Select Skin Tones with Color Range in Photoshop CS6
Adapted from The Photographer's Quick Guide to Photoshop CS6 (Peachit Press)
By Rob Sylvan
Read more Photoshop articles
When it comes to working with photos of people, there are many times where you need to make
adjustments to peopleís skin without affecting other parts of the photo. Then again, at other times
you may need to adjust some aspect of an image without affecting the skin. While there are a
variety of ways to make selections for making these adjustments in Photoshop, one you may be
aware of from previous versions of Photoshop uses the selection options inside of the Color
Range dialog box. Well, in CS6 there are two new features in this dialog box to add to your toolkit.
With a photo open, go to Select > Color Range to open the Color Range dialog box. The goal of Color Range is to help you select a specific color or range of colors within the
image. You can also use any one of Photoshopís other selection tools to create a selection and
then limit Color Range to looking just within that selection. Skin tones are essentially just
another range of colors that you can attempt to select.
Hereís an example to help illustrate how this works. I licensed the photo below from
iStockphoto with a range of skin tones in it, and while it is a good photo of these three people,
their skin tones look a little washed out. Letís see a couple of ways we can use these new Color
Range tools to select just their skin tones. That way we can use a Color Balance adjustment layer
to introduce a little more warmth into their skin without affecting other parts of the photo.
The original photo. © istockphoto/nano.
In previous versions of Photoshop you could approach selecting the skin tones by setting the
Select drop-down menu to Sampled Colors, and then using the Eyedropper tool to click on an
area of skin. From there you click the Eyedropper with the + sign to add more to the sample or
click the Eyedropper with the - sign to subtract from the sample. This can work very well in
many cases, and did OK with this photo, as shown below, but letís see how these other options work.
Using Sampled Colors alone can get you pretty close to a good range of color in
Tip: I find it helpful to set the Selection Preview to Grayscale to see how the
selection is working, which is why the photo looks grayscale now. White areas
are selected, black areas are not included in the selection, and shades of gray
represent partial selection.
To help hone in on only skin tones, we can try the new Detect Faces option while using Sampled
Colors. Hereís how:
- Check Localized Color Clusters to enable access to Detect Faces.
- Check Detect Faces.
- Use the Eyedropper tools to select the skin tones.
- Refine the selection using the Fuzziness and Range sliders. Fuzziness controls how wide the range of colors can be from the sampled point, so a low
Fuzziness amount will be stricter than a high amount. The Range slider controls how far
from the sampled point Color Range will look for the sampled tone.
Note: The face detection algorithm is more accurate when people are facing the
camera. Profiles and partial faces may not work at all.
This combination of tools coupled with Detect Faces does a pretty good job of keeping the
selection directed on the skin. Because of the Color Balance adjustment I plan to
use, I donít mind some areas of partial selection in the skin, but I want as little of the teeth, eyes,
hair, clothing, and background selected as possible. Whatever your reason is for making the
selection will determine what is acceptable for your particular project. OK, now letís try the new
select Skin Tones option and see how that compares.
Using Detect Faces provides a tighter selection on only the areas of skin I want
Select Skin Tones
Using Sampled Colors can actually take a bit of time to get right as each click of the Eyedropper
tool can add unwanted or remove wanted tones. The new Select Skin Tones option automates the
whole process, and if the selection it creates works for you, then it can be a real time saver. Hereís how to use it:
- Click the Select drop-down menu and choose Skin Tones. This tells Photoshop to consult its database of possible skin tones and make a selection
based on the tones it finds in the photo.
- (Optional) Check Detect Faces.
Not bad for an automated process.
I say this is optional because sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesnít. When checked,
Photoshop tries to recognize faces in the photo and then extend the skin selection from
- Use the Fuzziness slider to refine the selection.
Refine with the Fuzziness slider.
Because skin detection is automated, this is the only control you can use with this option.
The lower the Fuzziness amount, the stricter the selection.
I found that for this photo, leaving Detect Faces unchecked got closer to where I wanted
than had I checked the option. Different photos will give different results so give each
option a try to see which works best for a particular photo.
Note: The Invert check box is there to give you a quick way to invert your selection,
which is handy if you want to select everything except skin tones.
- Click OK to apply your selection to the photo.
- Now that it is a selection, we can also use any of the regular selection tools to further
modify this selection. An easy way is to click the Quick Mask Mode button in the Toolbar
(or press Q), and then switch to the Brush tool (B). Paint with white on any part you want
to add to the selection or paint with black to subtract from the selection. Press Q again to exit Quick Mask Mode.
Quick Mask Mode and the Brush tool are great for quick touchups to any
With my selection active, I added a Color Balance adjustment layer (via the Adjustment
Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then I gave a slight boost to Red and
Yellow to give everyone a healthy glow.
A subtle adjustment to the skin tones using Color Balance.
This is just one of the many ways you can use this new tool to create selections. I hope you find a
place for it in your workflow.