How to Easily Create Selective Color Using Lightroom - Digital Photography School

How to Easily Create Selective Color Using Lightroom

This is a guest post by: John Davenport

Selective color photography has been around for ages. It’s something that has been used in the movies – Schindler’s List and Sin City come to mind – and more recently Chase Freedom and Budweiser have used it in their ad campaigns to highlight their products. So even if you dislike selective color, or if haven’t given it much thought, you have to admit it’s a great technique to use when you’re trying to draw attention to a certain subject and is something useful to have in your tool belt.

Today I’m going to show you how to create simple selective color images using only Lightroom as your processing software.

What Makes a Good Selective Color Image?

Double Yellow.jpg

First we need to make sure we know what to look for when we’re out photographing our subjects because selective color photography is not something suited for every situation. Whether you’re a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, or someone shooting on the city streets it’s important to keep the idea in the back of your head that selective color shouldn’t be forced.

Typically you’ll want to pull a vibrant color out of a rather drab scene so fall foliage can work really well, blue eyes in portraits are a very common theme, bright dresses and clothing work well too.

One final point is that you should make sure that whatever you’re keeping in color adds value to the photograph and isn’t something that will detract from the overall scene.

How to Create Selective Color in Lightroom

One of the limitations of Lightroom is that it does not have the ability to do true layers like Photoshop does. We can get around this for selective color processing by working with the HSL tab and working with the Adjustment Brush tool. In short, what we’re going to be doing today is turning the saturation down on all the colors and areas of the photograph that we don’t want color in. The following is a step by step guide on how I created the image at the top of this post.

Here’s the original image for your reference.

original.jpg

The first step would be to go into the HSL tab in Lightroom and remove the saturation from all the colors you don’t want in your photograph. In my case I wanted to keep yellow so all the other sliders have been pulled to the far left.

Screen Shot 1.png

Next step would be to tune the image to your liking – this is a rough tuning just something to get you close to where the final image will be. Simply go into the Basic editing tab of Lightroom and get the overall image set up how you like. You might notice as you do this, some colors start creeping back into the photograph, that’s okay we’ll fix this in the next step.

Screen Shot 2.png

Cleaning up any colors that have reappeared after your tuning process can be done easily with the Adjustment Brush. Simply create a new adjustment brush layer and turn the saturation to the far left. Paint anywhere you don’t want color. If you accidentally paint over something you want to keep switch to the erase mode and go back over that area until you get it right.

Screen Shot 3.png

After you get to this point it’s up to you to finalize the photograph for your own unique look with final touches and cropping.

I find that this workflow does a good job at creating selective color images without the confusion and time consuming nature that dealing with layers in Photoshop has. Of course it should be noted that with a program like Photoshop you’ll have a lot more control over your selective color processing, but for many of us this Lightroom trick is a great alternative.

Let’s Hear From You

Now that we’ve learned how to perform selective color edits I’d love to hear what your opinions are of this kind of processing do you use it? Do you hate it? Have you ever done this kind of thing in Lightroom before?

John Davenport is an avid amateur photographer who shares daily photos on Facebook. For more tips on Lightroom editing check out John’s weekly series which focuses on how to edit photos in Lightroom.

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  • John

    Appreciate the simple and straightforward tutorial.

    Nice example of making an otherwise dull photo pop with selective color.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AaronStevensPhotography Aaron Stevens

    I have done it like this in Lightroom and this photo took a bit of work getting the fine edging and gaps, zoomed in, but I think it turned out quite well :)
    It’s not selective with one colour but it’s the same process :)

    http://flic.kr/p/c5AcQ5

  • http://www.phogropathy.com John

    @John – Thanks for the comment happy you liked the edit and the way I explained it.

    @Aaron – Thanks for sharing that edit I can’t imagine the amount of work that required though zooming in and out to get in all those nooks. Nice work.

    One of my personal favorites was one of a friend wearing a red dress in the snow – I still don’t know how I convinced her to do this. I would have shown it as the edit above, but I felt the road was a simple one to explain.

  • http://www.appleledgephotography.com Robert Rosen

    I have been using Topaz Labs Black and white effects. This is one i shot at a guns rights demonstration. http://flic.kr/p/aVZ3kg . It is really easy.

  • Jeff

    I don’t use selective color often, but here’s one of my favorites: http://flic.kr/p/9WNkzH

  • JMDeir

    Very well done as I liked what you did will a drab photo. I take and use these techniques myself, but I’m trying to do infra-red conversion, or something close to that in Lightroom. I have come up with my take of digital negative exposure and here is a link to the time-lapse I created. How would one mimic infra-red? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=552850881413846&l=5708043034985016528

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/76167241@N03/ gopal

    This was taken in Delhi with a P&S

  • http://www.photosbykag.com K.A. Gilligan

    Very well explained, thank you.
    K.A. Gilligan http://www.photosbykag.com

  • http://www.gardeningthroughalens.com Emily

    Thank you so much for the clear instructions. Something I can play with on this dark, rainy day!

