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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 2.

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, lampshade 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.
HSL Adjustment dialog.
  • 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.
The photograph with the yellow areas turned to red.

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 photograph with the HSL Adjustment​ erased on lemons.
  • We can now go back in and change the HSL adjustment layer without affecting the lemons and fine-tune it 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…

The HSL Adjustment in Affinity Photo

So how does this work?

In Affinity Photo, when you create a new Adjustment Layer, it inherently comes with its own mask–there is no need to add one manually. 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 the 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 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 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.
A series of three screen shots showing how a HSL Adjustment and the Gradient Tool can be used to create a ombre 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.

This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated for Affinity V2.