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How to Create the Selective Colour Effect in 3 Simple Steps Using Adobe Photoshop

Updated on August 16, 2012

Want to make your images stand out? Try selective colour!

Creating images with impact can be tricky, particularly when you want to use them on the web.

If you're creating a site or a hub and you have boring images, it can be a real turn-off for your visitors.

Lots of people use effects on their images to combat this, and one of the most popular effects (people are always asking me how to do it) is 'selective colour'. That's when your image is black and white except for one element, which is coloured.
It's the effect that they used in Schindler's List with the girl in the red coat (if you can remember that far back).

Using Photoshop

I have been using Photoshop for some years now, and most of what I know is self taught.
The thing about Photoshop is that there is always more than one way of doing things.
So in this tutorial, you'll be seeing my way of doing this effect - which is by no means the only way of doing it, but in my opinion, it's the easiest.

3 steps, 5 minutes. It's that easy!

Before proceeding you'll obviously need a copy of Photoshop installed on your machine. I'm currently using CS5.5, but I'm pretty sure that this tutorial will work on versions back to CS3, perhaps even further.
You can obviously also use other (less expensive) programs to achieve this affect. Just Photoshop in this tutorial though I'm afraid.

Step 1: Find your image

If you don't already have an image in mind, find one on Google Images for the sake of this tutorial (although don't go publishing it without the permission of the owner).
For the sake of this demonstration, I'm going to use this photo of a rasberry that I took. It has already been enhanced, but that doesn't matter much.

Step 2: Remove that colour

Open the image in Photoshop, then in the top menu, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Then say 'Okay' to the box that pops up.

This should add a new layer above your image in the layers panel on the right hand side. It should also bring up a control slider which will allow you to alter the hue and saturation of your image. The screenshot below shows how it looks in CS5.

The idea is to push the saturation slider way down to -100 to totally desaturate (remove the colour from) the image.
You should now be left with a black and white version of the image.

Step 3: Re-colour the image

By using the adjustment layer to remove the colour, you have in essence placed a black and white filter on top of your image, which you're looking down on from above.
So, to recolour part of that image, you want to cut a hole in that filter to let the original colour back through again.

Depending on your image, you could do this a couple of ways.

1. If the object that you want to colour is prominent enough in the original image (with colour and definition) you could select the original image layer and use the Quick Selection Tool on the left toolbar to select it. If you're lucky, the tool will be able to isolate the object automatically.

2. The other way, which I use most often is to use the eraser and with the Adjustment Layer selected, you simply erase the object, as if you were trying to remove the rasberry (in this case) altogether. As you're only erasing it from the adjustment layer, you'll just be getting rid of the black and white part, leaving the colour underneath. As shown in the image below.

Depending on the complexity of the image, this second method may take a while. But by zooming in and out and using different different levels of hardness for the eraser tool, you can achieve some great results, which are arguably better than if you used the selection tool method.

The final selective colour image
The final selective colour image

Finishing up

There you have it. Your first selective colour, image with the rasberry showing in full colour and everything else showing as black and white. Even using the eraser method, it only took a matter of minutes.

Once done, you could refine the image further, perhaps adding another adjustment layer for contrast and brightness to give it more impact.
Or, using the same principle as the selective colour, you can use the Gaussian Blur effect to give the impression of depth of field in your image. Maybe I'll cover than in a future tutorial.

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