Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs

Paul Charlton explains how we can tint photos that can be varied at a later date without affecting the original Using Curves Adjustment Layers.

|  Adobe Photoshop
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Words & Pictures Paul Charlton

I’d like to thank Hatch for giving me the info on this technique. Please note that this is more of a guide than an all out tutorial, and is intended to show you the techniques required. I’m going to be working on an image converted to greyscale as opposed to an actual original black & white image.

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs1. To start with, duplicate the Background Layer and perform the normal image corrections to start with the best possible black & white image. Here is the starting image that I’m using for this example and is one taken on my old Fuji 2600z at Caldicot Castle.

The whole reason behind this method of colour tinting is flexibility and ability to continually edit your image. So, the use of djustment Layers offers you the ability to return to your colour tints and continually tweak your settings without making any permanent alterations to the underlying original photograph. If you’re not familiar with Adjustment Layers then I would recommend looking over my tutorial on my site at under the tutorials section. This will take you step by step through using Adjustment Layers and their benefits. The most important aspect of this tutorial is to make good selections before you even start to work on toning the image.

2. Firstly, ensure you’re working with your image in the CMYK mode Image>Mode>CMYK. This allows us to have four channels to work with as opposed to the three we would have in the RGB mode. Once you have set up your image ready to start working on we can make our first selection.

3. There are any number of techniques involved in making a good selection, and it is beyond this tutorial to teach you. So again, if you are unfamiliar with Photoshop’s various selection tools I would suggest you work through the Selections Primer available on my site Because the image I’m working with has some complex selections needed I’m going to be utilising Quick Masks wherever necessary. The beauty of this method is that we can easily touch up any mistakes without the need to try and recreate the Curve. Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographsOk, let’s start by using the Pen Tool to create my basic selection prior to converting it into a working mask ready for editing.
This close up shows a partial view of the initial Path that I made.

4. The beauty of using this method is that we can reap the benefits of not only having a re-editable path, but also the flexibility of the editable Quick Mask. Once you have you path created, select the Load Path as a Selection button on the Paths palette. This will convert your original Path into a usable selection ready to make a Quick Mask.

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographsThen, simply press the ‘Q’ key on the keyboard to create a Quick Mask ready for us to tidy things up. Note: You may find it useful to apply a small amount of feathering to your selection after you have edited the Quick Mask to make sure you have slightly softer edges in the final selection.

This photo shows the Quick Mask prior to editing

5. With the Quick Mask enabled we can start editing the mask by using any of the painting tools (paintbrush, airbrush, etc). Just remember that to ADD to your mask you use black as your foreground colour, and to SUBRACT from your selection you need to use white. Using various shades of grey will allow for partial masking (semi-protected). Tidy up your mask ready for the next steps.

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs6. Once you have a Quick Mask that you’re happy with you can press the ‘Q’ key again to switch back to Normal Mode and this will convert your Mask back into a standard selection. Before we move on, and to make sure that we can re-edit the selection later we are going to save it. Go to the Select menu and choose Save Selection. Use the same settings as I have in this Save Selection dialogue box. This will create a new Channel with the same name as we use in the Name dialogue.
Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs7. Now we’re ready to start applying the colour tints to the first part of our image. Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves). Now comes the fun part, and the step that requires the most experimentation on your part to get the result you require.
What we’re attempting to do is use the four curves channels to mix the required colour. This is something that is beyond the scope of any tutorial and something that I am not going to try and explain in too much depth, but I am going to give you an example and then suggest you start experimenting yourself.
8. Here are the five options available from the Curves panel and the graphs below show you the settings I used to colour tint the castle walls.
Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs
This shows the adjustments I made to the Magenta, Yellow & Black curves.

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs

9. The thinking behind the curves adjustment is to start with the basic elements of the colour you are trying to create and to adjust the starting curve (in my case, the yellow was the base for the sandstone colour). So, after adjusting the yellow curve, I edited the magenta curve to tone down the yellowness and finally altered the black curve to darken (or lighten) the colour until satisfied. As I mentioned earlier, you will need to experiment with the curves to achieve the desired results.

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to tint photographs10. This example shows you the result of altering the above curves. The major benefit is if you need to alter or tweak your colours all you need to do is double-click the Curves Adjustment layer and re-edit the individual curves channels.

11. All that is now left for me to do is to repeat the above steps to colour tint all the remaining colours in the image.

About the Author
Paul Charlton is Publisher of the web site WZ2K: Digital illusions Explained. He also supplies articles to the UK's Digital Camera Magazine and Computer Arts.If you have any questions about this method for colour tinting your images or feedback you can contact Paul here

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