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Advanced Adjustment Tips & Tricks in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 2 of 13

Change Black Objects to Color Using Curves

Ben Willmore

Advanced Adjustment Tips & Tricks in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

2. Change Black Objects to Color Using Curves
Most adjustments are ineffective at changing black objects to color. Curves is up to the task, if you know how to limit the brightness range being affected.

Lesson Info

Change Black Objects to Color Using Curves

as you've seen, the blending sliders will allow us to remove an adjustment from the brightest areas or the darkest areas. But that's not the only way to do a change like that. Let's see how we can do something similar using curves. In this case, I'm going to take something that is black and I'm going to change it to a color. So here we got black pants, let's see if we can get them selected. I'm going to go back over here to our object selection tool and to make things a little easier. I'm gonna change it from the default setting of rectangle, do the setting of lasso and I'm going to turn on enhance edge. So we get a higher quality edge and I usually have this turned on, although in this particular case it's not gonna matter now, I'm just going to make a selection that's really rough. And the only place where I'm going to be precise is wherever there's something in the background that's similar to the pants like right there, I'll be very precise. But after that I can go quite a ways awa...

y from the pants. Any place where there is a blatant difference between the background and the subject. So only about there, I need to be precise over here. I can be really rough right about there. I should be precise and there I can be rough and it includes the defeat. I didn't want it to. So this is where I hold down the option key. Alton Windows and I'll tell it what I want to get rid of and I'll do the same on the other foot. And just like before I'll type the letter Q. And remember it's going to have issues around the edges. Do you see where the red is missing around there? So I gotta grab my paintbrush paint with black and touch that up. I really wish you wouldn't have those issues but they're comin with this particular tool, I might as well touch up a few areas where it messed up. But again this class is not about making selections, so I'm not going to get to precise with this, this is just something we have to touch up when we're all done. But any place where you told it to remove from your selection definitely come over there and touch up those edges. And when you're all done, type letter Q. And you'll be back to having a selection. Now let's change the color of those pants. You might think you want to use a similar approach that we'll use for the white shirt and that is you could go to human saturation and you have a colorized checkbox that would attempt to push color indoor pants, but when you do it's not really gonna look all that realistic. Let's say if we want to give her blue pants, the problem is you usually need to brighten the pants and to do that, you have a lightness slider. Well this lightness slider has issues. If you bring it up, it's just gonna not look good regardless of what direction you move it. It's just not sophisticated enough. So I'm gonna choose undo to get out of that, we're going to ignore human saturation and instead we're going to use curves because we're going to have more control there. I'm gonna do a curves adjustment layer and in curves if you're not used to using it, what we have is down here is a bar at the bottom that shows you all the brightness levels you might have in your picture. Then there's a bar chart that tells you how many of those are actually in your picture. And if you had made a selection uh then it's only thinking about the area that was selected. So that tells me we have things between black and about this bright and then it starts trailing off to next to nothing because the height of these is how much space they take up. So the pants are generally in here. Anyway, I can adjust this. This line just shows you how much light is being used. So where you have black in your image, this is at the bottom because you're using no light whatsoever. If you had white in your image, it's using as much light as possible and for this brightness it's using this much light but we can change it whenever I'm in curves, I click on this hand tool and that makes it. So when I hover over my image, you see a circle and curves to tell you how much light is in the area where your mouse is since I have that hand turned on all the time. When I'm in curves, what I do is go to the upper right of the curved screen. I click here and choose this option. If when you choose auto, select targeted adjustment tool, it's going to turn on the hand every single time you ever use curves and I like that. So that's what I'm going to have. Now. What I'm gonna do here is I want to make sure the dark part of the pants remains dark. If it gets brightened up, it's not gonna look right, that's what human saturation was doing instead. I'm gonna move my mouse onto a bright area of the pants, let's say right about here. If I look in curves, I see a circle that tells me exactly how much light is there. I'm going to click the mouse and I could drag straight up and brighten it up but that's not going to add any color so I'm gonna choose undo what I need to do. It's over here, there's a pop up menu when it's set to RGB, you're only going to affect brightness. If you want to shift color, you need to choose one of these choices and it doesn't matter which one you choose, I'm gonna choose red and I'm just gonna do the same thing, I make sure the hand icons turned on. I go to the bright part of the black object, I click and I drag straight up and as I do, I add color and it's okay if it's the wrong color, we can easily change that later. Now take a look at the curve. What we're doing is where we used to have black, which is right here, we haven't moved the curve at all. It's still down there in the corner and that means the absolute darkest part of the pants. They're still black. But as we got into the bright part of the pants, we add a lot of red light. But now we can control the transition into the dark area. All I'm going to do is add another dot somewhere in between these two and I'm going to bring it back down to where the original line was. That's what this diagonal line represents. That's where you started. If I do that now I can say keep it looking like the original picture across this general brightness range before pumping in that color and you don't have to do that. But I'm just showing you that you have the control not dissimilar to using those blending sliders to say don't affect the dark portion of the image, but I'm just gonna make it So we have a more gradual transition in the color. All right, now we have some color in the pants, let's just change which color it is and we'll do that with a secondary adjustment called hue and saturation and we wanted to use the exact same mask. So we'll hit that down pointing arrow. And now we can just come in here to human saturation and adjust the hue to get any color pants you want. And so I'm going to try to find blue in here. Get with some blue pants and you can adjust the saturation to control how colorful the pants are. But if you want to control the brightness of the pants, what you want to do is pop down to the layer that's underneath. That's the one we created earlier. And that's where you want to control the brightness. You can go over here to the red curve, which is when we were working on and you can pump this higher or lower and you can control that transition into the blacks by adjusting the other dot that we added. And in this particular case, I think it's fine to let it go straight into those shadows. But now we have nice blue pants. So I'm going to clean up my layers panel. I'm just going to get both of these layers selected. I'll hold shift and click on the other layer and then I'll click the folder icon. Double click on this and just call it black pants to blue. And then above that here's what we did in a previous lesson where we made her shirt blues, we might as well turn that on and we just have terrible selections. We would have to touch up these selections on the edges to make them look good. But at least you have an idea of how to make a white object color and a black object color.

