Photoshop tutorial: Create vibrant photos using Photoshop's LAB mode

You've probably never touched Photoshop's LAB colour mode, but it offers fast and easy ways to give your images and photos some oomph. Here's how.

Intro


The LAB colour space is a rarely used feature of Photoshop, yet it has been around in Photoshop for years and is the perfect colour space for improving the colour in your images.

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While RGB mode allows us to work with the red, green and blue channels separately – and CMYK lets us play with cyan, magenta, yellow and black – in LAB we have Lightness, A and B.

The L channel is the lightness channel, which acts independently of colour, while the A channel contains colour information for green and magenta, and the B channel contains colour information for blue and yellow.

By separating lightness from colour, we can make some quick adjustments to our image that, perhaps, might be time consuming or less accurate in another colour space.

Today we’ll be manipulating this photo of top burlesque performer Missy Fatale in the LAB colour space to increase the vibrancy of the colours: particularly in her hair, the snake and the green surroundings.

Time to complete

5 minutes

Software needed

Photoshop CS or Creative Cloud

Step 1

STEP 1

Open your chosen image in Photoshop. Go to Image > Duplicate to create a second copy of the image. Rename this duplicate to LAB and press OK.

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Step 2

STEP 2

Make sure the new LAB document is active on your screen and go to Image > Mode > Lab Colour.

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Step 3

STEP 3

If you look in your Channels panel, instead of Red, Green and Blue, you should now see Lightness, A and B.

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Step 4

STEP 4

In the Adjustments panel, click on the Create a New Curves Adjustment Layer icon, which will appear as Curves Mask in your Channels panel. It should also bring up the Properties panel like this.

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Step 5

STEP 5

In the Properties panel, click on Lightness and choose ‘A’, which will affect the magentas and greens in your image.

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Play with the curve to see how it affects your image. Here I clicked the black arrow at the bottom of the grid and brought it right to -60, and the white arrow right to +60. The markers have jumped inward by about one grid square each – and the greens of the foliage and the purple in Missy’s hair have both become more vibrant.

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Step 6

STEP 6

Now go back to the top of the Properties panel and change the drop down menu from ‘A’ to ‘B’. This will affect your cyans and yellows. Again, play around the get a feel for its effects.

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I repeated the same changes as in Step 5 to make the snake stand out more, and adjust the greens so they appear more of a mid-tone green and less ‘blue’. I clicked on the black arrow at the bottom of the grid and set to -60, and did the same with the white arrow and set it to +60.


Step 7

STEP 7

Switch back to your Layers Panel and flatten your image by going up to Layer > Merge Visible.

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Step 8

STEP 8

Next, we’ll change the colour space back to RGB so we can transfer the layer back into our original document. Go to Image > Mode > RGB to convert back to the original colour space. You shouldn’t see any colour change in the artwork.

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Step 9

STEP 9

Using the Move tool, click and drag the Lab layer into your original document, holding down the Shift key to centre the image on top of the background layer.

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