When To Use Selective Coloring :: Digital Photo Secrets

When To Use Selective Coloring

by David Peterson 6 comments

I had a great response from last week's article on Selective Coloring. As well as lots of great email comments, there were a number of readers who uploaded their selective color photos to our gallery.

A lot of the questions I received were from readers asking what kinds of photos are best to use selective coloring with. That's today's topic.

There are three criteria that make a perfect selective color shot.

The part in color needs to be a bright color to stand out from everything else

If your color element isn't very bright, you won't notice it against the black and white background. It needs to stand out otherwise the viewer won't immediately notice it and the impact of your work will be lost.

Here's an example of what I mean. The stick insect, while in color, doesn't really stand out from the black and white wood fence. Bright colored animals like ladybirds or frogs work really well with this technique.

Bug on the Fence by txtinman

Note: I quite like the other elements of the above photo. Txtinman has done a great job in selecting just the insect to keep in color - even it's antennae. And the focus on the shot is just perfect!

The color jumps at you in the below example. The bird's plumage is wonderfully bright against the grey background. And this photographer, scarey, has used another way to improve the impact of the color section of your photo - to slightly darken the black and white part.

Wild Bird by scarey

The subject in color needs to take up at least a 1/4 of the photo

If your colored subject is too small, it's impact will be lost. In the below photo, the colored flower isn't large enough to make an impact, and instead is either not noticeable, or worse, looks like an imperfection on the otherwise black and white image.

Here's how to do it correctly. The red truck below is definitely large enough in the photo. It also fills the first criteria because the red is a very bright color.

Old Truck by flf031k

The color subject shouldn't be hidden behind something that will be in black and white

The Marley puppy photo below is almost perfect for a selective color image. However, the puppy's paws, because they are on the grass, are partially hidden by the grass which is in black and white. Unfortunately, this detracts from the final image, as when only the puppy is in color, he doesn't seem quite whole.

Marley Puppy by elparson

Alternative strategy - color everything else

Here's another interesting strategy when using selective color. Colorize everything BUT your main subject.

Roll your mouse over the image to see the original.

This serves two purposes. It's another way to highlight your subject. It can also help to improve the emotion in your photo. In the below image, the boy looks sadder when he's in black and white.

I hope this has given you some ideas. For more ideas, take a look at the selective color photos gallery. Or try it yourself and upload your own selective color photo. I'd love to see what you come up with!

Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. David Peterson says:


    Selective coloring is done on your computer, not your camera. So you can use photos from any camera including your S3400!


  2. jimmie says:

    What type of camera does one need to perform
    The selective coloring, or can I do it with my
    Fujifilm finepix S3400?

  3. Wayne says:

    Thx for a great tip. I have had several attempts at this & have adapted my own method. As follows:

    Open image.
    Duplicate image & desaturate this layer. Image>Adjustments>Desaturate.
    Erase parts of image on desaturated layer that require colour. Use as small a brush as you can with opacity & flow set very low (20 -30%) & keep brushing away from the centre of the parts requiring colour - to the outside edge. (Lowering opacity/flow & changing the size of the brush as you get near the edges)

  4. Jheitor says:

    Tks a lot

  5. c shekhar says:


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