Add selective colour to black and white photos

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: our final image

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: our final image

By selecting and desaturating a particular colour in an image you can use the other colours to draw attention to specific elements in a photo. This selective colour technique is popular with black and white photos, and in this Photoshop tutorial we’ll show you how you can do it in six easy steps.

You may be tempted to try and select a coloured area using selection tools such as the Magic Wand. However, due to varying lighting conditions the target colour’s saturation can vary throughout the shot, making a traditional selection approach tricky and time-consuming.

Even if you manage to select most of the desired colour with the Magic Wand, there’s bound to be 
a few blocky patches that will evade the marquee. When you desaturate the selected colour any unselected areas will stand out and look untidy. 
However, by applying an Adjustment Layer to the document you can selectively target all variations of a particular colour without having to make fiddly marquee-based selections.

Here, we’ll show you how to use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to desaturate and darken the sky’s blue colour without altering other colours in the scene. This technique makes it possible to select and alter all variations of a particular colour quickly and easily. Adjustment Layers are non-destructive, too, so you can tweak them at any time to perfect the look you’re after.

We’ll also show you how to restore particular areas of the edited colour to their original state using Layer Masks. This enables you to convert the blues in the sky to black and white while preserving the original blues in the sign.

All you’ll need for this tutorial is Photoshop Elements 9 or higher and about 15 minutes of your time!

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: our original image

Step 1: Prepare your workspace
Go to File>Open and browse to find your original image.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 1

Click Open, then go to Window>
Layers to view the Layers palette, or drag it from the Panel Bin. You can then go to Window and untick Panel Bin to create a cleaner, less cluttered workspace.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 2

Step 2: Add an Adjustment Layer
Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation. In the New Layer box click OK. The Adjustments palette will appear. Drag this palette to the bottom of the Layers palette. When a blue line appears the two palettes will be docked together.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 3

Step 3: Desaturate the blues
By default, the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer will target all of the colours. To target just the sky, set the Adjustment Layer’s Master menu to Blues. Drag the Saturation slider to -100. For a darker, more dramatic sky, drag the Lightness slider to -34.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 4

Step 4: Lose the cyan
As there’s a hint of colour remaining, set the menu to Cyans and reduce the Saturation of that colour to -100. Drop the Lightness to -29 to darken the cyans. This creates a totally greyscale sky, but you’ve also lost the cyan colour in the seaside shop sign.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 5

Step 5: Restore some colour
Grab the Brush tool from the Tools palette. Go to the Brush Preset picker and choose a soft round tip with a Size of 300. Set Opacity to 100%. Click on the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer’s white mask. Press D then X to set the foreground colour to black, then spray over the sign to restore cyan to this area.

Selective Colour Photoshop Tutorial: step 6

Step 6: Boost colour selectively
To create more vivid seaside postcard colours for the sign, create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. This time drag the Master Saturation slider to +43. This boosts all the remaining colours in the shot while respecting the desaturated Blue/Cyan settings created by the Adjustment Layer below.


Fake a tilt shift effect in Photoshop
Orton effect: try this quick soft-focus Photoshop trick
Make tourists disappear
6 photo editing steps every photographer should know