Photoshop Tutorial: Enhancing Foliage

Some tips for enhancing dull and off-color foliage in your landscape shots.

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What you need

To follow through with this tutorial you need at least Photoshop CS. More recent versions of Photoshop may appear a little different (mostly the interface has added features) as this tutorial is originally from 2006, but the techniques here are sound and work quite well across all versions since its publish.

To follow along with this tutorial you will need to download this image: Fixing-Foliage.jpg (right-click and choose: Save As).

Fixing Foliage in Your Landscapes

Digital cameras can capture vibrant scenes and amazing colors. But even the greatest cameras with the latest sensors struggle with nailing the rich greens and yellows of foliage. If your landscape shot still has dull, lifeless foliage after you correct the color and levels, try these techniques to liven them up. You can also use this technique to alter the color of foliage in your shots. Make that forest seem more lush or even turn a summer scene into an autumn one. The technique is simple and once you get the hang of it, you can apply it in under a minute.

Adjusting Foliage

Open the image (Fixing-Foliage.jpg) and make sure the Layers Palette is visible. If you aren’t familiar with Adjustment Layers and Masking, you should start there first. Windows shortcut keys are used here. If you use a Mac, just replace the Ctrl key with the Command key.

Let’s try two quick adjustments that work great on green foliage.

  • Open the photo.
  • Add a new Curves adjustment layer (1).



The original photo has decent exposure and the colors aren’t bad, but the foliage could use more definition and richer color.

Your Layers Palette:
add curves adjustment
  • In the preset dropdown menu, choose Increase Contrast (2).

This will drastically increase the contrast of the whole photo.

Contrast curves

The effect is a little strong, but we will fix it.

Curves Adjustment panel: Curves
  • Back on the Layers Palette, change the Opacity of the Curves adjustment layer to a number that adds just the right amount of definition to the foliage. I went with 30% (3).

Ignore the rock and water; we will mask that out of this adjustment next.

30% opacity curves Back to the Layers Palette:
We only want the contrast to apply to the foliage, so we want to mask it from the rock and water.

  • Click on the mask canvas for the Curves adjustment layer (4).
  • Choose the Paintbrush Tool and set the foreground color to pure black.
  • Paint over the rock and water to mask (exclude) it from the effects of the adjustment layer (5).

When painting black on a mask canvas, you won’t see black appear on your image. You will just see the removal of the effect in the places that you paint. You WILL see black being painted on the canvas icon in the layers palette (6).

painting the mask masking the adjustment layer
The foliage now has a bit more “pop” to it, but I also want to make the color a bit more lush green. We have already created a mask that isolates our green foliage, so let’s start by using that.

  • Hold down the Ctrl key and click the Mask Canvas (7) on the Curves adjustment layer. This will draw a selection around the foliage.

If you have something on your canvas selected when you create an adjustment layer, it automatically creates a mask for that adjustment layer so only your selection is affected by the adjustment.  Very convenient!

selected foliage

Ctrl-clicking a mask creates a selection from that mask.

select mask
  • Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer.
  • In the Hue/Saturation controls, adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Brightness to increase the color and get a deeper green.
  • I went with a Hue of 4, Saturation of 6, and a Brightness of -2 (8).

You can play with more dramatic settings to get different effects. Try adjusting the Hue to get more fall colors.

Final foliage Hue/Saturation adjustment

Final Results



Final foliage

Enhanced foliage

Dramatic color

Dramatic color

More dramatic color

More dramatic color

What's Next

More Photoshop tutorials can be found in our Articles section.

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