Read my earlier tutorial “Mastering the Curves Tool” for learning the method of increasing saturation in Lab Color mode.



We believe in the value of change.

Destruction gives place to new.

New mistaken for better.

Nature, monuments, traditions – nothing sacred.

No questions. No balance.

Emotions and senses vanish.

Lost vocabulary: dignity and respect.

Acting today impacts the future.

We shall better preserve.

We shall better take care.

Irreversible destruction is everlasting.

Send me a message and I'll get back to you shortly. Please double-check your email address entered!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Arved Gintenreiter Limited
20th Floor, Central Tower
28 Queen’s Road Central –
Central, Hong Kong, China
Phone: +356 79342250
BR/Tax ID: 67772696

Cameras, lenses, and accessories are tools for creating visions, not more and not less. Each tool has pros and cons in handling and capabilities, each has its raison d’être for different projects. The following selection simply reflects personal preferences for my photographic workflow, style, and philosophy.

Large Format

Medium Format



The materials displayed on this site including all photos, text, graphics, software, advertisements, names, logos and trademarks (“Content”) are protected by copyright, trade mark, and other intellectual property laws unless expressly indicated otherwise.

You must not modify, copy, reproduce, republish, frame, upload to a third party, post, transmit or distribute this content in any way except as expressly authorized in writing by me, Arved Gintenreiter, personally.

This site is owned and operated by Arved Gintenreiter. Your access to this site is conditional upon your acceptance and compliance with the terms, conditions, notices and disclaimers contained in this document.

Your use of, and/or access to, this site constitutes your agreement to be bound by these General Conditions. Arved Gintenreiter reserves the right to amend these General Conditions at anytime.

Privacy Policy

Arved Gintenreiter is fully committed to safeguarding your privacy on the website by having implemented the high standards of the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) directive. Respecting your privacy this website also does not place any tracking cookie on your device.

Nonetheless some information is shared with Arved Gintenreiter while using the website. Please read the following policy to understand how your privacy is ensured and how given information will be treated. This policy may change from time to time so please check back periodically.

This Privacy Policy is effective as of April 15, 2018.

What information may be collected?
Information is collected in several ways. For example, some personal information is gathered when you checkout for payment filling in shipping and billing information. You may as well be asked for your email address. If you contact me I may keep a record of that correspondence.

For analytical purpose data such as approximate location (country, city), visited pages on the website, and technical data about the devices visiting the website can be collected. Using anonymized and aggregated data ensures that a single user will not be singled out.

In case you believe that any inaccurate or inappropriate information has been obtained or disseminated through your use of this site, you should please contact

How is the information used?
Primary goal in collecting information is to manage the shipping, billing, and communication process. Only if you agreed on, this information might also be used to notify you of other products or services available in a newsletter.

For shipping reasons your address information can be passed to a delivery service. In case other companies are hired to provide limited services like packaging and processing only the information needed to deliver the service will be provided, and any partner is contractually prohibited from using that information for any other purpose.

Beyond that no information will be disclosed except having your permission or under special circumstances, such as when believing in good faith the law requires, or under the circumstances described below. The following describes some of the ways that your information may be disclosed.

For increasing your privacy instead of using Google Analytics the user behavior on the website is monitored with a locally hosted analytics software where just Arved Gintenreiter has access to the data. No monitoring data is ever shared with a third party. When leaving the website, the tracking stops until you return to the website. Your user behavior not related to the website is not monitored.

How can I control my personal information?
Arved Gintenreiter offers you choices for the use and sharing of personal information. You may contact if you wish to view, edit or delete your personal information from the database. Commercially reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate your request.

How is my financial-related information protected?
Keeping your personal financial information private is vitally important. As a matter of policy, information provided by you is never ever sold under any circumstances. With payments through the paypal interface (credit/debit cards) for safety reasons Arved Gintenreiter does neither see nor receive any of your banking data, which can be seen by paypal only.

Because of the global nature of the Internet, when you give information, that information may be sent electronically to servers outside of the country where you originally entered the information. Unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet can be guaranteed to be 100% secure.

Therefore, information disclosed by use of this site (as with any site), by posting a message or using e mail, potentially could be collected and used by others. As a result, while protecting your personal information, we cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to Arved Gintenreiter Photography, and you do so at your own risk.

Once I received your transmission, commercially reasonable efforts are made to ensure its security in my systems.

Questions regarding the privacy policy, or other policy related material can be addressed by clicking the “Contact” button in the side menu and filling in the contact form. Or you can email to directly.