Selections & Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter WendyMay
  • Start date


May 11, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #1
Today is one of those days that I feel like working though an easy project in Adobe Photoshop. To complete the project, I’m going to rely on things I’ve already shared on this blog. The thing is, I’m going to go about things a bit differently than I have ever before. The value in this post is in the process I use. As I’ve said before, there are many ways to tackle a project in Photoshop and by learning about all the various possible methods, you’ll be expanding your game wide open. The more you learn about how others do things, the better you’ll get at doing similar things yourself.

In today’s post, I’ll be using a photo of a laptop on a desk. The goal is to select the screen of the laptop, to alter the color somewhat via an adjustment layer and then to strip the color from anything outside the selection. In other words, the background will be grayscale.

To go about getting this done, I’ll show you a few tricks that have to do with selections, masking and adjustment layers. Again, even though I’ve already demonstrated each of the tasks I’ll be discussing below, I’ve never done things quite like this.

The Demo Photo​

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot that you wouldn’t expect in this photo. You’ve probably seen something like it before. The reason I chose this particular photo is because the screen of the laptop has a nice, hard edge. Since I’m going to be discussing a few different topics in this post, I didn’t want to spend all day attempting to select a fuzzy, blurry edge and then another half a day refining that edge. I figured a hard edge would make things flow better (and faster). If you are into learning about how to make all different types of selections in Photoshop, I can suggest that you search Photoshop Selections in the search bar at the top of this site. There are quite a few posts that cover this.


Selecting the Laptop Screen​

Since the screen on the laptop is so straightforward, I’ll use the Quick Selection Tool to do the work for me. I’ll select that tool from the left vertical toolbar to activate it. Currently, this is the fourth tool from the top.


After the tool is activated, I’ll click and trace around the edge of the laptop to make my selection. Remember, if you’re selecting anything with the Quick Selection Tool and you trace out of the lines, you can always deselect by holding down the Alt key on your keyboard and by painting over what you don’t want selected. There’s a tiny tip for you.


I’m not sure if you can see it or not, but there are now some marching ant outside the screen, indicating a selection.

Contrasting the Screen with Some Curves​

Okay, I have what I need selected, selected. I’d now like to add some contrast to the laptop screen. Since I haven’t edited this photo at all yet in Camera Raw, in cases like this, I’d generally add contrast to whatever I’m working on in Photoshop. To do this, I’ll head over to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves icon.


From there, inside the Properties panel that popped up, I’ll keep the RGB selection the way it is in the color drop-down and select Increase Contrast from the Preset drop-down. This will merely add a bit of contrast to only the computer screen.


My computer screen has some more contrast. Not much, but enough for this example. Also, as you can see in the Layers panel, the adjustment layer I added includes a mask.

4 Super Layer Masking Tips for Adobe Photoshop

Re-Selecting the Selection​

To continue on with the remaining steps for this project, I’ll need to have the screen selected again. If you haven’t noticed, once I created the first adjustment layer, a mask was formed from the selection and the selection disappeared. Since I need that back, I’ll use a shortcut to get it.

To re-select a selection from a mask or to create a selection from a mask from scratch, all you need to do is to hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and then click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel. That’s it. Once you do that, the marching ants will appear along the edges of the masked area in your photo. I did this and I have my selection back.

Inverting a Selection​

As I explained in the beginning of this post, I’d like to turn the background (everything outside the original selection) of this photo grayscale. Since I currently have the laptop screen selected, I’ll need to invert the selection so everything but the screen is selected. To accomplish this, I’ll head up to the Select > Inverse menu item and click. When I do that, I’ll see the selected area change to the opposite of what’s currently selected. You can see what I’m referring to below. Look closely at the edge of the screenshot and the edge of the laptop screen for the marching ants.


Adding a Black & White Adjustment Layer​

This part is easy. To make the area around the laptop screen (the selection) grayscale, all I need to do is to click the Black & White adjustment layer icon.


As you can see from the screenshot above, a new adjustment layer was formed in the Layers panel, the background of the photo turned grayscale and the Properties panel for the current adjustment layer popped open.

The reason I decided to use the Black & White adjustment layer as opposed to the Hue/Saturation one and simply reducing the saturation all the way is because by choosing the Black & White adjustment, I’m able to adjust each color for maximum effect via the Properties panel. In this case though, to keep things simple, I’ll choose one of the available presets from the Preset drop-down. After playing around a bit, I thought the Yellow Filter looked the best.


After picking this choice, the color sliders moved by themselves, as can be seen in the above screenshot.

Now, I have the finished photo. Let’s see what it looks like.


I don’t know. It’s not crazy, but it’s pretty cool. It’s certainly enough to get my point across in this post.

Here’s the before and after shot.


