I’d been looking at the way film handles colour for ages, particularly in cinematography. If you’ve ever noticed, turning up the saturation in Photoshop (with HSL or Vibrance), things tend to get garish and noisy. Yet in film, it seems you can get incredibly vivid colours which really define their own space and don’t seem to lead to the same kind of bleed and artefacts as you get when you try to push digital in that direction.

And you can see in modern cinematography and fashion photography, we’ve brought colour back by drastically limiting the palette and keeping colours very tonally separated. The classic example being the Teal and Orange look. We put loads of blues in the shadows, and reds/yellows in the highlights. It’s very one-dimensional colour, it doesn’t bleed or clash into itself – the mid-tones are a sort of dull breakwater.

And I’d been sure there was a way to do this in Photoshop. If you could define and separate the colours first, with a colour map, then maybe you could saturate them more cleanly and mix them back in.

Then I stumbled across it the other day, colour grading some film footage, and it behaves more like film than I’d ever expected.

What I’m looking for in this example is which method reconstructs the original colour circles best. The image was a grey background with 6 coloured circles, and Gaussian blurred heavily to make it nice and vague.

All you do is create a Colour Map and set its blending mode to Overlay. Then use Opacity to mix it in or out. Or duplicate it to strengthen.

My favourite way to make a Colour Map is to create this preset in Channel Mixer:
Red:
R +70
G -59
B -11
Constant 50

Green:
R -30
G +41
B -11
Constant 50

Blue:
R -30
G -59
B +89
Constant 50

And save that as a preset, because you never know when it’ll come in useful.

Simple way to use it: Channel Mixer adjustment layer with Overlay blending.

It has a slight tonal effect too. If you just want the colour effect, create a Curves adjustment layer first; set its blending mode to Colour; then put your Channel Mixer w/ Overlay blending above it and attach it onto the Curves as a clipping mask (Alt+click between the two layers in the layers palette).

I’m calling it BenColour. It’s so simple I’d be almost amazed if no one else has discovered it before. But, maybe no one realised what was wrong with the regular saturation?

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