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Ambient Colour in Photoshop


Photoshop Ambient Color Title PostColour can really push the direction of a piece, particularly when applying a ‘colour-cast’ to unify the seperate elements. In Photoshop there are a huge number of options for tweaking the colour-values of your work, however some approaches yield better results; allowing a greater tonal range and avoiding that ‘washed out’ look. We’ll be looking at some old favourites and some lesser known functions, read on for the skinny..


Example Piece

This cyberpunk piece is a work in progress, nearly finished but not quite there yet! I want to experiment with the colour values of the overall image, bringing in a dirty yellow colour-cast to round it off. At present there are cold greys / blues, and the vibrant red of the girl’s hair:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop 1

Stocks: Girl by mjranum (DeviantArt), Storm clouds by mourge-stawk (DeviantArt), Engine Parts (DeviantArt), Speaker by vierdrie (SXC)


Not so Pretty

When starting out, a lot of folks (myself included back then) would attack an image with the most obvious adjustments when dealing with colour. Hue and Saturation for instance, is a bit of a bully.. When applying a Hue-Sat cast, it can annihilate much of the tonal information underneath:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial 2

The dialog box in this example has been set to ‘colorize’ to apply a duotone cast. You could always reduce the opacity of the Hue / Saturation adjustment layer to lessen the intensity, however the results would still be less than desirable. An adjustment layer is needed that deals with the colour information below it with more finesse, so lets check out the options..


Photo Filter

Photo Filter adjustment layers are criminally easy to implement, and produce some great results (accessed via the Adjustment Layers icon, bottom of the layer palette). In this example, a default option was selected – however you can tweak the colour and density of any of the presets. Already, you can see that the Photo Filter option deals with the environmental colours with a gentler touch, as well as applying the cast in a more natural manner:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial

As this option is on an Adjustment Layer, you are also able to tweak the opacity, layer mode and selectively apply it using the built-in layer mask. Non-destructive editing is the only way to roll! Here are a few variants of the Photo Filter to demonstrate it’s versatility; 1. Deep Emerald, 2. Warming Filter (85), 3. Underwater, 4. Sepia:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial 4

Curves & Levels

I was a little late to the parade with this one, but this is a great method for achieving good looking colour-casts that react more naturally with the environment. The premise is simple, add a Curves or Levels adjustment layer, and tweak the seperate RGB channels as opposed to the master settings:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial 5

The level of control afforded with this method is immense, requiring a much higher degree of tinkering. Check it out for yourself and see how the colours react with experimentation.

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial 6

In this example the Red and Blue channels have been tweaked on the Curves adjustment; this technique can often yield very saturated, rich results. Find the balance for your photo manipulation and reduce opacity where necessary. The above is a little too extreme for my tastes, so here’s a little tip for easing in a more natural transition.

Double click the layer to open up the layer style window, hold down the Alt / Option key and move the white slider (see blending options image below). This blends the chosen effect without the need to reduce the opacity. A before and after:

Ambient Colour in Photoshop Tutorial 7

..Not  the most dramatic of changes, but sometimes enough to fnd the perfect balance.


Colour Balance, Channel Mixer, Black & White et al..

The above represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to colour-work in Photoshop, however you’ll find you develop ‘favourites’ which then determine the temperature and tonal quality unique to your work. Some methods work better than others, so good old experimentation comes to the fore once again.



Got some great colour techniques not covered here? Feel free to share in the comment section below, and spread the word if you enjoyed this tutorial!

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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10 Responses to “Ambient Colour in Photoshop”

  1. JERRY says:

    Spectacular! Well written and executed…. You need to publish not only your work, but a companion tutorial alongside… Count me in as always, one of your biggest fans and ardent student. Many thanks kind professor!

  2. jusel says:

    As usual awesome work, thumbs up ;)
    Have you ever planned on doing tutorials where you show the complete process on video?

    best regards

  3. Zero says:

    Nice tutorial. (:

  4. pica-ae says:

    very nice collection of how to change the atmosphere of a piece by changing its colour feel
    I’ve always caught myself lately, using solid color layers and adjusting the blend mode to get a better result

  5. steve says:

    Nice, easy to follow tutorial. Another method I like sometimes is adding a hue/saturation layer in soft light mode. The slider makes it easy to choose your colour cast.

  6. honest john says:

    what !!! You call this a tutorial ??? Don’t make me laugh .

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