There’s colour photography and there’s black and white, but sometimes there’s something in between which has its own very distinctive look. This tutorial is all about selective colour – making a black and white image but with one single colour preserved. In this case it’s red, which is usually the most popular choice for this technique. I’ve used it to create a retro seaside scene from a regular colour image, and added in a couple of twists which I think give the picture a little extra appeal.

So here’s the start shot, a regular colour image shot on a sunny day. The colours are good but just a little bit too ‘literal’ for my liking. It’s clearly a very modern digital image which is an accurate rendition of the scene but not really very evocative.

Selective colour tutorial

And below is the edited version, with annotations showing what was done and why. These correspond to the headings and the screenshots that follow.

Selective colour tutorial

01 How to isolate specific colours

Selective colour tutorial

This technique was carried out using Lightroom, but any software with HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) adjustments can do the same thing. Lightroom’s HSL panel has a Saturation tab which lists eight different colour ranges in the photo. There’s nothing difficult about what we want to do here– I want to keep the red and orange tones in the picture (there is some orange colour in the awnings above the deckchairs), so I’ve slightly increased the Red saturation, left the Orange saturation alone and dragged the saturation for the other colours – Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple, Magenta – right down to zero. So what we’re left with is a photo that’s black and white but with the orange and red colours preserved. I don’t think the effect is quite finished, though, so I’m adding two more steps. These are optional – you can stop right here if this works for your particular photo.

02 Adding a split toning effect

Selective colour tutorial

For this particular photo I felt that the default rendition looked a little too clinical and that a sepia tint would add something. Some programs have a straightforward ‘toning’ filter, but Lightroom has a slightly more complex Split Toning panel where you can choose different colour tints for the highlights and shadows. I don’t particularly want that, so I just make sure to choose the same tint colour for both. I’ve chosen a nice warm ‘sepia’ look.

03 Adding a vignette effect

Selective colour tutorial

The result from the last step still looks a little ‘digital’, so I’ve added one more effect – Lightroom’s Vignette effect. A little corner darkening improves the composition by focusing your attention on the centre of the picture, and it also adds to that aged, film-like look.

And that’s it. This has all been done in Lightroom, but you can do the same thing in a whole bunch of different programs. This selective colour technique can be very effective and it’s worth trying out with different colours than red. Often, excluding a single colour can actually enhance a picture, because sometimes the colours in the picture can actually work against the kind of mood you’re trying to convey.