In this post, my goal was to demonstrate how to make a selection using the Quick Select Tool and how to modify that selection by deselecting parts of it. I also wanted to show you how to recreate a selection from a layer mask and how to invert that selection. These are easy tips that, once known, can be used over and over to save a lot of time. I know this wasn’t the most extensive demonstration out there, but it did provide a few critical steps in photo editing. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!


May 11, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #2

When to Use Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop​

Adjustment layers are the go-to items for making adjustments to images inside of Adobe Photoshop. Back in the day, we used to rely on the Image > Adjustments menu to alter image brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and just about everything else in that realm. But since Adobe came up with a way to apply adjustments in their own layers in a non-destructive manner, adjustment layers have become the standard. The Image > Adjustments menu area should be abandoned and replaced by this new toolset.

With this in mind, allow me to answer the question I posed in the title of this post. When should we use adjustment layers? All the time. Or, whenever adjustments are called for. Personally, I primarily use them to create black and white images and to alter a specific selection. I’ve done this so many times, it’s getting difficult to keep track. I’ve also written about making selections and modifying the area inside of the selection via adjustment layers on this blog before, but honestly, the topic never gets old because there are so many variations one could choose to engage in.

In today’s post, I’m going to go through one more example for when someone might want to utilize an adjustment layer or two. I’ll make a rough selection of an object and then apply the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to that selection. I’ll then clean the resulting mask up with the Brush Tool. Finally, I’ll reselect the original selection (or the modified mask) and use that new selection to apply the Curves adjustment layer for further modification. This will be a fun project and just one more example of how adjustment layers work in Adobe Photoshop and why you should be using them instead of the old tools we used to use (but are still available).

The Demo Photo​

I tried to find an image that contained an object in it that wouldn’t take me all day to select. I think this Volkswagen Beetle will do just fine. I’ll tell you though, as I was experimenting with this photo, I found that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to accurately select, so that’s why I’m going to include the section about cleaning up the mask. My hand was forced on that one.


Making the Selection​

I’m going to fly through these sections because I’ve already written about these topics a number of times on this blog. If you’re interested in learning about how to make accurate selections in Adobe Photoshop, you can use the search bar up top to locate any number of posts that contain those topics. On those pages, I talk about making selections, modifying those selections, applying the adjustment layers and then modifying their masks. Everything in this post has been done before and each lesson is contained fairly thoroughly on this website.

Anyway, I’ll go ahead and click to activate the Quick Selection tool over in the left toolbar. I’ll size the selection brush and then attempt to select the blue in the car. My goal is to change the color of the car’s paint, so I don’t want to select a window, bumper or anything like that. Here’s my rough selection.


Even though the selection isn’t great, I’m going to keep it as is and apply the adjustment layer.

Applying the Adjustment Layer​

My next step will be to apply an adjustment layer. I’ll click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel and from there, I’ll push the Hue slider to the right until the blue from the car turns pink.


This is the resulting image. I’ll play with the color a bit later on after I clean up the selection. I’ll do that now. There’s a lot of stuff in this photo that’s pink and those things shouldn’t be.


Painting the Mask​

Since the edges of this selection weren’t great, I’ll fix them now. To do this, I’ll use the colors black and white with the Brush Tool to remove and add areas of the adjustment layer effect. Because of the intricacy of this task, it’ll take a little while. I’ll click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel and begin painting.

Here’s the result of my efforts. It didn’t take as long as I suspected it would. Perhaps ten minutes. I zoomed in a lot to really hit the details. Also, as a quick tip, when you’re doing something like this, you can use the keyboard shortcut of the letter X to switch between black and white colors in the left toolbar. This is so handy to know.


Okay, that looks very good. After brushing the mask somewhat, I held down the Ctrl key on my keyboard and clicked once on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to reselect the area.

Modifying & Applying Another Adjustment​

Now, the beauty of adjustment layers is that once a perfect selection is made, any number of adjustments can be applied to that selection. For instance, I’ve already gone ahead and created one selection. That wasn’t great, so I cleaned it up via the Brush Tool and the adjustment layer mask. At this point, I could modify the current adjustment layer any way I wish. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll change the color of the car slightly. As a side note, when modifying an adjustment layer, it doesn’t matter if the original selection is active or not.

I went ahead and added some purple to the paint color. Next, since I’ve got an active selection again, I’ll head back up to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves adjustment icon. After that, I’ll click and drag the center of the curves line upward and to the left to add some mid-tone brightness.


As you can see from the above screenshot, I now have two adjustment layers. I’m happy with how the selection turned out and how the adjustments turned out, so here’s the finished product.


Pretty cool, right? And that’s just one example of when and how you might want to use adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop. In later posts, I’ll show you tons more in all different styles and fashions. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!