Partial Color Photos
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Partial Color Photos

How to Leave Only One Part of a Picture in Color

 By Liz Masoner, Guide to Photography 

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Partial color picture example.  Photo © Liz MasonerRemoving the color on only one part of a picture so that most of the photo is in black and white with just a little color in strategic spots is a great special effect for your photos. Generally, the main subject of the photo is left in color but occasionally the main subject is the part turned black and white while the surrounding area is in color. Bride's bouquets, children's portraits, and flowers are some common types of photos given this partial color edit.

For this lesson I'm using PhotoShop Elements 8 but the process is the same for almost any photo editing program. There will just be slight differences in the names of tools and where they are located.

Select the portion of the photo you want to remain in color.  Photo © Liz MasonerSelecting The Target
Once you have opened your photo, use your favorite selection tool to select the parts of the photo you want to keep in color. No one tool will automatically select things perfectly. Take your time and get the selection just like you want it. This is the slowest part of the process and the most important to the finished product. Start out with a quick tool such as color selector or magnetic lasso. Then move to smaller tools like regular lasso to select problem spots of the desired target. If you are having problems with small areas, use the magnify tool to enlarge the area so that it is easier to work with.

Refine the edge of the selection.  Photo © Liz MasonerRefine the Edge
Once you have the selection just like you want it, you need to add a slight feather effect to the edge of the selection to prevent a "fake" look where the color and black and white meet. A general rule of thumb is to set the feather effect a few points lower than the expansion of the selection. Expanding the selection slightly keeps you from losing a lot of image in the feather effect.

Create a new layer with the selected part of the picture.  Photo © Liz Masoner Create a New Layer
Create a new layer from the selected part of your image. Control J is a shortcut for this in PhotoShop Elements. Otherwise, look for the layers menu and select "create new layer via copy." This gives us a separate layer of the color part of our photo. Notice on the layers display that the new layer is on top of the old. Don't forget you can use our easy introduction to layers guide if you need a refresher on how layers work.

Desaturate the original layer. Photo © Liz MasonerGetting the Black and White
Making sure you select the original layer of the photograph, go to adjust color hue/saturation. Slide the saturation slider all the way to the left to remove the color from the main image. Now only the color copy of your selection is still in color. If any color is showing that you do not want, select the color layer and then use the eraser tool to remove stray bits of color from selection issues earlier.

Try Blending Variations
By changing the layer blending mode you can quickly create various effects to modify your finished image. Soft light, hard light, lighten, darken, and many other effects will further personalize your image. You can also add a slight gausian blur to either layer or adjust the saturation of the color layer so that it is more vivid or paler. Don't be afraid to try something different. Remember the "undo" button is always there.
Blending Variation Samples for Partial Color Photos. Photo © Liz Masoner 

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