Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Adjusting Color in Photoshop Elements

What you’ll learn in this Photoshop Elements Tutorial:

  • Understanding color
  • Switching image modes
  • Adjusting tonal range in Full Edit

This tutorial provides you with a foundation for working with Adobe Photoshop Elements color. It is the fifth lesson in the Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 Digital Classroom book.

Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Adjusting Color in Photoshop Elements

Photoshop Elements has tools for easily adjusting the color and tonal range of your photos. You can adjust entire photos using global controls, or specific areas using selections. In this lesson, you’ll learn to adjust color using a variety of different methods.

Starting up

Within the Photoshop Elements Organizer: You will work with several files from the Lessons folder in this lesson. Make sure that you have downloaded the Lessons folder onto your hard–drive. In order to access these files in the Organizer, you need to import them. See “Adding files and folders to the Organizer” located in Lesson 1.

Within the Photoshop Elements Editor: The Photoshop Elements Editor defaults to the last panel layout that you used. Before starting, make sure your tools and panels are consistent with the examples presented in these lessons by resetting the panel locations. Do this by choosing Window > Reset Panels or by pressing the Reset panels button () in the Options bar.

Welcome screen

If you’re currently viewing the welcome screen, press the Edit button () to enter the Editor workspace. If you are currently in the Organizer, click the arrow to the right of the Fix tab and choose > Full Photo Edit from the drop-down.

The Photoshop Elements welcome screen.

Understanding color

Two different color models are used to adjust color in Photoshop Elements. The HSB (hue, saturation, and brightness) model is based on the way the human eye sees color. The RGB (red, green, and blue) model is based on the way computer monitors and other devices such as scanners and digital cameras display and capture color. The color wheel is another tool that helps you understand the relationships between colors. Photoshop Elements offers four image modes that define the number of colors displayed in an image: RGB, bitmap, grayscale, and indexed color.

HSB color

The human eye perceives color in terms of three characteristics—hue, saturation, and brightness (HSB).


Hue refers to the color reflected from or transmitted through an object. It is measured as a location on a color wheel, expressed as a degree between 0 and 360. In most cases, hue is defined by the name of the color, such as red, orange, or green.


Saturation is the strength or purity of the color. Sometimes called chroma, it refers to the amount of gray in proportion to the hue, and is measured as a percentage from 0 (gray) to 100 (fully saturated). On a color wheel, saturation increases from the center to the edge.


The brightness value is the relative lightness or darkness of the color. It is usually measured as a percentage from 0 (black) to 100 (white).

In Photoshop Elements, you can use the HSB model to define a color in the Color Picker, but you cannot use the HSB mode to create or edit images.

Use the HSB controls in the Adobe Color Picker to select colors.

RGB model

Most of the visible spectrum of color can be recreated by mixing red, green, and blue (RGB) light in varying amounts. These three colors are often called the additive primaries, because when added together, they produce white light. Where two colors overlap, they create cyan, magenta, or yellow, or subtractive primaries.

RGB color is commonly used in lighting, video, and computer monitors. Your monitor, for example, displays color by transmitting light through red, green, and blue phosphors.

The default mode of new Photoshop Elements images and images from your digital camera is RGB.

Additive colors (RGB) are added together to create white light.

Color wheel

Using a color wheel is a good way to gain a better understanding of the relationship between colors. Looking at the wheel, you’ll see that directly across from each additive primary (red, green, blue) is its complement: red/cyan, green/magenta, and blue/yellow.

Further, each subtractive primary (cyan, magenta, yellow) is made up of two additive primaries. It does not, however, contain any of its complement. So, if you increase the concentration of a primary color in your image, you reduce the concentration of its complement.

For example, cyan is composed of blue and green light, but there is no red light in cyan. When adjusting cyan in Photoshop Elements, you change the color values in the red color channel. By adding red to your image, you subtract cyan from it.

Using a color wheel helps you understand the relationship between colors. A. Magenta. B. Red. C. Yellow. D. Green. E. Cyan. F. Blue.


About image modes

Image modes define the number of colors that can be displayed in an image. They can also affect the file size of the image. Photoshop Elements offers you four image modes: RGB, bitmap, grayscale, and indexed color.

Image modes define the color capability of an image.

Bitmap mode

Bitmap uses one of two color values (black or white) to represent the pixels in an image. Images in bitmap mode are called 1-bit images because they have a bit depth of 1.

Grayscale mode

Grayscale uses up to 256 shades of gray. Every pixel in a grayscale image has a brightness value ranging from 0 (black) to 255 (white). Grayscale images are 8-bit images.

