Digital cameras have come on in leaps and bounds over recent years. But sometimes you still just want to boost colours to give images that POP of life.
There are various ways to do it in Adobe Photoshop. Adjustment layers make it particularly easy.
But I want to get you out of your comfort zone! I’m going to show you how to boost colours in Photoshop using the Lab color mode. You’ll use layers, colour modes, layer masks, and opacity to really make your images sing.
So let’s crack on!
How to boost colours in Adobe Photoshop using Lab Color
For this tutorial, I’m using this image. You can download it here from FreeStockImages. Or you can use your own and apply the same principles!
So open up your image in Photoshop. Go to Image in the top menu bar, scroll down one to Mode, and across to Lab Color.
Now you’ve entered a new colour mode. Neither RGB nor CMYK can perfectly replicate the colour spectrum that humans can see. Lab colour was introduced as a way to simulate this.
But you can’t really render it on a screen or print it so it has limited value. Still, for our purposes it offers a cool way to boost colours in Photoshop.
Now press Cmd and J (Ctrl and J for a PC). This will quickly duplicate your background layer. And we need that layer 1 for the next step.
Your layers panel will look like this. Now we’re going to actually boost colours. Go to Image in the menu bar. Scroll down to Adjustments, and across to Curves.
Where it says ‘Channel’ at the top of the panel, it should say ‘L’. That’s because images in Lab color mode are split into three channels. L, a and b. Hence the name. We want to make changes to a and b. So change the channel to ‘a’ in the dropdown.
Now you want to click on that central diagonal line and drag it to match the screenshot above. Those boxes dividing the panel into quarters are really useful.
The first anchor you add should be along the bottom axis and one quarter box in from the left. The second is along the top axis, and one quarter box in from the right.
In the Channel dropdown, select channel ‘b’. Repeat this process.
When you’ve finished altered the curves, the image should look something like this.
It’s pretty lurid. And the skintone on her face is really unflattering. So we’re going to use a layer mask to reveal the original image below.
But first of all, we need to go back to RGB mode. Go to Image in the top menu bar, scroll down one to Mode, and across to RGB Color.
It’ll ask you if you want to flatten the layers. Say ‘Don’t flatten’. We need both layers for the next step to work.
In the Layer panel, lower the Opacity of Layer 1 to 80% to soften the colour effect.
We going to add a layer mask. Look for the icon at the bottom of the Layer panel. It’s like a piece of card with a whole in it. This means that you can paint on one layer to ‘hide’ its contents, revealing the one below. Think of it like a stencil.
Now we need a paintbrush and the colour black. When using Layer masks, painting with black hides the layer to reveal what’s below. Painting with white will bring the layer you’re painting on back.
So go to your Foreground and Background colours in the left toolbox and make sure black is at the foreground.
Now we need a paintbrush. Click on the paintbrush icon in the toolbox.
To get a soft appearance, we need a soft edged brush. This will stop the painted area having a harsh line and looking fake. So click on the brush in the top menu bar and choose the very first brush in the options box.
Now just click and drag to paint across the woman’s face. As you do so, the colours will appear to fade because you’re hiding the boosted colour layer to reveal the one below. If you want to increase the size of the brush, press ]. To decrease, press [.
I’ve renamed the layer just to make a point! The layer will look like this. That white thumbnail to the right of your image thumbnail is the layer mask. The black spot is what you painted.
And here’s your final piece!