Class Description


  • Precisely match the color of two objects
  • Change black objects to any color.
  • Add drama to dull overcast skies.
  • Apply multiple adjustments in a single adjustment layer.
  • Utilize uncommon settings such as Knockout.


Are you looking to up your adjustment skills so you can be more effective and efficient by utilizing a wider range of advanced features? Do you run into features in Photoshop that you do not utilize such as Knockout Deep, Knockout Shallow, Pass Through mode and wonder how you could utilize them? Then this class is for you.

Ben has been pushing Photoshop to its limits for over 30 years. Learn his best tips and tricks for getting the most out of Photoshop’s adjustments.

You’ll be able to tackle a much wider range of challenges once you expand the range of features you use on a daily basis. You’ll also reduce guesswork while increasing the precision of your adjustments.


  • People who are generally experienced using Photoshop, but want to push their skills to a more advanced level.
  • Those who want to tackle difficult tasks efficiently.
  • People who want to understand the more powerful and less commonly used features in Photoshop.


Adobe Photoshop 2021 (V22.5.0)


As a photographer, Ben Willmore has shot in all 50 states and explored over 80 countries. He has been pushing Photoshop and Lightroom Classic to their limits since the beginning. Ben is part of a select group of non-employees that Adobe trusts with pre-release beta versions of their software so he can have a voice in the future direction of their software. He has written more than a dozen books on digital imaging that have been translated into 9 languages, has written over 100 articles for major magazines, and was inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame. He has been a featured speaker at events on all seven continents where he has taught well over 100,000 people.

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Alicia Orth

I've been using Photoshop for years and still learned lots of great tips from this class. Would love to see more classes like this.

Eric Johnson

Terrific - lots of great information. Way to go Ben!

Marco Basile

Really enjoyed how succinct and sharp the presentation was. Great information I hadn't seen elsewhere. Thank you Ben.