Highlight Color Effect in Lightroom - 5 Easy Steps

Highlight Color Effect in Lightroom – 5 Easy Steps


One effect many people like to use with their photos is to remove all the color from the image and leave it in only one place in the image. For example, in a wedding shot you might turn the entire image into black and white leaving just the bride’s bouquet in color.

Here’s how to achieve this effect in Lightroom using the Adjustment Brush.

Step 1

Start with the image selected in Lightroom and switch to the Develop module.


Click on the Adjustment Brush and make sure you have it set to Show Effect Sliders so that you can adjust multiple sliders at once. Drag the Saturation to -100.

Step 2

Click the letter O so that you can see as you paint and with a large size hard paintbrush click on the image in an area you want converted to black and white and then paint over the image in all places that it should be turned to black and white.


It will be quicker if you set the feather to a low value, the brush to a large size and disable the Auto Mask option for now.

Step 3

To work close around the edges of the area that you want to leave in color, set the brush size smaller and work slowly around the edges.

If you go too far, press the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and paint out the overlay color. The Eraser uses a different brush so make sure it too is set to have Auto Mask disabled and a low Feather value.


To zoom in click Z and to move the image, press the Spacebar as you drag on it.

Step 4

Once you have the area selected that you want to convert to black and white, disable the overlay color by pressing the O key.

This leaves the selected area in black and white and the unselected area in color.


You can now tidy up the edges if necessary by using the Adjustment Brush tool – just make sure that you click on the marker for the Adjustment before you start painting – it should show a black center – if not, you’re making a new adjustment and not editing the existing one.

Step 5

You can adjust the other sliders, if desired, to improve the black and white portion of the image. For example you can boost the Contrast and Clarity if desired. When you’re done, click the Close option at the foot of the panel to finish.


In this example I added another adjustment using the Adjustment Brush over the top of this one to reduce the exposure and brightness in the sky to add back some of the cloud detail lost in the conversion of the image to black and white.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

Some Older Comments

  • bycostello May 2, 2012 03:47 am

    can you change the overlay colour?

  • Justin F November 28, 2011 11:17 pm

    Hey guys.

    Thanks for this tute.
    I found that the colouring was a little tedious (for me anyway), so was hunting around for an easier way.
    I found this link:

    "Step 2: How to Do Selective Coloring in Lightroom

    To change the color of a portion of a photograph or image, follow the below procedures to turn a section of a picture black and white:

    Open up Lightroom, and then open the image that will be manipulated.
    Go into the Develop module.
    Then, go to the HSL/Color/Grayscale panel.
    Click on the HSL tab, and go to Saturation.
    For other colors, users should experiment with the sliders until they find the correct colors.
    It is located on the upper left-hand side of the panel.
    Drag it around the area until the whole section is selected.
    Now, the area should be the selected saturation. If the entire area that needed to be colored wasn't covered the first time, users can fix that problem by following the below steps:

    Select the Saturation Adjustment Brush Again.
    Change the Amount Slider until it's at -100 again.
    Check the Auto Mask if it's not already checked.
    Using the brush, go over the missing areas until the entire area is completed covered.
    When users survey the image again, everything should now be covered. If not, they can just repeat the above steps until they get everything right.'


  • Jeni Harvey June 1, 2011 01:58 pm

    This was awesome! So easy to follow, the sample pictures were fabulous and it worked great! Thank you!!

  • Cathy March 20, 2011 10:21 am

    I also have Lightroom 3.3, ..I'm also new to the Lightroom program. I followed the tutorial, but the part I wanted black and white, came out white?
    Any ideas to what I'm doing wrong? I've tried several times

  • Debbie March 1, 2011 12:01 pm

    I love this effect, however, I paint the whole picture with the saturation all the way down; then would erase the portion of the picture I want to remain in color. For some reason, this is not working in my Lightroom 3. Please any suggestions. Thank you!

  • Debbie March 1, 2011 11:11 am

    I love this effect on some of my pictures, however, for some reason, it will not work in my Lightroom 3. What could I possibly be doing wrong? Thank you!

  • Toronto Photographer November 11, 2010 09:13 am

    Great post!

    I've always done this effect in Photoshop but love the workflow in LR and this will certainly simplify things. Thanks for the post.

  • Linkoroo November 4, 2010 01:44 am

    Wow this is exactly what I was looking for. Funny because I thought the process would've been the opposite. You would've place the picture in grayscale and then highlight the regions you want. But it's pretty much the same, you highlight everything and place lower the saturation and then you "unselect" the regions you want in color.

    Thank you very much!

  • citmariñas June 9, 2010 05:50 pm

    Thanks! Nice tutorial.. Just what I have been trying to do last night, but never figured out, except that I used the HSL adjustment.. I will try this once I get home..

    By the way, can there any be chance that I can cull out the foreground from the background or change the background to black.. Thanks!

  • Ray May 26, 2010 12:05 pm

    Thank you for showing me how to do this. I learned in a class one time and forgot and then google'd it and found this article. Thanks!

  • Beck April 25, 2010 01:53 am

    Thanks thanks thanks thanks!!! I had been looking for a week! I couldnt find how to do the color splash thing, your instructions are soo easy and clear! Thanks again!

  • Alberto March 12, 2010 07:35 am

    I truly appreciate you knowledge and you willingness about transmit to all of us all your expertise. Best Regards

  • Lourdes February 25, 2010 03:21 am

    Hi Helen! the article is so great! I've been looking for this tip for ever! and now I've tried it and it really works! thank you so much for sharing this. I'll be visiting your website often now!

