Toning colour images / 27 comments + post
online tutorials

In this tutorial we will work through a range of examples, using four layered Photoshop files, to explore a variety of techniques for toning colour images. This includes a discussion of the Channel Mixer, the Selective Color tool, and the Curves tool.

Topics covered in this tutorial include:

• Digital versus film
• Using the Channel Mixer
• Understanding complementary colours
• Using the Selective Color tool
• Comparing the Channel Mixer & Selective Color tool
• Using the Curves tool
• Warming and cooling an image
• Reverse S-Curves and cross processing
• Selective toning


oldest comments first
comment by Gypsy at 08:34 PM on 20 October, 2007

your tutorials rock. they simply explain what could potentially be a very confusing process. when i can afford to order more, i shall.


comment by Craig at 10:43 PM on 20 October, 2007

Excellent, I have been applying these techniques on recent images on id7, and appreciate all your knowledge. I really want to pick your brains on achieving that creaminess in the clouds that you achive without affecting highlights, is it a curve / selection / partial mask or single colour shift towards yellow that you often use? I cant replicate it no matter what I do.

Excellent tutorial on that last page, makes a huge difference in the final shot, which I loved.

comment by alfonso at 09:48 PM on 21 October, 2007

nice tutorial!

comment by brooks at 06:32 PM on 22 October, 2007

these have been truly a joy to go through. I especially appreciate that you reinforce the concepts as you go along. Thanks for being a good steward of your gifts.


comment by Daniel at 07:57 PM on 22 October, 2007


Whilst I love the tutorials, I'm finding it harder to use them/read them whilst working in some of the most extreme regions this planet has.

Would it be an option to maybe offer them as a pdf for members who don't always have net access?

comment by djn1 at 08:17 PM on 22 October, 2007

Daniel: I'm looking into how best to provide an off-line alternative as a number of people have asked about it. I'll keep you posted.

comment by phil at 07:57 AM on 23 October, 2007

Nice tutorials Dave - and I can apply a lot of the items you mention even within Photoshop Elements!

I agree with Daniel - it would be good to have off-line materials, as reading this sort of stuff on the screen is not ideal; perhaps the picture and word content can be made available via PDF file.

Keep up the good work.

comment by David Chabashvili at 07:06 PM on 23 October, 2007

Great tutorials Dave !!

One question: you have a very precise mask on Image 1 of "Toning colour images" tutorial. How do you do that? I presume there is some kind of tool that masks certain tonal range? Could you give us a hint? :)

Once again thank you for really great tutorials! Keep it up.

comment by Jeremy at 08:20 AM on 24 October, 2007

This was the best of the bunch so far, and had me scurrying away to apply the methods in CS3 and also the concepts in Aperture.

It did make me think of one question - these tutorials are - obviously, and desirably - not a PS manual. So can you recommend a good PS book oriented towards the photographer? I see a bunch out there on Amazon, but living abroad I can't just browse them in Waterstones so I have to go on recommendations of people I trust.

comment by djn1 at 12:40 PM on 24 October, 2007

Jeremey: Martin Evening's 'Adobe Photoshop CS for Photographers' is pretty good.

comment by djn1 at 01:36 PM on 24 October, 2007

David: generally, I use a variety of tools to create a mask - polygon lasso, magic wand, brush, and so on - then feather precise masks by one or two pixels. The important thing is to check and amend the mask after you've created it as it's often difficult to get them exactly right.

comment by David Chabashvili at 04:25 PM on 25 October, 2007

Thanx Dave. So far I've been working with mouse. Do you think it would be better to use digitizer for masking? I know it might be a matter of taste but nevertheless your insight is interesting.

comment by djn1 at 05:48 PM on 25 October, 2007

David: in theory, a graphics tablet should be more accurate/easy to use, and I do have one, but I tend to do most of my post-processing using either the trackpad on my laptop or an external trackball. I guess that what I'm trying to say is that you should probably use the tool you're most comfortable with.

comment by Dave at 04:32 AM on 9 November, 2007

This is an excellent tutorial. I am by no means a neophyte when it comes to using Photoshop to process my images, but I had always wondered about the toning effects I have seen on Chromasia. There are some techniques here that I really hadn't used or seen tutorials for, so this was definitely worthwhile!

