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Selective Coloring Using a DSLR Camera or GIMP

Updated on September 6, 2016
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Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts and culture and sharing that knowledge.

Blue flower with a black and white background.
Blue flower with a black and white background. | Source

Color Keying Made Simple

If you have a color photo where you just want certain colors to show through, you have a few options on how you can make that happen.

Usually it starts with a full-color image, but there are ways you can use your DSLR to help you select only certain colors in an image.

Why use selective coloring (or color keying)? It adds a lot of interest to an image and the burst of color in an otherwise black and white image really draws your eye toward the color.

What Tools Do You Need?

You'll need either a DSLR camera or a photo editing program, such as GIMP.

Make sure you select the "program auto" setting to be able to eventually use the "partial color" setting.
Make sure you select the "program auto" setting to be able to eventually use the "partial color" setting. | Source
Using the partial color option on my DSLR.
Using the partial color option on my DSLR. | Source

Selective Coloring Using Your DSLR

If you have a DSLR camera with a "program auto" setting, you should be able to select for certain colors rather easily.

  1. Make sure you are in JPEG mode and not in RAW mode.
  2. Turn the dial on your camera to "P" for "program auto."
  3. Go to the menu (or select the button with a paintbrush if you have a Sony alpha-series camera). Scroll down until you get to "partial color".
  4. Select the color you would like the camera to detect in your image. On my particular camera, I have four color options: red, blue, green and yellow.

In the following image, I selected the color blue to pick up the blue hues from the little flower:

I used my DSLR's "program auto" mode and then "picture effects" and then selected "partial color blue" to get the blues in this flower to show up.
I used my DSLR's "program auto" mode and then "picture effects" and then selected "partial color blue" to get the blues in this flower to show up. | Source

Have you ever tried selective coloring before?

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Selective Coloring Using GIMP

If you don't have a photo editing program, don't worry! GIMP is a free program and is a great alternative to the expensive Photoshop. Although Photoshop does have some features and functions that GIMP does not, for the average person, it's a great tool.

Open your GIMP program. I will be talking about three different ways you can select for a certain color in the program, starting with the easiest way.

With this feature, you'll still be working with your image in full-color.

Use a Filter Pack

  1. Once you have your image opened in GIMP, you'll want to go to "colors" and down towards the bottom of the menu, you'll see "filter pack." Select it and another window will pop up.
  2. In the smaller window that comes up, you'll head over to "saturation" and once you've clicked on that you'll see three options: "more sat," "current," and "less sat." It should show you a preview to see what each image will look like with the different saturation levels. Select "less sat" to have the program all but desaturate the image, except for the brightest colors.
  3. One thing to remember about the "filter pack" is that it won't desaturate every color - only what it deems to be less bright colors and will preserve the brightest colors. Thus, if I had more colors than the blue flower in my image, it might have picked up on those colors, too.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Using GIMP's filter pack.Select "less sat" to help desaturate your image.
Using GIMP's filter pack.
Using GIMP's filter pack. | Source
Select "less sat" to help desaturate your image.
Select "less sat" to help desaturate your image. | Source

Using a Paintbrush to Add Color In GIMP

Before you try this method, keep in mind that the colors get a little splotchy. In some images, this is fine - where you might actually want those variations in color.

In this image, however, it doesn't look that great. However, I used the same image so that you can see how the different effects work for and on the same photo.

