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Advanced Adjustment Tips & Tricks in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 4 of 13

Changing Color of Highlights or Shadows Using Curves

Ben Willmore

Advanced Adjustment Tips & Tricks in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

4. Changing Color of Highlights or Shadows Using Curves
Learn to harness the power of Curves and add color to the brightest or darkest areas of any image.

Lesson Info

Changing Color of Highlights or Shadows Using Curves

now let's expand on what we talked about when it came to controlling what's happening in the bright and dark parts of your image in the past lesson, I had limited adjustment so it didn't affect the brighter dark areas. In this case I want to specifically shift the color of a really bright or really dark object and we can do so using curves, but it's not always completely intuitive. So let's take a look at what's involved in this case. I want to add some red to the highlights that are in this little vintage trailer. So let's zoom up and I'm going to use curves to do so in curves. I have the hand tool active and I want it to be, there is a way that I can prevent part of our image from changing. So I'm going to say don't change this red, you know the general red that's in this trailer, the way you do that is first you need to make sure the hand tools active. The second thing you didn't do is move your mouse over the color. You don't want to change, you need to hold on to keys on your keyb...

oard, shift in command that's on Mac, on Windows. That shift and control and then click your mouse. What did that do? Well, it just looked at what that area is made out of exactly how much red, green and blue light is found in that area. It in curves. If I switched to the red curve, you're going to find a dot in there that wasn't there before. And as long as we don't move that dot, then it won't change the amount of red in that area of the image. When we go to green, there's another dot, it's right down here, near the bottom, that's the amount of green that was in that area. And as long as we never move that dot, it's going to end up not changing. Then we go to blue and usually there'd be a dot there as well. But if I actually looked at the amount of blue that's in there, there's none and there's already a dot down in the corner. So as long as we don't move that one, it's not going to change. But now what I want to do is I want to change the highlights. I want to bring some color into it and the obvious color would be red because that's the color of the object. Will usually in curves, you can go to the red curve, you can move your mouse within the image and click and move it up to add more of whatever color you're working on. Overhearing curves. The problem is when I do that here, I'll look and look at where the circle is and curves is so close to the top that there's next to no space to move it higher. I really wish I could just move that higher and say make this more red, but I can't So how can I do this? Well, here's the trick. If you're an area that's really, really bright, it's either white or it's close to white. That means behind the scenes, it's going to use as much red, green and blue light as it possibly can. They're all going to be maxed out. And if I want that area to look more red, what I want to do is leave red where it's at because it's already almost maxed out and what I want to do is take the other two colours, take green and blue and lessen them by lessening them. I'll make the red more prominent, make it stick out. And the other thing is by moving anything else down, I'll be darkening. Whereas if I push anything up, I'm brightening. So here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna ignore red even though I really want to add more red to this image and instead I'm going to take green, I'll pull it up halfway down, but then I gotta change blew an equal amount. I'll pull it halfway down as well and now you can see more red in that area and I can fine tune this. It might be that I need to change red and green and blue a slightly different amount in order to get the exact color. I want some of this up and down a little bit to see when do I get the exact color I think I like, but then this is applying to the entire picture. So all I'm gonna do is take this mask and type command I control iron windows, then I'll grab my paintbrush and as long as I'm painting with white now I can paint this into my image wherever I desire. And so I'll just come up here and say, well I wanted those highlights to have more red in them so I can paint it right in. Maybe I want more red in this highlight or this one. And if it's too much, I can either paint with a lower opacity or I can lower the opacity of the entire layer. So that's working on highlights. Now let's switch and start talking about shadows. How can we push color into an area that's really, really dark, that's pretty much almost pitch black in this image. Let's say a client came back after taking the photograph and they said didn't you light the trunk over here on the side? I really wish that had red in it because it looks weird. Well let's change it, let's come in here and do another curves adjustment layer and first let's make sure that this read out here does not change. So with the hand tool active, I'm gonna come to this area. I'm gonna hold down to special keys shifting command if I'm on a MAC shift and control if I'm on windows and I'm going to click and what did that do that added a dot to all three of these curves, red, green and blue and as long as I don't move that dot then it's not going to change the color of that area. Then I want to make that area more red. So I'll work on the red curve and I want it to become more red in the shadows which is over here. The dark part. All I'm gonna do is grab this and pull it straight up as I look at the trunk and higher I bring it, the more red I should be getting in there. The only thing is it's affecting the whole image but we can change that by painting on the mask. So I'll do about there. Now I'm going to type command I that's going to fill our mask with black by inverting it. That's control iron windows, grab my paintbrush and with a soft edge brush, I'll paint this in wherever I desire and it doesn't change this area up here because we locked it in by adding those dots on our curve. We can always then go back to our curve and fine tune it, bring this back down and back up. Now I can fine tune exactly what we have in there and I can paint in more areas if I find it is needed. Uh And I can also shift the color more with green and blue because it might not be completely red that's needed. It might be that it needs just a little less hint of green. I'll bring that dot up the tiniest about or down because that it might be a little bit more orange ish. We needed that kind of thing. And then I probably shouldn't paint paint here with black on the rubber trim because that stuff truly should be black. And so I come over here and get it off of the rubber trim. So let's turn that off and back on again. And now you have an idea of how to pump color into the darkest part of an object. First, you lock in the color of the object itself, so you don't mess with it overall. And then you work on the lower left part of the curve and you can come in here and shifted towards red, green or blue by moving these straight up. Or you can also switch it to the opposite of these three colors, which would be cyan, magenta or yellow. And you do that by changing um two colours instead of just one. Uh, but that's something a little beyond this lesson

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.