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Photoshop Tip: Whiten whites in images using Selective Color

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Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
May 16, 2012

If the white areas are not quite as white as they should be, you can boost them using the Selective Color adjustment in Photoshop



Load up the Selective Color adjustment from the Layer>New Adjustment Layer menu. Change the Colors option to Whites and then reduce the Black slider down towards -100% until the whites are whiter.

This means that the exposure of the image goes mostly unaffected, and you don’t end up with bleached highlights – like you would if the Levels adjustment was used, for example.

Also, change the Colors option to Neutrals and reduce the Black slider. This will help lighten the white areas as well.


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  • The “Selective Color” adjustment has for many years now been one of my standard “go to” tools in working with my photographs, and I consider it one of Photoshop’s most under-appreciated gems. However, it needs to be applied with thought, sensitivity, and common sense, and while I agree that substantially reducing the amount of black in the “white” color setting is a very effective way of lightening and brightening everything from clouds to teeth to eye whites to backgrounds destined for removal (thus easing the masking process) to any number of other things, I most strongly DISAGREE with reducing the amount of black in the “neutral” color setting.

    This is a serious mistake, as it leaves images– such as the one above!– washed out, pale, and lifeless, looking like nothing so much as a very poor exposure. Compare the greens and purples in the “after” image shown here to those in the “before” shot– there is no depth, no vibrancy, no range of color or tone. In addition, much of the petal texture in the whites has disappeared. This shouldn’t happen, and it doesn’t need to.

    A far more effective solution would be to reduce the blacks in the “white” color setting by approximately 50%, click OK, and then duplicate the adjusted layer so that there are two copies of it. Using the upper of the duplicate layers, return to Selective Color, and again reduce the amount of black in the “white” color setting– this time to 100%– and click OK. The two reductions of black in the “white” color setting– now totaling 150%– should be a sufficient correction. If it is not, take the same layer once more into Selective Color and repeat the reduction.

    By now you should have a very white flower, but it will have lost a great deal of the textural lines and shadows that defined its petals. To correct this, select your eraser tool and choose a soft brush only slightly larger than the shadowed areas you wish to restore.

    Set the eraser opacity to 30-40%, and stroke those areas of the petal in which the texture and shadow lines have seriously diminished, allowing the more visible lines of the second, lower image to come through.

    By combining a soft brush with a low opacity setting, the eraser will only gradually reveal the darker lines and depth of the lower image (the copy with just the original 50% black reduction), and provide the user a greater degree of control.

    In the end you will have a bright, white flower with most of its defining characteristics still intact, and the purples and greens will have lost none of their depth and vivacity.

    I’ve been using Photoshop since 1992– version 2.5!– and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about it over the last twenty years it’s that if I’m going to take the trouble to make a correction, I should take the time and extra steps to do it well!

  • Rivalus

    Thank you. This is helpful. Whiter but alive