Digital Technique: Selective Coloring for Photographs

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Article Courtesy by Denise Gormish


One technique to add focus to a photograph is to selectively color one aspect of the photograph. First you edit the photo (often turning it to black and white first), and then remove the layer where you want the color to show. To selectively color a portion of your photograph, you will need a photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Here’s how to selectively color a photograph using Adobe Photoshop. Others programs will work as well.

  1. Open the image in Photoshop or other photo-editing software. I chose a photograph of my daughter meeting an iguana. I wanted to highlight the colors of the animal by selectively coloring the iguana.

  2. Create an Adjustment Layer. A new layer needs to be placed on top of the old layer. In Adobe Photoshop choose Layer – New adjustment layer  – Hue/Saturation. Rename it. This is the layer you will be editing.

  3. Adjust the Color on the New Layer. On the new layer adjust the color.  This adjustment is for the area of the page not colored. If you want black and white, then change the layer to black and white. Double-click on the new layer to open the Hue/Saturation window. Make sure the Colorize button is not selected and then adjust the color by using the sliders. For black and white select –100 saturation. For my photograph I wanted a little bit of color so I set the saturation at –85.

  4. Creating Color. To get color, select a brush from the brush palette. Set the foreground color to black. Move your brush over the new layer (the one with the changed color) and start painting. The original color will begin to show.

Take care while you brush the layer. Sometimes, it will be easier to zoom in on the area to see where you need to brush the layer. It is also helpful to change the brush size, depending on the area where you are working. One area may need a small brush for details. Another area would be done more quickly with a large brush. If you erase something accidentally, select “Edit - Undo” and start again.

Selective coloring is a great way to focus on a particular part of a photograph. It could be the eyes of a person in a portrait, the flag in a patriotic photograph or an object of special interest. When you  color a portion of the photograph , you will draw the viewer’s eye to the area of color. This is especially effective with a black-and-white or monochromatic photograph.


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