Photography, Tutorials

Colour Coming Through, My Way

Playing with images and changing some parts into black and white and leaving other parts in colour is something a lot of us do when we first start doing photography, or rather when we start editing our images.  I am not going to talk about when it is appropriate and when it isn’t, I just thought I would show you a couple of ways of doing it.

First we start with the image.

I have done this image before, but thought I would show you how to make the background black and white.  This is how I do it, well, there is a couple of ways of doing.  I am using Photoshop CS6 for this Tutorial.  I am fairly sure you should be able to achieve the same in Photoshop Elements and, I think, GIMP.

First of all, open the image in the program.


Click on levels and make sure the image is fine.  If you prefer Curves, then use that.

Click on the Quick Selection Tool (it is circled in red) and you select all the areas outside the flower.  If the tool goes too far, then press down on the Alt button on your keyboard and push the line back to where you want it.  Once one area is selected, then you can click on the next, you don’t need to worry about only be able to do one spot at a time.

Then you click on the Black and White  Adjustment.  The background changes to black and white.

This is the final image, the flower is colour and the background is black and white.

Another way to do this is to apply a mask.  Doing the Quick Selection method is great if you have large areas and it is easy, but sometimes it is harder to do that, so in that situation, I apply a mask.

This time, you need two copies of the image, one in black and white and one in colour.  So convert the image into black and white and save it, but make sure you change the file name so you don’t replace the original colour one.

The above image is a screen shot of the two images in the Bridge.  Open both.

Now that both images are open, you will need to decide which image to put on top and which underneath.  I have decided that the colour image should be at the bottom as the amount of image that needs to be cut away is smaller that way.  Then I only have to remove the flower in the top layer, here the following will help you to understand.  Go to the B&W image, then you select all and press copy, the easy way is Ctrl A, and then Ctrl C,

Got to the colour image and press Ctrl V, which will paste the B&W image on top of the colour one.  You will now have two layers.  You can see the layers on the column on the right.

Now we are going to apply a vector mask.  Make sure the new layer is highlighted,  so click on the icon in the bottom right corner, I have circled it in red.  Then a white rectangle the same shape as your image will appear.  It should also have a white border surrounding it, if it doesn’t make sure you click on it, or this won’t work.

Now you need to select the brush tool, and the size, (remember right clicking on the image will give you the slider to change the size) that is appropriate for the image you are doing.  Try brushing on the image, if the colour from underneath is coming through, then that is good, if nothing is happening then you will need to go the colour selector, also circled in red, make sure the black is the colour on the left, or on top.

If you want to see how well you have selected the area, then press down on the Alt key, then click on the mask, the one circled in red, and the above should appear.  With the mask like this you can see the areas you have missed and fill them in so the area is solid black.  When you are done with it, you just press down on Alt again, and click on mask, the one circled in red.

Then there is your image done once again.  I have one more example for you.

So this example is what happens when you are working in the mask and you go outside the lines. This happens all the time.  Well it does for me. I do it, but luckily there is an easy solution.

You simply go to the colour selector again and make it so the white is the foreground colour, or is on the left and at the front.  Once you have that, you brush over the area that you did by mistake and it should restore the top image.  It is like an eraser.

For small areas like this masking is perfect.

Here is the final image.

When to use Quick Selection Tool or the Mask depends on how big an area you are changing, or how complicated it is.  Sometimes the Quick Selection Tool can give you a hard line edge, whereas masking can give a softer edge.  You have to decide what would be easier.  I would recommend trying both and then deciding for yourself which is easier.

I had some trouble working out what tutorial to do for you, so am thinking of finding some images that need some fixing, and might do one of them for you next week.  I hope that will help.

So if any of you have anything you particularly want me to help you with, then please drop me a line, I am taking requests.


  1. I really should invest in photoshop. This would be great fun to do with some veg shots.

    • I don’t know if you need to go to all the expense of Photoshop, you might find that Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, which is a quarter of the price, might serve all your needs Liz.

  2. ☆ MagicAperture says

    Nice work Leanne, I like the result a lot.
    Personally I use Silver Efex pro 2 which has a tool that makes it all happen with one click, very handy!

    • There are so many different types of software out there, it is always hard to know where to start or what to use. I go with what I know. I have heard that one is very good though.

  3. Hoping I can do something similar in PSE after looking at your great tutorial Leanne. You go the extra mile considering all of your own photography you do too. Thank you muchly.