  1. For this, you'll need to "desaturate" your image first. You'll need to go to the "colors" menu and then to "desaturate." You'll have three different options; select the black and white image you like the best.
  2. After you have desaturated your photo, you'll need to select the paintbrush tool. Then down in the paintbrush menu, select "overlay". Reduce the opacity (the little scrolling arrow directly underneath where you selected "overlay") to about 50%.
  3. Then, you can begin to "paint" the color on.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Select "paintbrush" and "overlay" and then adjust the opacity to about 50%.Flower done with the paintbrush in GIMP using the "overlay" feature.  Notice the splotchy color - you'll have to watch out for that.
Select "paintbrush" and "overlay" and then adjust the opacity to about 50%.
Select "paintbrush" and "overlay" and then adjust the opacity to about 50%. | Source
Flower done with the paintbrush in GIMP using the "overlay" feature.  Notice the splotchy color - you'll have to watch out for that.
Flower done with the paintbrush in GIMP using the "overlay" feature. Notice the splotchy color - you'll have to watch out for that. | Source

Using an Alpha Channel in GIMP

The last (and my favorite) option to get great selective coloring is to use an alpha channel. There are more steps involved than with the other methods; however, you can get really beautiful colors doing this. It's also very precise, allowing you to get color exactly where you want it.

  1. First, you'll need to open your image, still in full-color. (Look at the images below for a visual.) Go over to the right pane where it says "layers, channels, paths." If you look in the box, you'll see a little square about halfway down. Click on that to make a duplicate layer.
  2. Make sure that the "copied" layer is highlighted, and then go over to the "colors" menu, and then de-saturate your image.
  3. With that layer still highlighted, go over to "layer" and select "transparency" and then to "alpha channel."
  4. Move over to the left task pane (the toolbox) and select "eraser" and a brush size. Then, move over to your image and begin "erasing" the top layer so that the blue from the original image starts to show through. Continue until you are finished "coloring" what you want.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
You'll need to create a duplicate layer.  Use the right-hand task pane to create a new layer.Then you need to desaturate the top layer.  Go to "colors" then to "desaturate" and select which type you want.Next, you'll need to create an "alpha channel" by going to "layer" then "transparency" then "alpha channel."Next, you'll need to "erase" the top layer using the eraser tool, but the color underneath will show through.Selective coloring in blue - all finished!
You'll need to create a duplicate layer.  Use the right-hand task pane to create a new layer.
You'll need to create a duplicate layer. Use the right-hand task pane to create a new layer. | Source
Then you need to desaturate the top layer.  Go to "colors" then to "desaturate" and select which type you want.
Then you need to desaturate the top layer. Go to "colors" then to "desaturate" and select which type you want. | Source
Next, you'll need to create an "alpha channel" by going to "layer" then "transparency" then "alpha channel."
Next, you'll need to create an "alpha channel" by going to "layer" then "transparency" then "alpha channel." | Source
Next, you'll need to "erase" the top layer using the eraser tool, but the color underneath will show through.
Next, you'll need to "erase" the top layer using the eraser tool, but the color underneath will show through. | Source
Selective coloring in blue - all finished!
Selective coloring in blue - all finished! | Source

Color Keying Isn't So Bad!

Now that you know some different ways of using selective color in an image, have fun with it! You can try different things: selecting different types of paintbrushes, different colors, filters and more.

© 2013 Cynthia Sageleaf

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    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there, loved this Hub! I'm desperately trying to catch up on GIMP, so will be saving this Hub for a more detailed study. Thank you so much for the info! Voted Up, and everything save funny. (This is a serious endeavor for me!) Also shared. Have a good day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Every time you do a hub on cameras it makes me want a new one more and more, so thanks a lot lil' Sis! I need someone to discover me so I can buy one. :)

      Great information; I'll save it for the day my ship comes in.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      This is so more Kevin's area of expertise and will be showing him this one. That said loved learning a bit more than I truly know on this and thank you for that!! Have voted, shared and tweeted.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 4 years ago from USA

      Hi Cyndi (cclitgirl) - Thank you for this really useful article. Both of my old digital cameras tell me to "go for the GIMP."

      Gus :-)))

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      Great tips, Someday when I can afford a camera I'll try these tips. Till then, Photoshop works great :)

      Mark

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Joan - aw, thank you for all the votes and shares. GIMP does have a learning curve, but lots of tutorials are out there (including this one, hehe) to help. :) You also have a wonderful day! Abrazos!

