PHOTOSHOP How To: Toning down the Foilage


Feeder Fish
Original poster
Staff member
MFK Member
Jul 18, 2004
Greater Manchester, England
I recently had a problem with a photo of a Nannostomus marginatus, which was spoiled by distractingly bright Vallisneria leaves that had been overexposed by on-camera flash. I wanted to tone down the leaves without affecting the rest of the picture.

The illustrations here show the two step procedure which I used. My normal rule is to do a little less with Photoshop than I think the image needs - but here I have deliberately given rather too much treatment, to show the effects more clearly.

Photo A (below) is a cropped resized scan, which has been adjusted for levels and given a little Unsharp Masking.

The first step is to make all the greens duller. I selected Image>Adjust>Hue/Saturation and then I chose Greens in the Edit box. I reduced Saturation and Lightness by 40 each. The result is Photo B (also below).

The second step is called burning-in. In the darkroom days, a printer would shade some parts of the image with his/her hands to let the light coming through the negative make the rest of the image darker. This is why Photoshop has a Burn Tool with the symbol of a hand - it's in the same box as the Dodge and Sponge Tools.

I used a Brush size 65 (a little wider than the leaves) and I selected Highlights in the Range box and an Exposure of 12%. Then I painted along the leaves to tone down the highlights. Using a low setting for Exposure allows you to add density gradually step-by-step until the effect is what you want. Finally I reduced the Brush size to 27 and darkened the smaller areas to the right of the dorsal fin and under the body. I saved the image as Photo C.

The advantage of this two step procedure is that you can vary the amount of adjustment in each step to suit the nature of the image. If the subject has any green coloration, it will be affected by the first step just as much as the other green parts of the picture, so you cannot make all the greens too dull and you will have to rely on burning-in more. On the other hand, sometimes light coloured plants in the background can be very distracting (I find Java fern sometimes causes this problem) so it is very useful to restrain their effect by softening and dulling all the green hues and just burning-in the remaining hotspots.


Feeder Fish
Mar 8, 2012
Thank you for this short tutorial, as I was reading I was looking at the foliage to see any notable difference in color variation which you can hardly tell from shot to shot. However the fish becomes more noticeable and prominent as the photos go through the steps above, I still have a lot to learn about Photoshop and every little bit I pick up helps.