Color makes a huge impact in photographs. It can pull viewers in, direct the eye to a certain detail, tell a story, connect one thing to another or create an emotional connection. So when our environment doesn’t match our artistic vision, it’s good to know how to swap colors in Adobe Photoshop to create the image we want.

As photographers and artists, we need to use the tools at hand to shape and craft our images. Changing colors in Photoshop is one quick and easy way we can edit our photos to create greater impact.

Image examples: before and after changing colors in Photoshop:

Before we get to the video tutorial, I wanted to share these before and after examples so you can see the impact a quick color swap can make. See how each image became stronger with just a minor color change in Photoshop?

How to swap colors in Photoshop
In this photo, changing the color of the bench from gray to teal has helped focus this image.
How to change colors in Photoshop
Here, swapping the tan wall color and brown shirt color for rich green tones has created a more dynamic photo.
Before and after photo of changing wall color in Photoshop
In this photo, a subtle change to the wall color has made a huge visual impact on the image.

How to easily swap colors in Photoshop (video tutorial).

Using Photoshop, we can transform good images into works of art. As you saw in the before and after photos (above), changing colors can completely change the dynamic of an image. And, if you think color swapping is above your Photoshop skill level, it’s SO not! In the video tutorial below, you’ll see exactly how I change colors in Photoshop quickly and easily. 

Pro tips for color swapping in Photoshop:

1. Use color theory to find your color palette.

When I first started photography, I was attracted to every kind of color in photos — vibrant, bold, pastel, muted — I loved it all. So, I would throw as much color into my photos as I could. That resulted in photos that were chaotic and left the eye to wonder where and what to focus on. Studying color theory changed the dynamic of my photos. I know now that I’m most attracted to deep, bold, jewel tones. This helps me focus the color palettes in my images.

2. Don’t put limits on your artistic vision.

It’s important for me to use the right colored clothing and props to enhance the visual connection with my viewers and maintain consistency in my images. But, my subjects are mainly my children and many times I don’t have the exact color clothing I want. As a mother of five, it would be a money pit to completely overhaul my kids’ wardrobes to make them picture perfect (not to mention home decor and accessories).

I realized that putting limits on what I think I can achieve only limits creativity. So I incorporated a “no excuses” rule into my life. If I don’t have what I need for a photo, I make it happen. Photoshop helps!

3. Look for clothing and props in your favorite color palette.

As a rule of thumb, I only purchase clothing that is free of distracting screen prints or sayings. If you can swing it with your kids, go for solid colors! If you can’t find the color you need, go for a similar color.

Never underestimate the treasures you may find in a garage sale, flea market, or secondhand store. As I like to say, “one person’s trash is another person’s awesome photography prop.”

4. Begin with similar colors to your end vision.

If I know as I’m taking a photo that I’m later going to make a color change in Photoshop, I try to keep the colors I’m shooting close to the color I need. For example, if I wanted a red shirt and I didn’t have one available, I would choose yellow, orange, or brown. These are close to each other on the color wheel and won’t take much time to color swap in Photoshop.

6 Reasons to change colors in Photoshop:

1. To create contrast with complementary colors.

Although blue jeans would have been fine for this image, I felt compelled to change the color slightly to play on the complementary colors of teal and pink. It’s one of my favorite color combinations!

A baby on mom's lap, how to change colors in Photoshop

2. To create balance with analogous colors.

In this image, my son was originally wearing a gray romper. I changed the color to red because I find the analogous colors of red, pink, brown (and a bit of yellow in the waffles) so compelling. Having these colors together creates a balanced and pleasing effect to the overall appeal of this photo.

Red color palette shows how to swap colors in Photoshop

3. To enhance your scene with color.

Initially the blanket was orange in this photo. I changed it to blue in order to give it a more complementary color effect. The reddish orange of the woodwork and the beige curtains creates a wonderful complement to the blue blanket and winter snow scene outside.

A boy in blue blanket, how to swap colors in Photoshop

4. To use tertiary colors for impact.

Originally in this photo, the rug had a lot of greenish yellows to it. Since I wanted my colors to be deep jewel tones, I decided to change the rug to a deep orangey red and have it complement the teals and ruby reds. I also slightly altered the color of the toy car from a blue to a teal color. The teal, yellow and red come together to create a beautiful tertiary color scheme that delivers strong visual impact.

Color change in Photoshop for tertiary color effect

5. To pull everything together with intentional color choices.

In this photo, I really loved the split complementary color effect of the green, red, and yellow combination. I changed the color of my son’s romper from gray to ruby red to highlight red as my primary color and then use green and yellow as analogous colors to pull the image together.

Color change in Photoshop to create impact

6. To direct the viewer’s eye with a pop of color.

In this image, I decided to create a pop of color to bring attention to the main subject, which is the soup. I changed the color of the bowl from a rusty orange to this deeper red color to make it pop and pull the viewer’s attention inward. I enhanced this effect by incorporating lots of warm analogous colors from the left side of the color wheel and using a neutral backdrop.

Color change in Photoshop

Photos by Ashley Reeves

Swap colors in Photoshop