      BB - you are too cool, dude! :D Wait, with all those amazing hubs, you haven't been discovered, YET!? I'll send positive thoughts in your directions to get that ship to dock. I'll ask for its twin to dock and have my name on it, too. ahaha

      Janine - girl, you da woman! You're always there to comment. I want to HUG you. :) Thank you for all the votes and shares.

      Gus - yes, yes, GO FOR THE GIMP! ;)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Mark - indeed, right! Photoshop is the cream of the crop - one day I'll get THAT. ;)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Cyndi, thank you! I have filed this for when I have time to really play with it. I have noticed how beautiful your photos are and how much you are increasing your talent. I just need a camera so that I can follow your guidelines and path. Voted and shared.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      Awesome awesome awesome... I have been waiting for this!!! I use photoshop and I think the version I have is limited. But I am definitely going to have to try to get this going. I have a couple of photos I really want to work with. Otherwise I am going to check out GIMP! Thank You Sooooo much!

    • twentyfive profile image

      twentyfive 4 years ago

      this is awesome!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Teaches - aww, thank you, too! I'm really trying to get better and better all the time. :) Thank you also for the votes and shares. HUGS

      Stacy - haha, I totally had you in mind when I made this - you gave me the idea! Photoshop Elements might not have all the features that the full-blown Photoshop has, but I can tell you, full-blown Photoshop will have all (and more) capabilities than GIMP. So, no worries. :)

      Twentyfive - great! Thank you!

    • logoquiz profile image

      Missy 4 years ago from London

      Thank you for this, I have bookmarked it and will be coming back to use it as a guide again:) Shame selective colouring can't be done a normal digital camera, hopefully it'll happen one day though.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks for the greatr ideas, Cindy. Since I have just one step above a point and shoot, it will give me something else to look forward to when I get a professional camera.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for the great overview of this concept! There are so many things that I haven't explored with my SLR yet, let alone Photoshop, but this just made the list. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Logoquiz - sure thing! Yeah, I bet the point and shoot cameras will get more sophisticated, too. :)

      Aviannovice - WHAT!? With those photos you take, you DON'T have a DSLR? OMG! You're an amazing photographer!! ;)

      Rose - aw, sure! I can't WAIT to see what you come up with on your SLR...your stuff is ALREADY amazing. :)

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I had no idea you could use yoru DSLR to select color...crap...now I'm gonna have to play with my Nikon tomorrow...and I had other things on my to do list! :)

      CC, we should have talked about cameras over dinner! LOL Maybe at the blogging conference!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Terrye - haha...check out that Nikon! Sorry about your to-do list. :D

      Blogging conference!? Oh yeah...Ima gonna try for wunna those. ;)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I didn't know that DSLRs had the facility, so can't tell if mine does. Let me try this out -- it's always good to find extra options for my equipment. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Alocsin - yeah, I think many of them do. :) Just play around with it a bit - you never know what you might find, haha.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain

      An excellent hub Cindi and I have learned a lot I have put two links to this hub in my selective colouring hub.

      I will be voting up and hitting the relevant buttons on my way out :D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Maggs224 - thank you so much! I appreciate the links and shares. Cheers!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      That's amazing. I didn't know that a camera could do that! One of these days I'll have a decent camera, I hope. Great hub. Pinning to my photography board.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Vicki - thank you! I didn't know cameras could do that either, until I upgraded. haha.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Cc. Your hub has good instructions and vivid colors. I would love to follow the directions and complete at least one photo. They might serve as made for Pinterest images. I don't think our paths have crossed, and it is a pleasure to meet you. I read about your experience in the apprentice program, and then I found you Blessings. Audrey. Pinning.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 3 years ago from Western NC

      Audrey - well thank you! It's nice to meet you, too. I hope you have found the directions here helpful and thank you so much for pinning. Have a wonderful day!

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