Sometimes with landscape images, you don’t always get what you see. Either the composition doesn’t look right or the color palette doesn’t seem as strong on your images.
Using Lab Color in Adobe Photoshop can help bring out those amazing color ranges. Read below for all the knowledge you could possibly need on how to separate colors or boost those that seem a little too flat.
What Is the Lab Color Space?
No doubt you have heard of the color modes RGB (Red Green Blue) and CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow and blacK). Lab color is no different.
This color mode isn’t specific to Adobe Photoshop, as it can be applied to your images in a number of ways.
The LAB color mode is a global color profile and is used across many different types of industries, labs, and printing houses.
It’s highly accurate and allows you to enhance the colors in your images that you just can’t do using RGB or CYMK.
How to Apply the Lab Color Space
You start by converting your image to the Lab color space. To do this, open your image in Photoshop.
Once open go to Edit>Convert to Profile. A dialogue box will open. Navigate to the Destination Space drop-down menu and select Lab Color.
Don’t be disheartened if your image doesn’t change. You have only allowed Photoshop to render the colors differently within your image.
Next, you need to create a curves adjustment layer. There are a number of ways you can do this, and if you have a favourite way, use that.
For those who don’t, just click on Layer in the top menu, then choose New Adjustment Layer, then Curves. Click OK in the pop-up box.
This is where the real fun begins. Ensure you see the Properties tab. If you don’t, click on the Properties icon on the left of the histogram.
Inside the Properties box, you’ll see a drop-down menu. The current selection will show “Lightness”. Click on it and you’ll see three choices; Lightness (L) channel, A channel and B channel. Select the A channel.
You will notice the histogram will change dramatically. Most likely, you’ll have a huge spike in the middle. This is absolutely normal.
The next step is to move the endpoints of the histogram. Start by click-holding the one on the left (black) and dragging it towards the centre. You can move it as far as you want, but let’s stick to -90 for now.
As you move it, you’ll notice your image will turn green. Ignore this and move on to the next step.
Click-hold and drag the right (white) endpoint towards the centre. Move it so the Input hits +90. You’ll notice that the green cast dissipates, but don’t worry about your image for now.
Next, head to the drop-down menu again, and this time, select the B channel. Again click-hold and drag the left until -90. This will place a blue tint over your image. Move the right endpoint until the Input reads +90.
The blue tint has gone, and your image has been successfully changed to the LAB color profile.
Next, look at the before and after versions of the image. You do this by activating and deactivating the visibility of the layer mask.
In the layer tab, you’ll see both the Curves Adjustment Layer and the Background Layer (your image). By clicking on the Eye icon, you can turn the Curves Adjustment Layer on or off.
Turning it off will show your image as an RGB color profile. Turning the visibility back on will show it. You should be left with an image that looks something like this.
It should be obvious how the color range has increased. If you don’t see a noticeable difference, try the steps again and ensure you didn’t miss something.
If everything worked out perfectly, but the colors are still muted, move the endpoints further. Try -80 or -70. If the colors are too over the top for your image, instead set the output values to -110.
You can also reduce the opacity of the layer, which will soften the color range and reduce the LAB color effect.
How Does the LAB Color Profile Work?
It’s good to know the difference between the RGB color profile and the LAB color profile. This will give you a better understanding of how the LAB colour profile manages to add vibrancy to your images.
The RGB color space is the standard color space for all digital photography. This is the profile your camera uses, the profile that Photoshop defaults to.
RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. Basically, your camera or computer uses these three colors to create every color you can see in your image.
If you find it hard to wrap your head around that, imagine that there are many different shades of red green and blue. They start from very very light and faint and go to very powerful and strong tones.
The big difference between RGB and LAB color profiles is how they deal with lightness.
When you look at a histogram for an RGB image, you see a combination of the values for each color. If you click on the drop-down menu labeled RGB in your curves adjustment, you can see the individual colors.
When you do this, you’ll notice the color channels are different.
With the LAB color space, this profile looks at and defines colors differently. RGB defines color by a combination of three colors and the values of every different shade.
LAB, however, defines its colors using three different channels; Lightness, A channel and B channel. This is where we get LAB from. That’s all well and good, but what are these channels?
The Lightness channel represents the relative brightness of the pixels, without regarding color. It is a sort of greyscale image, where each pixel is defined on how close they are to white or black on the scale.
The Lightness histogram is closer to the histogram you are used to. A correctly exposed image with good contrast should see its values spread over most of the histogram.
A & B Channel
If Lightness represents the relative brightness of the pixels, without taking color into account, then channels A and B are the opposite. They define color without taking lightness into account.
Within the LAB color space, lightness and color are defined separately. With the RGB color space, they are defined together.
Channel A is a definition of color values based on how much green or magenta are located within your image. The middle between them is grey, which spreads out towards the right and left sides in increasing hues of green and magenta.
Channel B does the same thing but defines the image on how much blue and yellow are in the image.
RGB renders color defining it by how much red, green or blue is in the image. LAB renders color by defining each color by how much green, magenta, yellow and blue are in the image, with lightness addressed separately.
Each color gets its own channel in RGB, whereas LAB shares two colors per channel.
Why Use the LAB Color Space
The LAB color space has a ridiculously broad range of colors in its profile. In the middle, you’ll find all the colors we use and would consider ‘normal’.
Step out of that, and you start to see to see very crazy, imaginary colors that couldn’t possibly exist. These don’t matter, but that does matter is the effect they have on the histogram.
This is why you can see the A & B channels to have the huge spikes in the middle of their histograms. Having all these colors in the middle allows you to stretch the color palate to the empty sides.
You can’t do this in RGB. For one, there isn’t enough space to stretch the color palate. The other problem is that if you can stretch the color, it also affects the lightness of your image.
LAB is also a powerful tool in separation. Having the lightness separated from color means you can stretch out the colors without making them lighter or darker.
This is a perfect way to pull more color from otherwise flat images. For images that already show a wide range of colors and vibrancy, you won’t see much difference.