3 Great Ways to Enhance Your Photos with “Replace Color”

Photoshop and Lightroom have an endless choice of tools for enhancing color in your photos. In the past, I’ve written tutorials on how to use Selective Color, Camera Calibration, HSL, and BlendIf. In this tutorial, I want to cover and old and often overlooked tool in Photoshop, Replace Color.


There are at least three scenarios where Replace Color can make a big impact on your image:

  • Enhancing de saturated colors: Selective Color and HSL are great tools to enhancing color, but they can’t target colors which are too de-saturated. Replace Color can much more easily target the key areas to add saturation.
  • Increase saturation of bright colors: When the brightness (lightness) of a pixel is too high, increasing saturation may not increase perceived color at all. This is often an issue with bright colorful skies. The way to increase color is to reduce lightness, rather than increase saturation. Selective Color tends not to work in this situation, and HSL can be difficult to target precisely in this situation. So Replace Color becomes a great option.
  • Dodging and burning: It can be difficult to independently control changes in color and tone when using traditional dodge and burn techniques. The beauty of Replace Color is that it gives you independent control over hue, saturation, and lightness while targeting highlights or shadows in your image.

Of course, you can also use it for its intended purpose, to replace one color with another in your image. However, I prefer changing colors in LAB.When you make such a dramatic change in hue on a detailed object (vs a sky), there are some little things that may go wrong and be hard to notice initially when using Replace Color.

There are also some good reasons why Replace Color is not widely used. It does not support a non-destructive workflow, because it cannot be used as an adjustment layer nor on a Smart Object. So Replace Color should typically be used either very early or very late in your workflow. And if another tool can get the job done just as well and work non-destructively, that’s usually the best choice. But when you run into one of the scenarios above, it’s a great option to consider.

Workflow to use Replace Color:

  1. Replace Color works on a single layer, so create a flattened copy of your image. You can do this by clicking <ctrl/cmd><alt/option><shift>-E to create a “Stamp Visible” layer.
  2. Go to Image / Adjustments / Replace Color
  3. Increase the saturation slider significantly to the right (or make some other dramatic change in Hue, Saturation, and Lightness). The result will look overdone, but you’ll be able to clearly see where in the image you are making changes.
  4. Make sure “localized color clusters” is checked. Most of the time, this is the best option. This keeps your adjustments more isolated to the areas you click, which is generally what you need when using this tool. You can always toggle it off and on to compare later.
  5. Now use the picker tool to click on your main target.
  6. Adjust the fuzziness to select more or less of the colors similar to what you initially clicked on.
  7. You can hold <shift> or use the picker with the + sign to manually add to the selection with additional clicks. [The subtract (-) option does not work as you would expect and I recommend not using it at this time].
  8. Now that you have dialed in the targeted, adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness to get the desired effect.
  9. Continue to iterate your targeting and HSL values as needed.


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