Photoshop tutorials for professionals and beginners
Color matching photoshop tutorial

Manipulation Secrets – 2 Color matching

In Part 1 I already shown you a few examples of finished manipulations so that you can see how colors were used. After you have the background and the main elements ready, you will have to decide which colors you want to use on your manipulation.

Also make sure you check “How selective color works

On the image below I made the basic setup of my manipulation, the background and a model. I will add more elements to it but this will be the base of the entire artwork.

The dress of the model is green and so is the background. So, green will be the main color of this artwork. You can use another color but that means you will have to change the color of both the model and background using one of the techniques explained next.

Basic setup for photo-manipulations

As you see on the image above, the right side of the background is brighter than the left side, so the light comes from the right. If you look at the model, you will see that she should be facing to the right (she already does), otherwise it would look unnatural. In other words, the illuminated part of the model’s body must face the main light source.

There are several techniques of “color matching” in Photoshop. I usually use the Gradient map adjustment but there are more ways of doing it. Next I will explain you the techniques that I use for color matching.

Gradient map

I use gradient maps when I want to change the general color of the entire canvas or when I’m dealing with a big part of the manipulation like the background for example. It works by assigning different colors depending on the tones of your image.

The color on the left side of the gradient will be applied to the shadows (purple on the example below) and the color on the right side of the gradient will be applied to the highlights (orange in my example). The color in the middle of the gradient will be applied to the mid-tones (green in my case, see image below).

You can use multiple colored gradients and try different blend modes for different effects.

On the image below you can see that the mid-tones are painted in green, shadows are purple and highlights are orange. The blend mode used is Normal and the gradient map only affects the background.

This is how it looks with the same gradient map, and Hard Light blend mode with 50% Opacity.

If you like the result, you can copy the same gradient map on the model and other elements and change the opacity or blending mode if needed.

Color Balance

Working on the same example, I will show you how to use the Color Balance adjustment to match the model’s colors with the background. Even though the color of the model’s dress is green, you can make some fine adjustments using Color Balance to make the skin greener.

The Color Balance adjustment separates the image in three channels: Shadows, Midtones and Highlights and it lets you adjust the colors separately for each channel. In my example I have to increase the green levels and also the yellow levels a bit.

The next question is, on which of the three levels to make these adjustments? It depends on your image, your experience and what you want to change but most of the times you would make small adjustments to all of the three levels.

In my example, the skin is quite bright so probably the highlights will be the ones that will affect the skin.

The reason why I use Color Balance is because it gives me control over the channels of the image.

Color balance can also be used to correct color bleeding. In the example below, I only used the Highlight channel to make the shirt white. In order to get rid of the yellow tone of the shirt I increased the Blue and Cyan colors.

Other ways you can use for color matching

There are many other techniques that you can use to color match the elements of a manipulation. For example you can create a Solid Color adjustment layer, and after choosing the color that you want, try different blend modes and opacity levels. Always use the adjustment layers as clipping masks if you only want to apply the adjustments to a particular layer. You can create a clipping mask layer by right-clicking the layer and choose Create Clipping Mask.


I got a premade background image from deviantART and a model. I want to match the color of the model to the color of the background using a solid color adjustment layer.

Photo Filter

A similar way of color matching can be achieved using the Photo Filter adjustment. There are a few pre-made presets but you can also use a custom color. Remember that you can change the blend mode to all the adjustment layers you have on the palette.

If a color doesn’t look good after applying a certain blend mode, try choosing a less saturated color or a darker tone because blend modes work with illumination levels and saturations. For example, a darker unsaturated blue color might work better than a bright saturated blue using the Color Dodge blend mode.


Note: the Variations adjustment is no longer supported on newer versions of Photoshop like CS6 or CC

There is yet another method that I use mostly on my finished manipulations but you can use it whenever you want. It consists on duplicating the layer on which you want to change the color and applying the Variations filter and reducing the opacity of the layer. You can access the Variations filter from Image>Adjustments>Variations. Keep in mind that this is a destructive filter, that’s why I said you should duplicate the layer.


In this article I shown you some of the techniques that I use for color matching. I usually use combinations of all these techniques. Don’t be shy and try different methods, that’s the only way of coming up with new techniques and learning by yourself.

In this part I already mentioned a few things about light but on part three I will talk about shading and illumination in more detail.


Next episode

Manipulation Secrets 3 – Shading and Lighting

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