Lately I have been asked by more than one client for selective color (aka selective desaturation). This involves instant “creative differences”, which might be a deal breaker. However, I firmly believe that if the client wants it, they should get it! Recently, a photographer friend told me, “Don’t do it; it’s one of the seven deadly sins of photography and will make you look like an amateur.” Hmmm, now what?

Sorry, photographer friend. I did it, and my client loved it. So why has this old ‘00s trend been requested? Maybe because I didn’t give them this (sorry to do this to you, Rachael!):

selective colour - girl on a vintage carUgh. Hello, 2006.

No bright pops of colour, screaming red lips or yellow cars. You get the idea. Instead I go for a slight tint that lies in the same colour palette as the rest of photo.

Here is Rachael, my pinup girl, in colour in the photo I started with.

selective colour - girl on a vintage car in real colorThe unedited photo

Since this photo has a vintage feel, I decided a sepia tone would work well.

1. There are many ways to convert your files to black & white or sepia in CS6. You can use a pre-made action or go to image<adjustments<photo filter and mix and match different filters and densities there. For this article I used an action from NIK software to get the sepia tone I wanted. 

selective colour - girl on vintage car in sepiaAfter the sepia-tone step

2. Now the fun starts! Before you start editing your photo, save it as a smart object. That way, anything you do can be undone.

3. Now take a snapshot. Name the snapshot ”Start”.

4. Select a layer mask and set your brush to a large soft round brush. Set your opacity between 30 and 40%, depending on the tone of the photo and how much colour you want to bring back. Now, set the flow of the brush anywhere from 20 to 40%. Why such broad numbers? You will want to experiment and see how it looks. Since you took a snapshot when starting, you can always start over in a click if you don’t like the result. Personally, I prefer lower opacities and flow for this work.

5. Take a swipe across the object you want to bring colour back to. Do not paint in strokes yet. It’s ok if you “go outside the lines”. Just cover the entire object you want to colour with one large brush stroke.

6. Switch your brush to a small hard brush and go around the edges to define them. Vary the size of the brush according to the nooks and crannies of the object.

7. Now, switch and bring the black and white or sepia tones back into the areas where you do not want colour.

Selective colour - computer screenHere is what my screen looks like at the halfway point.

8. Make sure to pay careful attention to arms, legs etc.  Nothing is worse than that little halo of colour or sepia where it is not supposed to be!

9. When you think you are done, zoom in and check your edges. What you think looks good on “fit to screen” may look very different close up.

10. When you are all done, double click the hand icon or “fit to screen”. I find that sometimes edits can look different when shrunk back down in size. Here is my final result:

Selective colour - girl on vintage car 2014Selective colour, meet 2014.

While this photo fits the term “selective colour”, and the same basic technique is used, I changed it to fit my style of photography.

Don’t be afraid to play around with these “outdated, cliché” techniques. If everyone was afraid to experiment with anything labeled “we’re so over that…” everyone’s new photos would all look like the latest trends—and everyone’s old photos would all, ironically, look like old, groan-inducing trends. If you bring your own style, you may find that you can turn an overdone fad of the past into a modern classic.

About The Author

Located on a farm north of Irma, Alberta Sherry started her journey in photography after raising her children and retiring from the IT field. Born and raised on the farm on which she and her husband now own and operate, Sherry has a very distinct feel to her landscape photography. “Beauty of the land should be shared.” Her approach is casual. She says “having your photo taken should be fun.” This shows in her portraits. “I’m a small town girl with an small town attitude.” But what does that mean? “It means you are more than just a number, you are my friend and more than likely my neighbour.” Sherry has been published in Popular Photography magazine.

Related Posts