Photo Retouching and Color Correction in Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop gives you the tools you need to take your worst looking photo and make it look good. In fact, a lot of professional photographers use Photoshop to crop out bad places and otherwise clean up their photos before presenting them to their customers.

In this article, we're going to learn photo retouching techniques that you'll be able to use with just a few clicks of the mouse.

The Red Eye Tool

The Red Eye tool allows you to fix red eye problems in your images. The Red Eye tool is grouped with the Spot Healing Brush tool in the paint section of the toolbox.

Using the Red Eye tool is probably one of the simplest things you can do in Photoshop.

Set the pupil size you want from the Options Bar (pictured below).

Increase the pupil size for photos that have close-ups of the eyes. Reduce the pupil size if the eyes are small aspects in the photo.

Next, simply click on the tool, then on the problem area that you want to fix.

Then select how dark you want the pupils from the Darken Amount box. 100% will create black pupils.

To correct red eye in a photo, simply click on the center of the pupil.

This photo didn't have red eye, but we changed the color anyway using the Red Eye tool.

Now, here's how it looks after using the Red Eye tool:

Notice the left eye is a little darker. 

The Clone Stamp Tool

The Clone Stamp tool allows you to clone an area of an image and place it somewhere else on that image. 

Click on the Clone Stamp tool, then select an area of the image that you want to clone. 

You can adjust the brush size in the Options Bar if you want to clone a larger area.

Next, specify how you want to align the sample pixels:

  • Aligned. This samples pixels continuously and doesn't lose the current sampling point even if you release the mouse button. 
  • Sample. This samples from only the layers that you specify. Alt+Click on the area that you want to sample, then click on the area in the image where you want to place the clone.

    The Spot Healing Brush Tool

    Use the Spot Healing Brush tool to remove blemishes or other imperfections from images. To use it, click on the tool, then press your mouse button down as you move it over the area of the image that you want to repair. The Spot Healing Brush tool will sample pixels near that area to fix your image.

    Before you use the Spot Healing Brush tool, set your options in the options bar (pictured below).

    We've covered all options given in this Options Bar except for type. You should be familiar enough with all the other options to make the selections.

    For type, you can either choose Proximity Match, Content Aware, or Create Texture. Proximity match will make repairs using the closest surrounding pixels. Create Texture will create a texture based on the pixels you're repairing. Content Aware will synthesize nearby content.

    Let's show you how it works.

    Once you click on the tool, drag it across the area you want to fix. That area now appears shaded in a dark grey:

    When you let go of your mouse, it will repair the image by synthesizing nearby content:

    For the picture above, it was the cat's ear that was used to repair when our selection in the Options bar was Content Aware.

    Here's Proximity Match

    Finally, here's what it looks like when you use Create Texture:

    The Healing Brush Tool

    The Healing Brush tool is grouped with the Spot Healing Brush tool and is very similar to it. The only difference is that with the Healing Brush tool you get to pick the pixels that you want to sample, then use to repair the image.

    To use the Healing Brush tool, start by selecting your preferences in the Options Bar.

    Select your brush size and the mode.

    Then, select the source: 

  • Sampled uses pixels sampled from the image.
  • Pattern uses a pattern of pixels that you can select from the dropdown box.

    Check Aligned if you want to sample pixels continuously, even if you release the mouse button.

    Choose the Sample you want to use. You can choose which layer you want to sample pixels from.

    When you're ready to use the Healing Brush, click an area in the image that you want to use as a sample. Press Alt+click.

    Then press your mouse button down and drag over the area that needs to be repaired.

    In the picture below, we're going to treat the wisp of hair that hangs down by her eye as a blemish and remove it. Since it's a small area, we've set our brush size to 6 pixels.

    Here's the result:

    The Healing Brush tool is fun to use. We can also remove the bobby pins from her hair. By doing this, we can better show you how the Healing Brush actually works.

    We'll start out by sampling the area nearest to the first bobby pin. If we start from the bottom of the bobby pin, then we want to sample the area by the bottom of the bobby pin. As we move up the bobby pin, the Healing Brush will follow beside us, continuously sampling the pixels.

    We can also remove the dandelion by following the instructions above. First, we'll increase the brush size.

    The Patch Tool

    The Patch tool lets you repair an area with pixels from another area or pattern. It's grouped with the Spot Healing Brush tool.

    To use the Patch tool, click on it, then drag your mouse over the image to outline the area of the image that you want to repair.

    Go to the Options Bar.

    Make sure Source is checked after you outline the area that you want to repair.

    Next, drag in the area you want to use to repair the image. Then, click Destination in the Source Bar.

    Drag the destination area to the area that you want to repair.

