How to change colours and preserve colours with HSL Adjustments

In this article we’ll cover how to change and preserve colours by masking HSL Adjustments in Affinity Photo.

Using this image as an example we will show you how to change the hue and saturation of the yellow parts, such as the chairs, lamp shade and cushions, while keeping the bowl of lemons and the lights yellow.

The original image.

Using an HSL Adjustment Layer

  • Open your image
  • Go to Adjustment Panel and select HSL or click the Adjustments icon in the Layers Panel and select HSL.
  • You’ll see that this creates a new HSL Shift Adjustment layer in your Layers Panel.
A screenshot of the UI showing the HSL Adjustment toolbar.
  • In this image we want to change the yellows to reds, so we select the yellow circular swatch under the colour wheel on the HSL toolbar and use the Hue Shift slider to alter the colour.

When life gives you lemons…keep them yellow!

  • We want the lemons to remain yellow, so select the Erase Brush Tool (E) and with the HSL Adjustment layer selected, start erasing the HSL Adjustment from the area you want to revert back to its original colour.
The lemons with the HSL Adjustment​ erased.
  • We can now go back in and change the HSL adjustment layer without affecting the lemons and fine tune by erasing it from other areas of the image, such as the table and chair legs and the lights.
The photograph with the areas of the HSL erased to create a more realistic colour change.

See it in action…

So how does this work?

When you create a new Adjustment Layer it creates a mask applied to the layers below. By erasing from the HSL Adjustment layer we are removing the adjustment from that area of the image. You’ll notice that in the Layers Panel, the HSL Adjustment layer appears white and areas you have erased appear black.

Note you can also use the Paint Brush Tool with black selected, instead of the Erase Brush Tool to create the same effect. Use the Paint Brush Tool with white selected to paint the adjustment back in. Have some fun by experimenting with different opacities and different brushes too.

You can also use the Selection Tools to precisely select areas of the photograph and then, by selecting the HSL Adjustment Layer, use the Flood Fill Tool or Paint Brush Tool set to black, or Erase Brush Tool to remove the adjustment from that that area. This also works for other non-destructive Adjustments, such as Black & White and Brightness & Contrast.

What if I change my mind?

As the HSL Adjustment is non-destructive you can edit it in so many different ways, without affecting your original photograph.

Here are some tips:

  • Use the Paint Brush Tool and a brush coloured white to paint the HSL adjustment back into the image, where you’ve previously erased it.
  • Invert the HSL Adjustment to paint the colour changes into the image, instead of erasing.
  • Use the Gradient Tool to draw a linear gradient path in shades of grey to create ombre colour change effects.
HSL Adjustment and the Gradient Tool can be used to create an ombre effect colour mask.

These techniques can be used for many other scenarios such as changing the colour of a car while preserving the badge or altering the clothing colour on a model when the background needs to remain the same. Why not try it for yourself and see how these techniques can be applied to your own work.


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.