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Photoshop Color Range Selections

One of the best ways to make selections in Photoshop CS4, CS5 and CS6, is with the Color Range command. This is especially true for photos that have areas of contiguous color that are “sandwiched” between other colors. Color Range makes it very easy to select and initial area of color and then intelligently expand that to include similar areas of color in other parts of the photo, using the Localized Color Clusters control.

Below we have an image where we might want to select all of the orange-like colors on the building without selecting anything else (or very little else), so that we can apply edits to the orange areas or mask the orange areas. In this tutorial we’ll take a quick look at how you can make nice selections with just a couple of the available settings.

The first step is to open the menu and choose Select > Color Range. By default you will probably see a small range of colors selected in the Preview area (those pixels in the preview that are not black are either partially selected, or completely selected if they’re white).

The next step is to click the “Localized Color Clusters” option. Your initial selection preview will change, showing (at default settings) a smaller range of selected pixels, in the initial selection area. When you’re ready, use the Eyedropper  to click once (in the image) on a color that is consistent with the range of colors you want to select. Once you’ve done that the preview will change to reflect your initial choice. Here I clicked on  the left column of orange in the building. You can see the the initial selection region remains partially intact (below).

Now, hold down the Shift key and then click-drag your way across the rest of the color regions you want to select, picking up the stylus or releasing the mouse button to avoid crossing over any pixels that have a different color. Repeat as many times as you need to (always holding down the Shift key), until you get the result you want. This should select all of your target colors, however the initial area may remain partially intact depending on the color you clicked.


Another way that you can quickly select a range of similar colors or tones, is to use the Sampled Colors pop-up menu, which contains primary colors, primary tones and also a new Skin Tones option for portraits in CS6.

To remove unwanted color regions from the selection, you can use a two-step process. First for the big areas, move the Eyedropper over the document again, hold down the Option/Alt key (to subtract) and then click-drag the colors you don’t want. This should get you very close to the final selection shape.

Last, experiment with the Fuzziness and Range settings to zero in the last bit. Fuzziness will control how similar a color has to be to those you sampled, before it is included, while the Range settings looks at how physically close the pixels are to your selection (in terms of x, y, location). The lower the values, the less tolerant Photoshop will be of those “outsider pixels”. Click OK when you’re done. Below you can see the final preview and selection, respectively.

Afterward if you need to clean up small spots of over- or under-selection, try the Quick Select tool (using the same Shift and Option/Alt modifiers) to get the best results.

The final selection is shown below, prior to final tweaks, but you can see already it’s a very accurate result. From here it would be quite simple to change the hue of the orange, brighten or darken the orange, apply blurring or noise reduction, create an inverse selection to work on the other parts of the image, etc. In Photoshop CS6 you can use the new Properties panel to streamline your image adjustment and color range workflow even more! You can also learn how to use Photoshop’s powerful selection tools in my new CS6 video tutorial.

About Dan Moughamian (37 Articles)
Dan Moughamian is an experienced photographer and educator, and has worked with Adobe Photoshop since the early 1990s. He also has extensive experience with Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, plugins from Nik software, and many other digital imaging products. As an educator, Dan's focus is to help photographers at all levels get the most from their digital workflows.

1 Comment on Photoshop Color Range Selections

  1. Daniel Thomassin // 25/07/2013 at 11:11 am //

    Bonjour; merci beaucoup pour votre tutoriel.Je vous souhaite une bonne journée.


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