    The Color Replacement Tool

    The Color Replacement tool is grouped with the Brush tool. It allows you to replace colors in your image using the foreground color you have selected. Simply select the foreground color, then drag the mouse over the area where you want to change the color.

    In the snapshot below, we've used the Color Replacement tool to change a green leaf to red.

    The new color will blend with the existing color.

    Before you use the Color Replacement tool, make sure you set your options in the Options Bar.

    Set the brush size and the mode.

    Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Adobe Photoshop course?

    Select if you want Continuous Sampling, to sample once, or use a Background Swatch by selecting the respective icon.

    Continuous. Continuously samples colors as you drag.

    Sample Once. Uses the first color you click as the sample.

    Background Swatch. Only replaces areas that contain the current background color.

    Next, set your limits.

    Discontiguous will erase the sampled color wherever it occurs under the brush.

    Contiguous will erase areas of the sampled color that are connected together.

    Find Edges will erase the connected areas that contain the sampled color, but it will also preserve the sharpness of the edges.

    Select a value for tolerance. A lower level will replace with colors very similar to the ones you've clicked. A higher number gives a broader range of colors.

    Check Anti-Alias to smooth the edges.

    Painting with History

    The History Brush tool allows you to fix mistakes that you've made in your image without destroying the image or starting over. However, to use the History Brush tool, you also have to use the History panel.

    To access the History panel, go to Window> History. You'll then see a history of all changes you've made to the image.

    The History Brush tool works much the same as the Brush tool except now you're going to select a state that you want to paint using the History panel, then paint it on.

    To select a state, click on the empty box beside the state, then start painting on your image.

    Content Aware Patch

    The Content Aware Fill is a great tool for filling in space on an image so it blends with the rest of the photo. However, if there's not a pattern in the image for Photoshop to use, it can fill it in with content that doesn't match. The Content Aware Patch lets you determine which area of the image you'll use for the fill.

    Let's use the same image we used when learning about the Content Aware Fill, with the same selection made:

    Photoshop replaced the extracted selection with more mountain top. However, what if the affect we were looking for was more sky?

    We can use the Content Aware Patch to make that happen.

    Now, go to the Options bar and follow these steps:


  • Patch. Select Content-aware.      
  • Adaptation. Here's where you're choose a value for how close the patch will reflect the existing image patterns.
  • Sample All Layers. You can enable this option to create the result of the move in another layer. Just select the target layer in the Layers panel. We only have one layer for our image.

    Now, select an area that you want to replace in the image using the Patch tool, as we've done below.

    Next, drag the selection over the area that you want to use as the fill. To drag, click on the left mouse button while the cursor is in the selected area, and move it to the location of the fill.

    At first, it will look like it's just extending the selection:

    But as you can see, it is filling in the area with the area you're selecting:

    Content Aware Move Tool

    You can also move content from one location in an image to another. Content Aware will fill in the background left behind from the moved image for you.

    Let's see how it works.

    Select the Content-Aware Move tool from the toolbox. It's grouped with the Spot Healing Brush.

    Go to the Options bar.

    Make sure the mode is set to Move. The Adaptation and Sample All Layers settings are the same as for the Content Patch tool.

    Now, select the area you want to move.

    Now, drag it to where you want to place it - or move it to.

    Puppet Warp

    Puppet Warp can be used to tweak and edit images - or aspects within an image. You can change the position of a trunk on an elephant or make a flower look wilted.

    Let's learn how it works.

    We're going to use this image of a flower:

    Use the Pen tool to select the area of the image you want to tweak. This may take some time because you want precision. This might mean creating a lot of anchor points if the object is large.

    Make sure the path you create is a closed path:

    Now, right click on the path and select Make Selection.

    Set the radius to zero, then click OK.

    As you can see, it's now a selection:

    Next, click the Marquee tool . Go to the Options bar.

    Click the Refine Edge button.

    You learned about this dialogue box when you learned to select items.

    Go to the Output section and change the output to New Layer With Layer Mask.

    Click OK.

    You now have two layers. One with just the flower - then the original. What we need to do next is delete the flower from the original image. Here's how to do it.

    Our original flower is on our background layer.

    First, we need to click so the background layer is visible. Notice the eye icon to the left of the background layer:

    Now, click Delete on the keyboard.

    Use Content-Aware to fill in the space that will be left when you delete the flower. Press OK.

    As you can see, the flower is now removed from the background image.

    Now, click on the masked layer in the Layers panel:

    Go to Edit>Puppet Warp.

    Your mouse pointer will now turn into a little pushpin. You can click on points on the mesh that's over your image (see below) and drag them to warp the image.

    In the Options bar, click the checkmark when you're done dragging points.

