Saturation Masks

Beavertail Cactus

I recently discovered a wonderful new Photoshop tool – the use of saturation masks.  This is somewhat of an advanced tool – if you don’t use layers and masks in Photoshop (you should), this won’t make much sense, but I do believe many subscribers here may find it useful.

First, I should begin by explaining I do all my shooting in raw mode with an Adobe 1998 colorspace.  By using a somewhat dull colorspace like Adobe 1998, I am able to capture a much broader range of color then I could otherwise.  With a colorful colorspace, bright colors can easily be oversaturated and that detail is lost.  For example in this photo of bright colorful flower in sunset light, the flower was over saturated right out of the camera, even with a relatively dull color-space.

Since I shoot with a dull color-space, almost all my images need some saturation added to get them back to how I envisioned the scene.  Unfortunately, that is easier said then done – with Photoshop, saturation is kind of an all or nothing proposition as some areas will often end up over-saturated, while others under.  In the past I have often performed my saturation adjustments in a separate layer, and then taken the time to paint it out (mask) of areas that are oversaturated.  In many scenes this just isn’t possible, for example a photo with a meadow of flowers may have hundreds of tiny areas that are oversaturated, so then you are forced to compromise.

You can make saturation adjustments based upon 6 individual colors, but again the same color in one portion of the scene may need more saturation then the same color in a different portion of the scene.

So my new solution is Tony Kuyper’s saturation mask actions.  Tony is an excellent photographer and writer, for a better, more detailed description, I would recommend spending some time reading about the actions on his site.

In a nutshell, his actions create two masks based upon the amount of saturation found in an image.  Every color in an image opened in Photoshop has varying degrees of saturation.  Tony’s action creates masks based upon the degree of saturation.  His intensify mask is one where the more saturated the color, the darker the mask, likewise the undersatrated colors are light to white in the mask.  As you may know with masks, black blocks the adjustment effect, in this case saturation, and whites reveal the effect.  This mask allows you to saturate just the under saturated colors, while leaving the saturated colors relatively unaffected.

Here is the actual intensity mask for this image:

 Saturation mask

You can see the actual flower is almost black – that is because those colors are fully saturated.  In addition, the green portion of the cactus is fairly white in this mask.  So you can see, any adjustment to saturation is going to effect the white or unsaturated colors far more then the dark, or saturated colors.  This is really a powerful tool.

His actions also include one that creates a rescue mask.  With the rescue mask, the under-saturated colors are blocked (dark or black) and the over saturated colors are light.  This allows you to desaturated only the over saturated colors.  I had to do that with this image as the reds in the flower were blown out.

Since these masks are created directly from the actual image, they are completely self-feathing.  In the past I would have used a mask and tried to paint out the flower – I’m sure I would have missed a few spots, and gone over a little in other areas – that doesn’t happen with these masks.