Skip to Content

How do you apply color correction to one layer in Photoshop?


Color correction in Photoshop is an important skill for any photo editor to master. It allows you to fix issues with color casts, adjust brightness and contrast, and get the colors looking their best. While it’s often applied to the whole image, you can also color correct on just a single layer in Photoshop if needed. This gives you more control and flexibility when editing your photos.

In this guide, we’ll walk through the steps for applying color corrections to a single layer in Photoshop. Whether you need to adjust just part of an image or make selective corrections, this will allow you to target just the layer you want. Let’s get started!

Select the Layer to Correct

The first step is choosing which layer you want to apply color correction to. If your image already has multiple layers, select the specific layer in the Layers panel. You can use Command/Ctrl-click on the layer thumbnail to load that layer contents into the selection.

If your image has a single flattened background layer, you’ll need to create a new layer to work on. You can make a selection of the area you want to correct, then copy and paste it onto a new layer. Or use layer masks to hide and reveal parts of the layer you want to adjust.

Once you have the layer targeted, make sure it’s active by clicking on it in the Layers panel. The corrections will now only be applied to that selected layer.

Choose a Color Correction Method

Photoshop has several tools you can use to color correct a layer:

Adjustment Layers

Adjustment layers let you apply color and tonal adjustments non-destructively. This is the most flexible approach as you can modify the corrections later. Some handy adjustment layers for color correction include:

– Levels – Adjusts the shadows, midtones, and highlights
– Curves – Fine tune tonal adjustments with precision
– Hue/Saturation – Shifts overall color tones and saturation
– Color Balance – Fix color casts by adjusting the color channels

To use an adjustment layer, click the New Fill & Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Choose the type of adjustment layer you want. It will automatically clip to and affect just the layer below it.

Photo Filter

The Photo Filter adjustment applies color filters to warm, cool, or color correct the image. To use it, go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Photo Filter. Choose the filter color you want from the preset list or color picker. Set the Density to adjust the intensity.

Selective Color

Use the Selective Color adjustment to target and alter specific color ranges. You can increase or decrease the amount of process colors like cyan, magenta, yellow. To use it, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. Adjust the color sliders.

Replace Color

The Replace Color adjustment is useful for exchanging one color for another. You can use it to remove color casts or shift hue ranges. Go to Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. Then select the color you want to change with the eyedropper and pick a replacement color. Adjust the Fuzziness to control the range.

Add Color Balance Adjustment Layer

Once you’ve selected the layer to correct and chosen an adjustment method, it’s time to actually apply the color correction. Let’s demonstrate using a powerful option – the Color Balance adjustment layer.

Here are the steps:

1. In the Layers panel, select the layer you want to color correct.

2. Click the New Fill & Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Color Balance.

Layer Adjustment
Layer 1 Color Balance

3. This adds a Color Balance adjustment layer clipped above your selected layer. It will automatically affect just that layer.

4. In the Color Balance window, adjust the sliders to color correct the layer:

Shadows Midtones Highlights
Cyan/Red: +25 Cyan/Red: 0 Cyan/Red: -10
Magenta/Green: 0 Magenta/Green: +10 Magenta/Green: +15
Yellow/Blue: +5 Yellow/Blue: 0 Yellow/Blue: -5

5. Tweak the settings until you achieve the desired color correction. Turn off the Color Balance layer’s visibility to preview your adjustments.

6. Optionally, you can go back and modify the adjustment layer settings later if needed.

Apply Auto Color Correction

Another quick way to color correct a layer is using Photoshop’s auto correction options. These provide a fast, one-click improvement using Photoshop’s algorithms:

– Auto Tone – Balances shadows, midtones and highlights
– Auto Contrast – Maximizes contrast by adjusting tones
– Auto Color – Balances colors for accurate whites and neutrals

To use them, go to Image > Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, or Auto Color. Make sure the target layer is selected first. The auto adjustments can serve as a starting point that you can build on with more precise color corrections.

Add Vibrance Adjustment Layer

For color photos, you may also want to boost the vibrance after correcting the color balance. Vibrance intelligently saturates colors without blowing out skin tones.

Here’s how to add it:

1. Select the layer to adjust.

2. Click the New Fill & Adjustment Layer icon and choose Vibrance.

3. Increase the Vibrance amount until the colors look rich and vivid.

4. You can clip a Hue/Saturation layer below it to first desaturate any overly intense colors if needed.

This combines color balance and vibrance for optimal photos. The vibrance intensification can be softened later if it becomes too strong.

Combine with Shadow/Highlight Correction

Color correction often goes hand in hand with fixing shadows and highlights. You can apply both to a layer by combining adjustment layers.

Try this combo:

1. Select the layer to correct.

2. Add a Levels or Curves adjustment layer to fix shadows/highlights.

3. Add a Color Balance layer below it to color correct.

4. Make tweaks in the Levels and Color Balance until both corrections look right.

The layer order stacks the adjustments, while clipping ensures they affect just the target layer. This technique can rescue photos with both tonal and color problems in specific areas.

Refine the Layer Mask

The adjustment layers will correct the entire layer they are clipped to. You can refine this using a layer mask:

1. Add a Layer Mask to the adjustment layer. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

2. Paint black onto the layer mask with a soft brush to hide the correction in areas you want to protect.

3. Paint white to reveal the adjustment in masked areas that need correction.

4. Feather the edges for smooth blending between adjusted and masked areas.

Layer masks give you lots of control over the correction. You can fine tune it to affect only certain parts of the layer. Use black, white and shades of gray in the mask to blend it smoothly.

Try Split Toning for Creative Effects

Split toning is a fun way to get creative with color correcting on a layer. Here’s how it works:

1. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer clipped to your target layer.

2. Under the Hue/Saturation Controls, click the Colorize checkbox.

3. Colorize uses hue and saturation to tint the layer. Tweak them to add a rich coloring effect.

4. To “split tone” the highlights and shadows, hold down Alt/Opt while dragging the Hue sliders. The highlights and shadows will shift in opposite directions.

5. Create bold split toning or subtle tints this way. Reduce opacity if the effect gets too strong.

Try blue shadows with orange highlights for a popular teal and orange cinematic tone. Get creative with duotones, tri-tones and more!


Color correcting on a single layer opens up so many creative possibilities in Photoshop. Use adjustment layers to easily rework colors, fix issues, and add artistic styles just where you want them.

The key steps to remember are:

– Target the layer to adjust

– Add correction adjustment layers clipped to that layer

– Refine with layer masks to control the adjustments

– Combine color and tonal adjustments for best results

– Get creative with advanced techniques like split toning

With a little practice, you’ll be able to color grade like a pro on individual layers in your projects. So don’t be afraid to experiment and see what colorful corrections you can create!