Indexed Color mode

Indexed Color uses up to 256 colors. In this mode, Photoshop Elements builds a color lookup table (CLUT), which stores and indexes the colors in the image. If a color in the original image does not appear in the table, the program chooses the closest one, or simulates the color using available colors. By reducing the number of colors used, indexed color can reduce file size while maintaining your image’s quality. Indexed-color images are 8-bit images, and are often used in web pages.


Limited editing is available in Indexed Color mode. For more comprehensive editing control, you should convert temporarily into RGB mode.

Switching image modes

When you choose a color mode in the Editor (using the Image > Mode command), you are changing the color values in the image. Although you might want to convert into a different mode for several reasons, it’s best to keep the following in mind:

  • For the most control over editing, work in RGB mode as often as possible.
  • Save a backup copy before converting so that you can edit the original version of the image after the conversion.
  • If you have images that utilize layers, the images are flattened automatically when you convert them into bitmap or indexed-color mode, because these modes do not support layers.

Comparing methods of adjusting color

Photoshop Elements provides several tools and commands for fixing the color and tonal range of your photos. You can work in one of three workspaces, depending on the requirements of your image.

Choose an editing workspace based on your experience and needs.

Understanding Full Edit

Full Edit contains lighting and color-correction commands, as well as tools for fixing image defects, making selections, adding text, and painting on your images. If you’ve worked with images before, you’ll find that the Full Edit method provides the most flexible and powerful image-correction workspace.

Understanding Quick Edit

Quick Edit conveniently assembles many of the basic photo-fixing tools in Photoshop Elements. If you have limited knowledge of digital imaging, Quick Fix is a good place to start adjusting photos.

Understanding Guided Edit

Guided Edit leads you through the tasks of color correction and image adjustments. If you are new to digital imaging or not yet comfortable with Photoshop Elements, you can use this method to increase your understanding of the process.

When working in Full Edit, you can make adjustments directly to the image pixels, or you can use adjustment layers to make nondestructive, editable adjustments. Some tools automatically create an adjustment layer for the correction you’re applying. See “Using adjustment layers” in Lesson 4, for more information.


Adjusting tonal range in Full Edit

Setting an overall tonal range allows for the most detail possible throughout the image. In this exercise, you’ll use Full Edit to adjust the tonal range of an image.

1 Press the Organizer button () in the menu bar at the top of the Edit workspace. This reveals the Organizer.

2 Locate and select the file named Bobby and Elvis. Press the arrow to the right of the Fix tab in the menu bar at the top of the Organizer workspace and choose Full Photo Edit from the drop-down menu, or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+I (Windows) or Command+I (Mac OS).

Before fixing the color in this image, you’ll create a backup copy.

Making a duplicate of a file

1 Once the image opens in Full Edit, choose File > Save As.

Save a duplicate copy of your image before you begin to adjust color.

2 The Save As dialog box opens. Navigate to the Lessons folder and click the Save in Version Set with Original checkbox to uncheck it. Make sure Format is set to Photoshop. Name the file Bobby and Elvis_work and press Save.

Restoring shadow and highlight detail

You should begin correcting an image by adjusting the values of the extreme highlight and shadow areas in the image (also known as the tonal range).

1 In the Editor, choose Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadow/Highlights. Make sure the Preview checkbox is checked.

2 Drag the Lighten Shadows slider to the left so that it reads 10 percent. Lighten Shadows brightens the dark areas of your photo and reveals more of the shadow detail that was captured when you took the image.

3 Drag the Darken Highlights slider to the right so that it reads 10 percent. Darken Highlights darkens the light areas of your photo and reveals more of the highlight detail that was captured when you took the image. Pure white areas of your photo don’t contain any detail and aren’t affected by this adjustment.

4 Drag the Midtone Contrast slider to the right so that it reads +25 percent. Midtone Contrast adds or reduces the contrast of the middle tones. You should use this slider if the image contrast doesn’t look right after you’ve adjusted shadows and highlights. Press OK.

Use the Shadows/Highlights dialog box to improve tonal detail in the image.

You’ve restored depth to the tonal range of the image by improving the detail in its shadows and highlights.


To reset the image to how it looked when you opened the Shadow/Highlights dialog box, uncheck the Preview checkbox, or hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) and press the Reset button while the Shadow/Highlight dialog box is open.

5 Keep the image open as you will use it in the next exercise.

Continue to the next Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Correcting color in Full Edit in Photoshop Elements >