    Here's our finished image:

    We can use the Spot Healing Brush tool to cleanup edges that were left behind on the background layer.


 Color Correction

Color Modes and Space
A color mode is defined as the colors that we see and work with in an image. Different color modes are RGB, CMYK, or HSB. These modes are different methods for describing the colors used.

A color space, however, is simply a variant of a color model. A color space has a range of colors. There are color spaces inside color modes. For example: the RGB model has Adobe RGB, and sRGB color spaces, just to name a few.

Color spaces become important when we're talking about your printer or monitor. Your printer and monitor have their own color spaces; therefore, they can only reproduce colors that are in their range. When you move an image from one device to another, such as from your monitor to your printer, you may notice changes in the image colors because the different devices will interpret the colors according to the color spaces they have. 

Whenever you move images from one device to another, it's important to use Photoshop's color management features. This way, you can make sure the colors are at least very similar so they stay consistent.

 It's important that you consider what color mode you use in your images to insure the most consistency in colors.

Here's a reminder of the color modes:


  • Bitmap creates a bitmap image. A bitmap image uses rectangular elements (or pixels) to create the image.
  • Grayscale. Choosing Grayscale means that the image you create will be in black and white.
  • RGB images contain three color channels: red, green, and blue. RGB should be used for any images that will be displayed on screen, such as on the web or in a slide show.  
  • CMYK should be used for images that will be printed. CMYK contains four color channels: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. 
  • Lab Color contains all the colors of RGB and CMYK. This is good to use when you're going to individually edit luminance and color values. It's also useful when creating images when working with photo CD images.

    The Variations Command

    You use the Variations command to the adjust color balance, saturation, and contrast in an image by viewing thumbnails of alternatives.

    To use the Variations command go to Image>Adjustments>Variations.

    You'll see the dialogue box below with variations of your image displayed.

    If you look at the top of the dialogue box, you'll see a thumbnail of your original image, and a thumbnail of your image with the adjustments that are currently selected. The second thumbnail is the "Current Pick" image.

    If you click on any adjustments below these thumbnails, such as "More Blue," the Current Pick will change to show your selections.

    Leave the checkmark beside the Show Clipping option if you want to see a preview of areas in the image that have been clipped by the adjustment.

    Now, choose what you want to adjust in the image:

    Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights adjust the dark, middle, and light areas.

    Saturation will change the hue in the image.

    Next, use the Fine/Coarse slider to set the amount of each adjustment that you make.

    When you've done that, you can adjust the color and the brightness. You adjust brightness on the right hand side of the dialogue box (pictured below).

    Whenever you click on an adjustment more than once, it doubles the adjustment amount. For example, clicking on the "Darker" adjustment once will darken the image, but if you click on it again, it will double the darkening effect.

    Click OK when you're finished.

    The Auto Commands

    The Auto commands include the Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color. All three are found under Image on the Menu Bar.


    Auto Tone

    When you click on Auto Tone, Photoshop automatically adjusts the tone for you.

    Take a look at the before and after snapshots when we use Auto Tone.



    You can use the Adjustments panel to further correct colors if necessary.


    Auto Color

    The Auto Color command will automatically adjust the color levels in your image. To use it, go to Image> Auto Color.

    You should always use Auto Color before Auto Tone.


    Auto Contrast

    Auto Contrast will automatically adjust the contrast levels in your image. The alternative is using the Adjustments panel to do it yourself.

    To use Auto Contrast, go to Image>Auto Contrast.

    Adjusting Levels

    Another way to adjust color in your images is to adjust the levels. The way that you do this is by going to the Adjustments panel (pictured below). To view the Adjustments panel, go to Window>Adjustments.

    Click the Levels icon in the Adjustments panel. It looks like this: .

    You'll see the following window open inside the Properties panel.

    Now you can adjust the levels of color in the color channels. Remember, RGB has red, green, and blue channels.

    Adjust Curves

    You can change the color and tonality of your image by adjusting the curves in the Adjustments panel using the Curve button .

    You will then see this window in the Properties panel:

    In the Curves Adjustment, the straight diagonal line represents the tonal range for your image. This is your baseline and will still appear even after you adjust the curve.

    The horizontal lines in the graph represent input levels. The vertical lines are output levels.

    You can move your mouse over the diagonal line and drag it either up or down to adjust the curve. The tonality of your image will change as you drag.

    Photoshop automatically creates an adjustment layer to reflect the adjustment to the curve.

    If you look at the Layers panel, you'll see it displayed:

    If you adjust a curve, but aren't happy with the changes you've made, you can easily enough undo it. Just click the in the bottom right hand corner of the Adjustments panel.