Photoshop Quick Tip: Tone Down Overly Saturated Colors

Sometimes an image has colors that are too saturated, either from over-edited or even straight out of camera.  You’ve seen the images with pink so bright it hurts your eyes, or grass that is neon.  Sometimes the skin just looks like it baked too long. There are a number of sophisticated ways to fix these problems.  But there is one super quick “shortcut” way to try too. This will not always be your best bet, and sometimes may not even yield pleasing results.  But when it works, it is quick and easy.

To start, take your image and add a black and white adjustment layer or a black and white gradient map. This is found in the layers palette (that black and white circle icon) and then going to “black and white” or “gradient map.” In CS4 you can also get to either using the adjustment panel.

Next take the layer opacity down. How long depends on how much your image needs to be toned down.  You may find you are at 5-30% for most shots. A little goes a long way. If you go to a higher opacity, you will get a vintage look or eventually a black and white image.

Utilize the masks if only a small portion of the image needed to be toned down, by inverting the mask (Control/Command + “I”) and then paint with white to reveal this dimming effect.

Below is an example. You can see how the pink is glowing in the 1st image. It is overly saturated. There is also a bit too much color in her hair and even a little too much on her skin. 26% opacity on a black and white layer and masking back the background led to the 2nd shot.

too much

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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  1. 4

    Jennifer B says

    this came at a perfect time! Last night I finished editing photos of a little girl in a hot pink dress, and the dress was WAY TOO PINK right out of the camera! I tried a few different ways to fix it, but wasn’t completely happy. I’ll try this too, now. I’m glad I saw it before I ordered any! Thank you!


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