  • Alejandro

    thank you.
    This was taken in Uruguay. I only realized the posibilities of selective coloring when looking at the picture back home.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aleruete/8601108804/in/set-72157633119542838/

    cheers

  • Daniel thomassin

    Un grand MERCI !Bon Weekend à tous

    Dan

  • mercy

    Thank you for all the information but i have a favor to ask you :You always talk about canon and nikon but you leave out the sony camera.I just bought the Sony A99 but i can find dof for sony.could you please if you have a site email it to me.Thank you

  • MassMor

    Hi and thanks for your instruction! But I Cant find HSL/B&W … Menu in my light-room! :(
    My Light-Room is 4.2 ver. can you help me plz???

  • Robin Bakshi

    Thanks. Brillinat lesson. Seemed like no effort at all.

  • Loy

    Thanks a lot for this tutorial; it was the most effective and easiest one i found among many.

  • Ardi

    Quick question, when I do selective coloring process by desaturating a certain object, then I replace its original color with a new color, the new color is faint. So I desaturate a yellow object, then choose the darkest blue in the spectrum to replace it, it still shows up as a very light blue. Any thoughts?

  • YMC

    Thanks a lot! easiest way to introduce the selective color.

  • Didyasha

    Right on time! Thank you! Helpfull!

  • Paul

    Hi I am a newbie but I have Corel Paint shop Pro X6 could anybody tell me if it has this capability please :-)

  • Danika

    I’m a newbie to Lightroom and have loved to play with the sliders but I’m not sure how to “Simply create a new adjustment brush layer and turn the saturation to the far left.”

  • http://learnphotoediting.net/ Patrick Johnson

    Everybody knows that photography is a finest art, and it can be better with editing or Photoshop. Photoshop has a huge variety of features. The rest – from fixing the levels to color correction – is done using professional photo editing software. And a wide range of professional photo editing applications are available which you can use to edit your photo.

    photo manipulation

Some older comments

  • Robin Bakshi

    April 24, 2013 12:32 pm

    Thanks. Brillinat lesson. Seemed like no effort at all.

  • MassMor

    April 21, 2013 07:51 pm

    Hi and thanks for your instruction! But I Cant find HSL/B&W ... Menu in my light-room! :(
    My Light-Room is 4.2 ver. can you help me plz???

  • mercy

    April 14, 2013 01:48 pm

    Thank you for all the information but i have a favor to ask you :You always talk about canon and nikon but you leave out the sony camera.I just bought the Sony A99 but i can find dof for sony.could you please if you have a site email it to me.Thank you

  • Daniel thomassin

    April 14, 2013 07:42 am

    Un grand MERCI !Bon Weekend à tous

    Dan

  • Alejandro

    April 13, 2013 11:28 pm

    thank you.
    This was taken in Uruguay. I only realized the posibilities of selective coloring when looking at the picture back home.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aleruete/8601108804/in/set-72157633119542838/

    cheers

  • Emily

    April 13, 2013 05:26 am

    Thank you so much for the clear instructions. Something I can play with on this dark, rainy day!

  • K.A. Gilligan

    April 13, 2013 12:04 am

    Very well explained, thank you.
    K.A. Gilligan www.photosbykag.com

  • gopal

    April 12, 2013 10:25 pm

    This was taken in Delhi with a P&S

  • JMDeir

    April 12, 2013 03:15 am

    Very well done as I liked what you did will a drab photo. I take and use these techniques myself, but I'm trying to do infra-red conversion, or something close to that in Lightroom. I have come up with my take of digital negative exposure and here is a link to the time-lapse I created. How would one mimic infra-red? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=552850881413846&l=5708043034985016528

  • Jeff

    April 12, 2013 12:05 am

    I don't use selective color often, but here's one of my favorites: http://flic.kr/p/9WNkzH

  • Robert Rosen

    April 11, 2013 09:30 pm

    I have been using Topaz Labs Black and white effects. This is one i shot at a guns rights demonstration. http://flic.kr/p/aVZ3kg . It is really easy.

  • John

    April 11, 2013 12:01 pm

    @John - Thanks for the comment happy you liked the edit and the way I explained it.

    @Aaron - Thanks for sharing that edit I can't imagine the amount of work that required though zooming in and out to get in all those nooks. Nice work.

    One of my personal favorites was one of a friend wearing a red dress in the snow - I still don't know how I convinced her to do this. I would have shown it as the edit above, but I felt the road was a simple one to explain.

  • Aaron Stevens

    April 11, 2013 08:15 am

    I have done it like this in Lightroom and this photo took a bit of work getting the fine edging and gaps, zoomed in, but I think it turned out quite well :)
    It's not selective with one colour but it's the same process :)

    http://flic.kr/p/c5AcQ5

  • John

    April 11, 2013 07:44 am

    Appreciate the simple and straightforward tutorial.

    Nice example of making an otherwise dull photo pop with selective color.

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