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Using Variations to Make Color Decisions in Photoshop

by | Nov 3, 2010 | Basics, Photoshop | 1 comment

Sometimes when we are editing and color correcting a photograph, we realize that a photo could use a little something, or that a color is off, but we can’t figure out where we need to make the adjustment to get the look that we want. Photoshop has a tool built in that will add a different color to many different versions of your photo at once, allowing you to see what to add to balance out your color. Professionally, I would say that you should be able to do this by your own sight, but also professionally I can say that after looking at and color correcting 200 images in a row, you are ready for a little help from somewhere.

This is where the Variations menu comes in. The sample image above is from Stock.xchng® and was taken by Uku Nurk, and can be found here. I have altered it for the purposes of this tutorial. To find variations, go to Image> Adjustments> Variations.

A very large box will come up that fills the screen, but it is needed to see a large enough preview of each of the settings. You can set whether the adjustments are in the shadows, midtones or highlights, or whether it affects the overall saturation of the image. There is also a slider to increase the amount of each color added to the photo. Fine means less will be added, and course means it will be a more harsh adjustment. Looking at the different images, it looks like we need to add more red, because the original image looked to have too much cyan.

Simply click on the window that says “More Red” and then click okay.


To me, the image looks like it has a little too much red now, so you can adjust this by going to Edit> Fade Variations. This will give you a slider so that you can fade the amount of the last adjustment that you made. This isn’t the most precise method of editing colors in your images, but if you are stuck as to what to add to an image to balance out the color, Variations is a handy visual tool. If you don’t like the harsh adjustments, you could use this to help you to make a decision, and then cancel out of it and do a Color Balance Adjustment Layer, or a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer,and add more of the color that you need.

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