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Misunderstood Photoshop: The Match Color Tool

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Photoshop's Match Color tool is great for color-correcting photos and matching color in two photos when you're assembling them in a collage or montage. It's also a handy tool for turning daytime into sunset. Helen Bradley explains how you can put Photoshop's Match Color tool to work in your photo-editing workflow. She's also included a video tutorial so you can more easily follow along.

In this series, Helen Bradley discusses some handy Photoshop tools that are often overlooked or misunderstood, either because they’re hidden away or because their use isn’t immediately apparent. Yet these tools provide smart and useful ways to perform various tasks in Photoshop, so they’re worthy of adding to your Photoshop skill list.

In this fifth part of the series, we consider the Match Color tool, which is useful not only for color-adjusting two photographs so that they look like they’ve been taken in the same light, but also can be used for more creative purposes.

How to Use Match Color

Photoshop’s Match Color tool helps you adjust colors in one image to make them look more like those in a second image. You might find this trick handy, for example, if you’re putting together a collage of two or more images and you want the colors in the images to match in warmth and luminance. You might use Match Color to color-correct a series of portraits for a brochure so they look like they’ve been taken in similar lighting conditions.

The Match Color tool has been around since Photoshop CS, and it’s a simple tool to use once you understand a few things about it. The tool alters the colors in a target image to match those from another photo or another layer in that same image—the source.

If you’re using a second image as your source, the Match Color tool requires that you have both the photos open. Here’s how to adjust one image’s color to match the colors in another:

  1. Click the photo that you want to alter. This is the image that will have its colors matched to the second image (see Figure 1).
    Figure 1

    Figure 1 To match colors in one image to the other one, open both images and select the image you want to alter. In this example, I’m altering the image on the left.

  2. Choose Image > Adjustments > Match Color to open the Match Color dialog. At the top of the dialog, you’ll see that the target image is the one that you have selected.
  3. From the Image Statistics area of the dialog, open the Source list and select the name of the image containing the colors that you want to use to alter your target image. When you select the source image, its thumbnail appears in the dialog. Notice that the colors in the target image have changed.
  4. Use the Preview checkbox to see the effect that the Match Color tool has had on the target image’s original colors. With Preview enabled again, use the Fade slider to fade the effect so that it blends it into the original image. The Luminance slider lets you adjust the brightness of the effect, and the Color Intensity slider adjusts the color saturation (see Figure 2). When you have a result you like, click OK to apply the change to the image.
Figure 2

Figure 2 Use the Fade slider to mute the effect of the Match Color correction, the Luminance slider to adjust the brightness, and the Color Intensity slider to adjust the saturation.

It’s also possible to use the colors in one layer of an image as the source. In this case, select the current image as the source and then the appropriate layer in the image from the Layer list (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3 The Match Color tool can be used to adjust the color in one layer to match that in another layer in the same image.

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