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How to Make Color Range Mask Selections in Photoshop

In this tutorial, we look at how to use the Color Range Mask feature in Photoshop to make and refine selections. You will find the Color Range Mask in the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, which some people also call Adobe Camera Raw. Many photographers believe the Camera Raw feature is just for editing Raw files, but it isn’t. You can open any image in Camera Raw and it’s a great tool for editing, especially if you aren’t confident all the Photoshop tools. Camera Raw allows you to make use of the Color Range Mask feature to refine selections.

By using the Color Range Mask techniques described in this tutorial you can easily target and adjust colours. Here’s an example which used the technique to darken only the yellow sky.

In this tutorial, we look at how to use the Color Range Mask feature in Photoshop to make and refine selections. You will find the Color Range Mask in the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, which some people also call Adobe Camera Raw. Many photographers believe the Camera Raw feature is just for editing Raw files, but it isn’t. You can open any image in Camera Raw and it’s a great tool for editing, especially if you aren’t confident all the Photoshop tools. Camera Raw allows you to make use of the Color Range Mask feature to refine selections.

Open Camera Raw as a Smart Filter

When you use the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, it’s best to open it as a Smart Filter. To do this you need to create a new image layer and convert this for use with Smart Filters. This is easy to do but there are two options to use depending on the image you’re editing:

  1. If the image only has one layer in the Photoshop Layers Window (usually called “Background”), you can duplicate that layer. To do this, right-click on the layer in the Layers Window and select the “Duplicate Layer…” option. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut “Cmd + J” on a Mac or “Ctrl + J” on a PC.
  2. If the image has multiple layers in the Layers Window, you need to consolidate them into a new Stamp Layer. You can create a Stamp Layer by clicking the top layer in the Layers Window to select it. Then use the keyboard shortcut “Shift + Cmd + Option + E” on a Mac or “Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E” on a PC.

Now click on the new layer in the Layers Window to ensure it’s selected. Then select “Filters | Convert for Smart Filters” in the Photoshop menu. If Photoshop displays an information dialog, click the OK button to proceed. After a few seconds, the layer’s converted to a Smart Object which can use Smart Filters.

Converting a layer for use with smart filters

Here you can see a small icon against the new layer’s thumbnail in the Photoshop Layers Window. This icon indicates you can use the layer with Smart Filters.

Now we can launch the Camera Raw filter.

Launching Photoshop Camera Raw

Click on the new layer in Layers Window to select it’s not already selected.

In the Photoshop menu select “Filters | Camera Raw filter…” to open Camera Raw.

Camera Raw filter with selection tools indicated

When the Camera Raw filter opens you will see your image loaded for editing.

To use the Color Range Mask we will need to use one of three selection tools. Adobe changed the interface in June 2020 so that the tools appear down the right side. Before this, you would find the tools along the top of the interface.

You will find the Color Range Mask feature in three of the Camera Raw selection tools, which you can see indicated in the screenshot. These are:

  1. Adjustment Brush
  2. Graduated Filter
  3. Radial Filter

You will find the Color Range Mask is identical in all three of the selection tools. For this example, we will use the Radial Filter to select the centre of the image.

Drawing the Selection with the Radial Filter

After selecting the Radial filter tool, you can click on the image and drag to draw out a selection.

Making a selection with the Radial Filter in Photoshop Camera Raw

As you draw out a selection you will see the centre pin (1) which you can use to reposition the selection by clicking and dragging with your mouse. There are also 4 handles (top, bottom, left and right) which you can click and drag to resize the selection.

If you move your mouse just outside the dotted edge of the selection you will see the shape of the pointer change to be a curved arrow. You can then click and drag to rotate the selection.

In this screenshot you can also see a red mask outside the selected area. You can turn the mask off and on using the “Mask Options” tick box (2).

If you need to refine the edge of the selection to help create a better blend with the rest of the image you can use the “Feather” slider (3). This is also where you will find the “Invert” option which reverses the selection so that the selection is outside the radial filter rather than inside.

After creating a selection, you can refine it using the Color Range Mask.

Refine the Selection with the Color Range Mask

You will find the Color Range Mask controls at the bottom of the adjustment controls on the right side of the interface.

The Range Mask option in the Camera Raw filter

In the Range Mask dropdown, there are three options:

  • The Depth Option requires special depth information that’s not currently available in many cameras.
  • The Luminance Range Mask allows you to refine the selection based on dark or light pixels are.
  • Pick the Color option to activate the Color Range Mask. You can now use this to select the colour or colours to target with any adjustment.

Picking Colours to Adjust

To select which colours to target you need to use the “Sample Colour” tool which looks like an eyedropper (1).

Selecting a color range mask with the tools in the Camera Raw filter

When the tool is active, click on the colour in the image that you want to sample (2). If you click you will sample a point. But if you click and drag you will sample all the colours in the area you drag over. You can also create multiple samples by holding down the Shift key whilst sampling.

Now you can adjust the precision of the selection using the “Color Range” slider (3). When the slider is over to the left, Photoshop only selects the colour if it’s an accurate match for the sample. When the slider’s over to the right, the match isn’t as accurate.

You will also notice in the screenshot that I changed the colour of the Mask to Green rather than red. In addition, I switched the mask to show the selected area rather than the unselected area. This makes it easier to see what’s selected and what isn’t. You can make these changes by clicking on the coloured square to the right of the masking Options.

When you’re satisfied with the selection, turn off the Masking Options tick box and apply your adjustments to the image.

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Summary of Color Range Mask Selections in Photoshop

In this tutorial, we looked at how to refine selections using the Color Range Mask tools in Photoshop. These are part of the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter and Radial Filter found in the Camera Raw filter and Adobe Camera Raw. By making selections with these tools and then refining those selections with the Color Range Selection, you create more precise and realistic adjustments.

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Photo Editing Tutorials How to Make Color Range Mask Selections in Photoshop