To the other commenters talking about tablets: they make a night and day difference when processing pictures. I have almost no drawing skills, but a few weeks with the tablet and I was hooked. There is simply no other way to gain the fine degree of control you get with a tablet. They are critical for creating complex, precise layer masks. I do a lot of bracket and blends, and masking them was a time consuming nightmare before I got a tablet.

comment by barp at 08:34 PM on 23 November, 2007

another great tutorial, david! thanks for the clear explanations and the excellent breakdown. i've learned more important information here than from a dozen other sources combined!


comment by Luisa at 01:52 PM on 25 November, 2007

Mine is probably a silly question but my skills with Photoshop are very limited. Thanks God the tutorials are clearly expounded.

In the toning tutorial, you have used a background copy layer in two of the pictures, is there any particular reason for it? Would you get the same results without a background copy?

comment by ve at 02:37 PM on 25 November, 2007

Luisa: normally, when I use a copy of the background layer, it's because I've cloned out some distractions or other small details. In the case of both the images you mentioned from this tutorial though the changes are so small as to not be noticeable. Given that, I've replaced the downloadable PSD files with new versions, with the copied layer removed. So, to answer your question: no, in this case it didn't make a difference.

comment by nor at 10:50 AM on 26 March, 2008

Hi. Great tutorial! I thoroughly enjoy learning through the perfect combination of theoretical basis and illustrating examples.

I'm perhaps the only person left on earth still using Paint Shop Pro (since 1997!). I'm just so entrenched with the interface (and the cheaper price tag). Most of the time I would manage to find fairly equivalent tools in PSP, but I can't find anything that resembles the Selective Coloring tool. Do you know if there is any?


comment by djn1 at 11:47 AM on 26 March, 2008

nor: I don't have Paint Shop Pro, but I believe it has a Curves tool that would allow you to manipulate the individual colour channels. If so you can alter the Curves to mimic some of the effects you can achieve using the Selective Color tool in Photoshop. For example, if you drop the top of the Blue Curve, but add a control point in the centre of the grid (to maintain the mid-tone level), this would be a rough equivalent to adding yellow to the Whites.

comment by steve deer at 01:17 PM on 2 December, 2008

dave... just a quicky on the 'selective colour tool'. I'm trying to understand the 'neutral' slider, while I'm having great success with this tool, I can't for the life of me fathom out what 'neutral' means



comment by djn1 at 01:36 PM on 2 December, 2008

Steve: in this instance neutral means mid-tones. While the Selective Color tool allows you to alter the colour balance of individual colour ranges it also allows you to modify an image based on tonal range; i.e. altering the various settings for the Whites changes the highlight details, the settings for the Neutrals controls the mid-tones, and the settings for the Blacks alter the shadows.

comment by steve deer at 01:44 PM on 2 December, 2008

ahh! so any tone on the rgb curve (or separate curve channels) that is towards the middle of their curve is affected? so not just a neutral grey tone!


comment by djn1 at 01:50 PM on 2 December, 2008

Steve: yes, that's right. If you take a look at the two images at the top of page four of the tutorial you'll see how I altered the Whites, Neutrals and Blacks to change the apparent colour temperature of an image.

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 12:23 AM on 28 November, 2010

I appreciate the information in this tutorial as it takes some the mystery out of the channel mixer and selective color tools. Nevertheless, they are still daunting (to me). I suppose part of my difficulty is that I don't have a particular goal in mind. I could "mess" with the tools to get some radical changes, but I would rather wait until I want to get a more subtle effect and then realize that these tools will help me. When you are using them, do you sometimes play around with various effects not knowing exactly what you have in mind?

comment by djn1 at 02:09 PM on 28 November, 2010

Kevin: most of the time I do have a reasonably good idea about what I'd like to achieve but I do spend quite a bit of time playing around too. With practice you'll find that you will develop a better idea about how you want to process a shot, but in the meanwhile it is worth experimenting with the various tools.

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 09:19 PM on 28 November, 2010


I tried to have some conscious choices in mind when looking at this old jpeg taken many years ago in Ireland:

I initially used masks, curves and saturation (just for the foreground) to improve it:

I then decided I wanted to lighten the sky by reducing the black in the white using selective color, and increasing the brightness in the grass by adding yellow to the neutrals using selective color.

I think I improved it by consciously thinking what could be done to it, and by trying to understand how to use the tools you shown in this tutorial.

How might you have improved it?



comment by djn1 at 02:41 PM on 13 December, 2010

Kevin: On the whole I think your edit looks good but the thing that stands out as in need of improvement is the top of the rocks, i.e. these still look very dark. As such I think that I would probably try to create a much more accurate mask to lighten all of the rocks, not just the lower sections. The problem here though is that you'd need to create a very precise mask, which a) isn't easy, and b) is quite time consuming. I do think it would be worth it though.