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Photoshop Trick - Selective Coloring

How to use Adobe Photoshop for color emphasis

photoshop trick - selective coloring

Selective coloring is a really popular, and simple, Photoshop trick. It's used as a way of drawing attention to certain parts of an image by draining the color - completely or partially - from everywhere else.

It's one of the most effective Adobe Photoshop tricks to use on photos that feature something with a bold color that can be isolated and given extra impact.

Sometimes pictures look great when they are changed completely to black and white images, with only a small area of bright color 'popping' back through. This is, in fact, a trick known as 'color popping'!

But selective coloring techniques can also be used more subtly to enhance color photos. I often use them to draw attention to the color of someone's eyes in a portrait photo, for instance.

So, here's my quick and easy guide on how to use Adobe Photoshop for selective coloring...


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Basic steps for a selective coloring Photoshop trick

1. First up, we need to create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. So open your image in the Editor workspace of Photoshop and click on the 'Create Adjustment Layer' icon from the layers palette. Choose Hue/Saturation from the menu.

photoshop trick - selective coloring

2. Now we need to completely de-saturate the picture so that it is black and white. To do this, move the saturation slider fully to the left so that it reads '-100'. You will see your image become black and white as you do this. Hit 'OK'.

3. Now for the fun part of this Photoshop trick! Select the brush tool from the left hand toolbar and slightly soften its edge by holding 'shift' and tapping'[' 2 or 3 times. Set black as your foreground color (the overlapping squares at the bottom of the toolbar).

4. Make sure the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer is selected in the layers palette. Zoom in close to the part of your image where you want to bring the color through.

photoshop trick - selective coloring

Begin painting over it, carefully avoiding going over the lines. As you do so, you'll see the color coming back through! If you slip up and paint over somewhere that you didn't mean to, just switch the foreground color to white and paint back over it to correct your mistake.

That's all there is to it!

photoshop trick - selective coloring

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Color popping Photoshop trick


Here are a couple of extra tips on how to use Adobe Photoshop for color popping

1. Having created your Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, as above, make sure the opacity of the brush tool is set to 100%.

The idea is to create a striking contrast between a small area of bold color and the surrounding black and white image. Setting the opacity of the brush to 100% ensures that all of the color from the background image is brought through.

2. Since there is such a contrast between the edge of the colored area and the black and white details surrounding it, it's important to be zoomed in really close when using the brush tool.

It's also especially important to remember to slightly feather the edge of the brush (tap 'shift' + '[' 2 or 3 times). Using the color pop Photoshop trick is much less effective if you are not careful when working on the edges between colored and black and white sections.


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A few tips on how to use Adobe Photoshop for subtle-selective coloring


Selective coloring does not have to involve color popping. You can use it to fine tune color photos by adding adding emphasis to certain areas. Portraits often make particularly good subjects for this Photoshop trick.

photoshop trick - selective coloring

1. Let's say you want to add impact to the color of someone's eyes. Create your Hue/Saturation layer, as explained above, and select the brush tool. Now, using the opacity slider, bring back the color in every part of the image to varying degrees.

Paint over the eyes on 100%, then perhaps the skin at 40%, lips at 60%, hair at 30% and so on. This way you can subtly adjust the balance of colors and influence where the viewer's eye will be drawn.

photoshop trick - selective coloring

2. Having done this, if you feel that you have taken your picture too far from the original, simply reduce the opacity of the Hue/Saturation layer in the layers palette itself. This will gently reduce the impact of the changes you have made. Simple!


Having done all this you could apply similar techniques with a Levels adjustment layer to add further impact to a specific area. Simply focus the adjustments around the appropriate area using the brush tool.

photoshop trick - selective coloring


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A few other examples of this Photoshop trick:


Original picture:

photoshop trick - selective coloring


Patially de-saturated, apart from the flowers:

photoshop trick - selective coloring


Completely de-saturated / color popped! :

photoshop trick - selective coloring


Original Picture:

photoshop trick - selective coloring



Partially de-saturated, apart from the eyes (which have also been lightened):

photoshop trick - selective coloring




Selective coloring is a Photoshop trick that you will apply time and again because it gives you lots more freedom than simply applying global changes through a standard Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

It's so simple, and you can use similar techniques - using the brush tool to paint in or remove changes from an adjustment layer - as part of other Adobe Photoshop tricks.

Check out the other Photoshop tutorials for beginners in this section of Photography Art Cafe, like this guide on how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a layer mask.

This is my very favourite Photoshop trick of all - it will transform your post-processing!


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