  • Alina November 29, 2009 10:22 am

    Thanks so much for the great article!

    I've been using Helen's technique successfully on many photos, but at some point I had one (below) where it would have been extremely time consuming (I wanted all the leaves in color and everything else in black and white). It would have been much easier to do it the way Ilya suggested, but you cannot desaturate the whole image and then use the brush to get the colors back. It just doesn't work this way in Lightroom. What I did, however, was this:
    I set the brush to saturation -100 and a very large size, and I painted over the ENTIRE photo. Then I switched to ERASE with the same brush, set it to a much smaller size, and painted over the leaves, which reversed the effect and brought color back on them. I think this way it was a little easier than painting all around the leaves.

    Once again, thanks Helen and everyone for your valuable comments - they are incredibly helpful for learning. I just thought I'd contribute a little myself, as well; I hope this helps!

    [eimg url='C:\Pictures\2009_11_07_555.jpg' title='C:\Pictures\2009_11_07_555.jpg']

  • Woods November 11, 2009 01:26 pm

    Sorry, here is the picture :


    -- Woods

  • Woods November 11, 2009 01:24 pm

    Thanks for the tip !

    I had a try and I think the result is quite nice :

    Red flags in the night

    But my photo was very red around the flags so it took me some time to isolate the real red areas while zooming.
    -- Woods

  • FR October 11, 2009 02:07 am

    I noticed that you left the Auto Mask option off. I've found this to be quite useful for its edge detection in portraits. Then again it might have been more difficult in your case because of the detail in the original photo?

  • chris walter October 8, 2009 08:05 pm

    RE the above - I know it doesn't work in LR2 but I don't do the desaturation thing - only the clarity - in case someone asks! Obviously I'd like to be able to do that as well!

  • chris walter October 8, 2009 08:00 pm

    Yes. I love the brush on LR2 although with my graphics tablet I prefer to work the opposite way - desturate the whole image and paint/brush back in colour. In portraits I would reduce clarity overall then paint back in the eyes, mouth, hair etc. which is more accurate and easier than trying to go around eyes and lips.
    I demonstrated this to a whole room of photographers at a Jon Gray studio shoot and they mostly just used the basics in LR - the model was ignored while I did a quick touch-up of her face on the studio mac!

    I also love the way the brush leaves non-similar areas alone while I remove creases from my white backgrounds!

  • MD September 16, 2009 06:29 pm

    You cannot desaturete whole image a then use brush to get bus colors back. This doens't work in Lightroom. It's a pity. It must be done like Helen shows in her tutorial.

  • scott webb August 8, 2009 10:50 am

    yes actually it is nice to learn how to do this in lightroom instead of moving on into photoshop. saving time is key these days eh

  • superkru1969 July 20, 2009 05:39 pm

    Here's the link to the GIMP tutorial page. This is called Selective Colorization. It's pretty easy; I did it twice today.

  • Mike Polfer July 17, 2009 10:22 am

    I just use a desaturated layer with a mask in Pshop. I am probably overlooking the power of lightroom 2 though.

  • Dom July 17, 2009 07:34 am

    Regardless of the technique, it is a great idea that I have never thought of doing. Now I need to find a photo to try it on!

  • monik July 17, 2009 01:22 am

    you can do the same in GIMP?
    can you give directions to do it in GIMP please?

  • ADEEL REHMAN July 16, 2009 05:33 pm


  • FriedChicken July 11, 2009 12:42 pm


    I did put something almost exactly the same up in the Tutorials section, but I guess it just got lost...

    I'm sure this is a better article than mine, though. :)


  • Ruth Ann July 11, 2009 08:57 am

    It's nice to know how to do this in Lightroom. Sure would beat having to go to Photohsop ever single time. Thanks for the great article!

  • sweetcancer July 11, 2009 06:54 am

    In this case, i would also go with Helen. There is clearly more color to the bus than just red, and we want the whole bus to appear saturated. Desaturating all but red doesn't allow that.

  • Helen Bradley July 11, 2009 06:07 am

    I would agree with Ilya if there were only red in the area of concern but that's not the case.

    There is orange contributing to thered in the bus - removing all but red actually changes the color of the bus to a dark lackluster dull red. When you add the orange back it becomes more like what it should be. Worse than than that, there is yellow in some of the signage on the bus, the destination signs are green and some of the detail in the front of the bus is blue. To retain the rich colors in the bus I really think that my approach is preferable.

  • Scott July 11, 2009 05:27 am

    Yea, this is the hard way to do this. I agree with llya completely. This is the third article from Helen that I directly disagree with how it is done. Sure, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but this is just plain backwards.

  • Sarit Mishra July 11, 2009 03:35 am

    Yup... another approach similar to llya would be to
    1. De-saturate the entire image
    2. (Optional) tweak around LighRoom to get the desired contrast and lighting
    3. Use adjustment brush on the bus to selectively increase saturation.

  • Will July 11, 2009 02:53 am

    Can you do something similar in Aperture?

  • Ilya July 11, 2009 02:09 am

    Little hint: It would probably be easier to desaturate all the colors except red using the HSL panel and then fix the rest with the adjustment brush.

  • Joe July 11, 2009 01:34 am

    I'm pretty sure you can do it the other way round too, desaturate the whole image and then take a brush and put the colour back in by taking a brush and whacking the saturation up to 100, I find that this is a quicker way to do the same thing :-)