From the ACR Team: Introducing the Hue Adjustment Tool

by Greg Zulkie

posted on 06-16-2020

I’m excited to bring you the next installment in our “From the ACR Team” series. My name is Greg Zulkie, and I’m the designer on the Camera Raw team. I’m the newest member of the team, and I’ve spent the past two years at Adobe working on new tools for editing, as well as looking at ways to improve Camera Raw’s UI. One of my primary roles as the UX designer for the Camera Raw team is to make sure that the improvements we’re making to our suite of edit tools is both useful and usable across all of Adobe’s photography apps.

I don’t really have a specific style of photography, but lately I’ve been getting into the world of cinematography — telling visual stories through composition and color. I’m also the team’s resident film photographer. Ever since my mom gifted me her Nikon FM2 as a kid, I’ve never stopped shooting film, though now I tend to shoot medium format.

With the new local hue slider, we’re excited to introduce a tool that will let photographers really dive into the details of color in their photos. While global hue adjustments via the Color Mixer are great for editing the entire photo, we see a lot of creativity unlocked in the ability to edit hue on a small scale using our local selection tools.

Back story

As a member of the photography team, I’m really fortunate to be based in New York, where I have the opportunity to tap into the massive creative community that exists all around me. Just steps from the Adobe office we have access to big photography stores, rental gear, studios, and printing labs.

While I do spend time conducting formal interviews, our team here also often just ends up having great conversations with photographers, and we end up hearing a lot about workflow gaps or wish list items for improving Camera Raw and Lightroom.

We learned that the ability to expand our color editing capabilities within local adjustment tools would be both a creative outlet and time-saver for many of the photographers we’ve talked to. Thanks for all your feedback!

Why Local Hue?

This new slider allows you to precisely edit the hue of the underlying pixels, while keeping the white balance of the selected area unchanged. Previously, customers would adjust the temperature and tint sliders to tweak colors, but this created a challenge in two ways: the underlying white balance changes, and it’s difficult to adjust two sliders to create a non-neutral color correction. Additionally, the color overlay tool isn’t an effective correction tool. It simply overlays color on top of the image, creating a mix, rather than a direct adjustment.

What does it mean to “edit color”

To help describe local hue more precisely, a quick diversion into color theory.

Color theory is a deep (and super fascinating) topic that’s truly at the intersection of art and science. However, this post won’t pretend to do justice to its complexities (ask your friendly neighborhood art teacher).

When we see color, our brains are interpreting a mix of different color properties to create the colors that we see and remember. In Camera Raw and Lightroom, we edit color based on hue, saturation, and luminance (lightness).

Hue

Hue is what we usually think of as “color,” and what we’re taught as kids. In everyday language, people use the terms “color” and “hue” interchangeably. So when somebody talks about “blue” or “green,” they are actually referring to the hue. Hue is considered a “pure color.”

From a technical perspective, hue is measured in degrees and often represented visually as a circle. Zero degrees begins with red and wraps all the way around through the color spectrum back to (almost) red at 359 degrees.

Saturation

Saturation is a measure of the intensity or vividness of a color. Saturation is measured as a percentage, from 100% to 0%. One-hundred percent saturation is the color hue, as a pure color, has no gray mixed in. Zero percent saturation will have no color at all, and it is pure gray.

Luminance / Lightness

Luminance is a measure of the brightness of a color. Like saturation, luminance is also measured as a percentage, from 100% to 0%. Using red (0 degrees hue) as an example, 100% luminance corresponds to the brightest possible red. Zero percent luminance means no light, and it will appear black.

So why use Hue?

Returning from our color theory diversion (and thank you for those that kept reading), hue focuses specifically on adjusting the hue of specific selected areas in images. When we began prototyping the feature, we kept the range of adjustability similar to the hue sliders available in Color Mix (about a 30 degree range). The intention was to match both global and local adjustments, and give photographers the ability to make subtle tweaks to hues — such as giving portrait photographers the ability to easily correct skin tones without shifting the rest of the color in an image.

In this self portrait, you’ll notice that there’s a pronounced color cast from the lens coatings on my glasses.

Using the local adjustment brush, I was able to remove that color cast. I had spent a long day hiking the day before this photo was taken, so I also used hue to reduce the sunburn on my face and neck, creating a more even tone.

As we began testing hue on a wider variety of our images (not just portraits), we found ourselves reaching for local hue for other creative effects. In speaking with other photographers, we found that we weren’t alone in wanting to go further than the 30 degree shift available in the Color Mix tool. We tweaked the way local hue works, and we made it possible to quickly change the color of a model’s jacket during a portrait session. I took this example photo at the NY Botanical Garden and it reminded me of Andy Warhol’s “Flowers,” so I used local hue to play around with the colors to try and match some of his prints.

How to use Local Hue

Hue is another slider in the Local Adjustment editing controls, but hue works slightly differently from the other controls.

When you make a selection, the color in hue will shift so that your source color (e.g., the red blazer your model is wearing) will become the center “0” point. This will help you visualize your color shift in either direction.

The top of the hue slider will show your “target hue.” Below, you drag your slider right or left to change your original “source” hue to that of your target, and the colors in your image will be adjusted!

The “Use Fine Adjustment” (UFA) checkbox is especially useful when working with refined color corrections like skin tones. UFA slows the slider scrubbing down, and it ensures that you don’t inadvertently turn your subject into either a Smurf or the Hulk (we find that skin tones tend to need less than 10 degrees of shift to remove unwanted color casts).

Remember that our eyes perceive different colors brighter or more saturated relative to each other, so when making large adjustments to hue, you might also need to adjust saturation or exposure (in local selections, exposure is the same control as luminance) to get the final color you’re after.

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Topics: Photography

Products: Lightroom, Photoshop, Creative Cloud