How to Easily Create Selective Color Using Lightroom

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.


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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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


  • 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.


  • 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

  • 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?

  • Jeff April 12, 2013 12:05 am

    I don't use selective color often, but here's one of my favorites:

  • 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. . 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 :)

  • 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.