    • I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be able to do this in PSE, should be pretty much the same. I like helping others, and it is helping me to learn new things about myself as well. It helps to give me an intention, if that makes sense.

  4. You are amazing with the photo tools. Those things just confuse me if they get too techy. :)

    • I think the trick is to start off slowly, and don’t try and learn too much too soon, take your time, and when you know some stuff then learn some more. I am still learning, and I’ve been brushing up on more this last week.

  5. Another way of doing that is to use adjustments to turn your photo into a B & W photo and use your history brush to paint back colors where you want.

    • I haven’t heard of the history brush, I tried to work it out, but couldn’t, maybe you can help me and explain it. Thanks

  6. nice tutorial. I use GIMP (fyi, everyone, it is a FREE download) and I have had success with this technique by duplicating the photo, changing the top layer to B & W, and then applying a white (full opacity) mask to it. The last step I do is use the eraser tool to erase the B & W parts where I want to color to come through from the original photo (which is the bottom layer.) I always have to magnify the top layer in order to erase all of the correct pixels. Sometimes this can become tedious, so I appreciate the ‘quick selection’ tip. thanks!

    • I tried it is GIMP before I wrote this and realised that you could all of this in that as well. I think I mentioned it at the beginning, at least I meant to. The only thing I did different was use the paint brush, hadn’t thought of using the erasure tool, but can see how that would work as well. Will have to try it. Thanks Sheila

  7. If you use the selection tool and create a mask and the edges are too hard then you can click on the mask tab and feather the mask to make it softer. You can do this even if you paint your mask on as well.

    • I used to do that sometimes, but I didn’t like how you could sometimes get a halo effect or the edge would seem a little strange. Though I can see how it would work sometimes. Thanks for your input Ben.

  8. Tricia's Blogs says

    What a lot of work to make that amazing image. Very pretty flower photo. I don’t have time to get on here much anymore, but enjoy reading your posts when I get the chance. Take Care.

    • Thanks Tricia, it isn’t really that much work and it pretty easy at times as well. I miss hearing from you. I feel out of the loop at the moment, no internet has been very annoying. Look forward to hearing from you when you can.

      • Tricia's Blogs says

        Hi Leanne, we’ve had intermittent internet too, and have been settling in from our move…. so much work (downsizing too). Watching my 3 grandchildren, working on Etsy shop (which is selling like crazy-good), and selling on craigslist. Plus, I want to refinish my furniture. I am NOT an energetic person, so getting anything done is a challenge for me. I do read your blog daily, but don’t have as much time or energy to comment or post. Trying to get back to it though. ~Tricia

      • The way you describe yourself is probably how I would describe me. So I have to say I completely understand. Blogging and keeping up with others takes so much energy.
        Well when you do comment now it be worth more to me.
        Great that Etsy is going so well, I hear mixed reports, so that is wonderful.

  9. I love these kind of images with just one colour picked out. Still got to work out how to do that on Picasa.

    • Thanks Marianne, I don’t know about Picasa, but you could definitely do it on GIMP and that is also free, might be worth your while downloading that. I am happy to answer any questions you might have about it.

    • That is what I thought, about myself actually. I feel like I don’t know much so how can I possibly presume to show other people. Perhaps you should just have a go. Thanks Katherine

  10. I really appreciate your tutorials. I’m a visual learner, so the screens help me a lot. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with all. :D

    • I am a visual learner as well, so I try and make sure there are images for everything, and what there aren’t images for try and make sure I explain every thing, assume nothing. I am glad you find them good to understand. :)

    • I would normally go and visit your blog, but it is too hard at the moment, so I will just thank you very much here, if that is okay. It is always good to know that people think my blog is worthy of awards.

  11. Thank you, Leanne! Appreciate clear instruction on what appears (to me) to be a complex composition. I’m encouraged to try too!

  12. Lovely Photo!!!! Wish I had the tools to try this as you explain, but I’ll get round to it someday! :)

  13. I am thoroughly amazed. I can’t wait to try this technique with some of my recent beach and water lily photos. Thanks Leanne.

    • Thank you clisette, I hope you find the tutorial really helpful and you are able to achieve what you are hoping for.

  14. Reblogged this on The Unstable Image and commented:
    Selective Colour, a sometimes over done style, can produce brilliant results when done right.

    Leanne Cole covers this style in this great CS6 tutorial.

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