Ian Vicknair
Hi there, my name is Ian Vicknair and I am a Matte Painter at ScanlineVFX. In this article you will learn how to use Hue/Saturation for Blending and Surrealism. This tool is one of the strongest Photoshop tools for coloring due to the dynamic nature and possibilities. In order to understand this tool we need to know some of the basics. On this Adjustment layer we have certain options. Hue/Saturation is an Adjustment Layer in Photoshop and it allows us to blend images together for a cohesive color balance to make an image more realistic or stylized.

Quick Tip:
One of the biggest lessons of artistic fundamentals in color theory and understanding color in nature is that color is not one solid tone or value that makes up the component of objects/elements. However, color does have a set mathematical value that can be calculated through technology. For example; if you look at a green leaf, it's not just a flat green color, we see blues, reds, yellows, greens, browns, etc; yet the main dominant color is green. This applies to everything in nature!
Left - Stylized. One tone/color of Green. Right: Value + Color tones for realism.
Reality has hundreds and billions of color values and tones. Subtlety in adjustment is key!

When altering elements for our paintings, we want to keep as much of the original colors that make up that image. Remember, we're working with pixels but we need to keep in mind that we're replicating reality. Reality has hundreds and billions of color values and tones. Subtlety in adjustment is key!

Hue/Saturation Fundamentals:

Hue: Values of -180 to +180

In color theory, hue is one of the main properties of a color. It's the parameters of the colors appearance, the degree to which a stimuli can be described as similar to, or different from, stimuli that are described as red; orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. To understand this we need to know what stimulus is.

Stimulus is a detectable change in the physical or chemical structure of an organism's internal or external environment.

Essentially it's how light (that is hitting the object in the environment) affects the elements that make up that object.

Saturation: Values of -100 to +100

Saturation is the intensity (purity) of the hue. When color is fully saturated, the color is considered in the purest/truest version. Primary colors are red, blue, yellow and are considered the truest version color as they are fully saturated (value of +100). The color value of -100 is the absence of intensity of that hue making the image look black and white (I.e. Grayscale).

Left: Grayscale Right: Fully Saturated
Quick Tip:
When working with saturation, we rarely add more saturation to an object. Most often, if not all the time, we tend to desaturate images, especially when getting stock photos from websites like Shutterstock or Adobe Stock which have already been adjusted. This is why I gravitated towards MattePaint.com and one reason they exist: to service artists who are looking for realism.

Lightness: Values of -100 to +100

Lightness is known as value or tone. It's the representation of variation in the perception of a color or color space brightness.

Left: -100, I.e. 100% black. Right: +100, I.e. 100% white.
Quick Tip:
In your work you should almost never have pure whites or blacks. Remember that black is the total absence of light, so the closest we could get to pure black is in outer space. It's similar for white. White is a mix of all colors in their pure form.

Here's our example image with less values of black and white.

Left “-50” being 50% black. Right “+50” being 50% white.

The Hue and Saturation stay the same yet the “lightness” in that color spectrum alters between black and white. Interestingly, you might perceive the image on the right as less saturated but in fact it is the same.

Tricks with Hue/Saturation

Now that we have the basics covered we can do some interesting tricks with this color adjustment mode.


If you add a hue/saturation adjustment layer, you'll find an option labelled “colorize”. This color mode neutralizes the original color and applies the selected hue. However, it keeps the pure whites, pure black and luminance values of the pixels that make up the image. This technique works well for night skies like painting/patching clouds however it's not used very much because it's the most destructive to the color in the image. As matte painters we need all the color information and dynamics but occasionally we can get away with it.

Using "Colorize" to modify the sky and smoke to the desired hue.

"Color" Layer Style

When you add the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, you can set the layer style to “color”. Now we can go through the different color options and manually adjust each color spectrum of; Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta with the Saturation, Hue and Lightness of those selective colors. This allows us to color match two or more images much easier and more accurately. This way is also more mathematically accurate.

I encourage you to experiment with the various blending modes here too, as many of them are useful when working with hue/saturation adjustment layers. It can be useful to just sit down and play around with the different modes and see how they interact.

Laying Clipping

If you add the adjustment layer on top of your image (or clip it) you can alter the overall colors of that image to do something more stylized and surreal. This also gives you a lot more control over where the adjustment takes effect.

Because we can easily isolate the green color of the leaves in the image above, there's no need to do any additional masking, we can just simply use the "green" channel of our adjustment in order to change that color.

Pro Tip
When changing a particular hue like "green", after you select it from the dropdown you will notice some tags appear in the bottom slider (see image). These indicate what hue range will be effected by our adjustment so if you want to effect more "greens" you can widen these tags.

I encourage you to go and try this for yourself as that is the best way to understand this particular feature.

The above techniques combined are how I achieved my matte painting below which I called "Eve" as it was inspired by the Garden of Eden. It takes some time and patience to get hue-shifting exactly right as it's easy to overdo it, but with practice you'll begin to understand the tools and work much faster!

"Eve" Matte Painting - Ian Vicnkair - https://www.artstation.com/artwork/DxN64y

Hopefully you have learnt something in this little article and have enjoyed reading it; I enjoyed writing it! For more of my work and to connect with me visit me at:

Artstation | Linkedin

~ Ian Vicknair