In my sunlight touch up tutorial, I showed you how to add a hint of color to your photo while giving it an extra boost at the same time. However, sometimes a photo can benefit from a little color, but just doesn’t need that extra boost. Or even a minor light tweak. This simple color overlay is a great way to add a touch of color without making your photo look like you’ve edited the heck out of it. Or to add a little life to B&W photos.
Note: this works the exact same way in Elements as it does in Photoshop.
When I started this Kayotic Darkroom section, I figured it would be best to start with simple and fast techniques I use to edit my photos. Now this color overlay is one of those tweaks I use an awful lot. Not only because it’s so simple but can have a really huge impact, but also because it’s a fantastic way to manually adjust a white balance that is slightly off.
This is my SOOC photo. I really like it as is, so I don’t want to add any light or tweak anything else. Even though the colors are exactly as my eyes saw them when I took the photo—we were standing in the shade—I still feel it can use just a little warmth to soften the overall look. It’s a tad too blueish for my taste.
So first, I add a new layer by clicking New Layer at the bottom of the layers palette.
Double click the text to name your layer. I’ve named mine Color Overlay.
If you’ll ever see me edit my photos in real life, you’ll notice that I use keyboard shortcuts a lot. After all these years it’s become an automatism.
You can simply create a new layer by pressing Ctrl – Shift – N simultaneously (Cmd-Shift-N for Mac). The benefit to this shortcut is that it not only enables you to immediately name the layer in the pop-up box, but you can set its layer mode and opacity at the same time. This can be a huge time saver.
Now it’s time to choose the color you want to apply. I want to add warmth, so I’m opting for yellow. You can do this with any color to create warmth or coolness. Click on the foreground color in the toolbar on the side of your screen.
Choose your color from the color picker. I went for a nice shade of orange/yellow.
Make sure you’ve selected the new Color Overlay layer and not the background.
Choose your paint bucket from the toolbar (or via edit – fill in the top menu), and click on your photo to fill the layer with yellow.
There. That should be yellow enough, don’t you think?
Now we have to tell photoshop how to process the color we’ve just used. We do this by setting the layer mode.
Change the mode from normal to Color.
This will expose your photo again. The solid yellow has now transformed into a yellow overlay. This is still way too extreme, though. Unless you want to create pop art, which can be fun, too.
All that’s left to do is adjust the opacity. I’ve set it to 20%. You can also add a layer mask at this point, to hide specific color overlay parts.
It was the perfect amount to add a little warmth to my photo without making it look fake or overly tweaked.
A little color goes a long way.
Special note to Elements users:
In photoshop/lightroom there are white/color balance tools that (I think) aren’t present in Elements. Of course you can always adjust your levels or work with your hue/saturation, but here’s a little cheat sheet for you in case your white balance is slightly off.
If your photo has a slight color cast, find the color on the color wheel and make an overlay in the color which lies directly opposite on the chart. You can even use the eyedropper tool to grab the right color from the wheel. Play with the opacity until you’re satisfied with the result. You’ll be surprised how accurately you can adjust your color balance this way.
You can easily turn your favorite color overlay into an action by following the ‘creating actions’ right here.