No matter what edits a photographer may plan to make during post, almost every productive image editing session starts with a good selection. Thankfully, Photoshop offers a variety of different methods for differentiating between which pixels should be included in a selection and which pixels shouldn’t. The manual tools such as the lasso, magic wand and marquee selectors tend to be most popular because they offer a hands-on way to draw a selection where it’s wanted. But sometimes using Photoshop’s processing power is incredibly helpful for making precise selections. And no tool is better at this than Color Range selection tool.
Found under the Select menu, Color Range opens a pop-up window containing a couple of dropdown menus, eyedroppers and checkboxes, as well as a preview of the selected area in the image. It’s from within this simple window that Color Range selections are applied. Here’s how.
When opening the Color Range selection tool, photographers are shown a selection opportunity that uses eyedropper tools. Click on a color in the image and Photoshop will add that color—and similar pixels based on the Fuzziness indicated on the slider at the top of the window—to the selection. Switch to the additive eyedropper and additional clicks will add to the selection. Choose the eyedropper with the minus sign next to it and the color range can be edited by removing clicked colors.
Adjusting the Fuzziness slider increases or decreases the sensitivity of the sampling. A higher number will broaden what Photoshop considers “similar” to the sampled color, while a lower number restricts the selection to only the sampled colors.
For portrait photographers, the dropdown menu includes another useful option—the switch from Sampled Colors to Skin Tones. With Skin Tones selected, Photoshop automatically detects skin tones in the frame and adds them to the selection. Here, again, the Fuzziness slider broadens or shrinks the selection. From within the Skin Tones heading, it’s also helpful to check the Detect Faces checkbox so that Photoshop will focus on skin tones on faces while ignoring similar colors elsewhere in the frame.
That same dropdown menu also includes options for selecting specific colors—such as reds, for instance. While the selection can’t be added to or subtracted from using the eyedropper, it can be expanded or contracted via the Fuzziness slider. This is a particularly effective approach if you’d like to select a particular color in a field of flowers, for instance, or perhaps if you want to desaturate the redness in a skin tone or remove a subtle unwanted color shift throughout the frame.
The preview that shows in the small window will display white pixels to represent image area included in the selection and black pixels for those not included. Gray pixels are partially selected. This preview can also be applied to the overall image in order to make it easier to precisely see what’s being included in the range.
The Color Range selection tool is one of those brilliant Photoshop tools that’s fairly simple and straightforward so that even a beginner can quickly understand how to use it. But, at the same time, it provides an incredibly accurate and powerful result that would be practically impossible to accomplish with the human hand and the naked eye. So, the next time you’re looking to make a particularly accurate selection, try the Color Range selection tool from Photoshop’s Select menu.