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Choosing an exact color in Photoshop and changing a photo to match

Learn how to use Curves and LAB mode for a perfect color replacement.

Make a dress the same color as a fish in Photoshop. How to get an exact color in a photograph.

Changing colors of an object in Photoshop is not that hard. But what about getting and exact color? In this tutorial Colin Smith shows how to sample the color of a fish and change a dress to the identical color. Combining the power of curves and LAB mode make this difficult sounding task easy. This is an advanced topic, but presenting in a very simple way that anyone can do.


This is one of those tasks that sounds easy enough until you try to do it. You are given a color and then need to change something in a photo to match that color. Good news! You have come to the right tutorial. You will learn

  • How to sample colors in Photo
  • How to replace color using the info Panel
  • How to use LAB color mode in Photoshop
  • How to use Curves in LAB mode to affect color.

I’m sure you will enjoy this one. Here are links to related tutorial to make this a bit easier if these concepts are new to you

How to use Curves in Photoshop

How to use LAB color in Photoshop


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32 responses to “Choosing an exact color in Photoshop and changing a photo to match”

  1. Nice tutorial Colin!
    I do have a question: While LAB mode is indeed powerful many times the object I need to change color on is part of a complex composite, so it’s hard to switch it over to LAB. Will this work with RGB or CMYK color modes as well? (Simply matching the input/output values for each Curve individually.)

    • Hi Dennis. Sometimes, it used to work perfectly, but in newer versions of PS, if the luminance value is too far off it doesn’t always give the expected result. I suspect there is a bug somewhere in PS.

  2. Could you convert a color photo into a black & white using the curve in photoshop.
    Love to learn black & white. Thank you

  3. Collin, thank you for the video-all new to me! A keeper for sure. Question-I am just now getting into video and presentations. Although I have had your book on Video in Photoshop for awhile am now ready to go through your exercises, downloads, etc. and will download the assets from Peachpit this weekend. Question-is it possible to create a green screen effect in photoshop using two dance videos one over the other? Thank you for all you do!!!

    • Yes and No, natively, no you can’t extract video in PS. However there is a plugin from Digital Anarchy that can do it. Its not super reliable, but it can work. They may have sold the masking plugin to Red Giant, my memory is a little foggy on it.

  4. Thanks Colin. I did my Ph.D. thesis using Lab (pronounced as separate letters L, a, b, not Lab), and haven’t used in since. It was nice to see a use for it in Photoshop. Great way to match colors.

    • Right you are on the pronunciation, I just like to keep it simple for the rest us mere mortals 🙂 What are you doing with images that you are a scientist (or Dr)?

  5. if converted to a smart object before changing to Lab mode, would it be necessary to merge layers to return to rgb?

  6. I didn’t know what to do with LAB color either. I get these tutorials via email from you. There is never a Like button to smash into dust when they show up like this. I do, however, save the emails in subject folders – very handy for when I need to remember how to do something. Just don’t ever lose those links!

  7. I like this. Is there a reason that you could not do the same thing with the RGB values in the original rgb?

  8. Colin.
    In curves I cannot input a number in the output field while all other aspects of the tutorial work well and are easy to follow.
    I love the tutorials generally but I am a bit frustrated on this one.


  9. Never used LAB before. Very interesting and will try it out. Agree with donna at comment 4, where is the like button ? Great tutorial, very much appreciated. The color scheme that seems to haunt me is red and green, in the UK it is a colour combination that is nearly always found on old vehicles (trucks etc) and farm vehicles plus traction engines. But why red and green ?

  10. Super helpful. I have always been a “basic” curves user and have hardly ever touched LAB mode. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. Thank you!

  11. Another fantastic tutorial. Thanks Colin! I had never used LAB before but will definitely give it a try.

  12. I never used lab color and never knew what it was for, and I have been working with Photoshop for over a decade! Thanks for opening up an entirely new level for me.

  13. Another great tutorial. Never used LAB because I didn’t know how to use it. After a little practice, I believe this will be my goto for color matching and color changing.

  14. Hi, Colin,
    I really like this tutorial. We did do some color samples in my Digital Imaging class awhile back, but this is even more instructional, since I don’t remember using the lab mode in that class. This can come in handy when I want to edit and fix the coloring in some photos I have that have some coloring that is slightly different and I think this will come in handy when I go to edit those pictures. Thank you for this tutorial. I am already a subscriber and I have enjoyed your tutorials. Please keep them coming.

  15. This is the first tutorial I have seen on LAB. Keep up the good work Colin and many thanks for the free tutorials.

  16. Wow. I’ve never used LAB mode before, but certainly will be from now on for this sort of colour matching. Yet another great tip from PSCafé. Cheers Colin!

  17. Very helpful tutorial, thanks Colin. I haven’t used LAB mode before so that adds another string to my bow and gives me some more things I’ve learnt in Photoshop. 2 of my favourite colour combos are Purple and Yellow and Maroon and Cream. I love the complimentary colours on the colour wheel and it’s one of the first things I teach my students at school when I’m doing the fine arts.

    Still waiting for a reply on a couple of questions I add to every tutorial I see of yours. So I’ll ask them again here.

    How do you make dry hair look wet in PS? and Where can I send you a shot of another special effect that I would like to learn about? I have searched the tutorials and haven’t found this particular effect as yet.

  18. Boy, I really like this one. Anything to do with color can easily get maddeningly (sic) frustrating. Being able to exactly target the desired color in this fashion is really helpful. In addition, I never really understood the input / output values in the curves panel – now I do and it promises to open up new possibilities for some of the tough editing challenges you come up against!

  19. Colin – your tutorials always get me thinking about things, which is a great way to enhance the learning curve.

    Just a note on this great tutorial using Lab color – I fiddled around and confirmed that you can do the exact, same thing in RGB mode – i.e.:
    >> do a color sampler on the Blue fish while in RGB mode;
    >> do a color sampler on the Yellow dress while in RGB mode;
    >> with a selection of the Yellow dress (and hat) active, add a Curves adjustment layer;
    >> with the Red (of RGB) channels selected and the Curves “Hand-tool” active, click on the Color-sampler point you set on the Yellow dress and change the Curves output-value to the corresponding RGB-Red channel output value that you found on the RGB-Red channel of the Blue fish;
    >> do the same for the RGB Green and Blue channels.
    >> optionally add another plain Curves layer (below the above Curves layers) and just pull down the main Curves RGB line to darken the colors a bit if needed.

    Seems to work great. And the advantage is that everything being done in RGB mode means you don’t have to change back from Lab to RGB mode and therefore flatten the image, losing your Curves and/or other (e.g. ‘cleanup’) layers.

    Just a thought – thanks again for all the great educational tutorials you put out there!

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