On The Subtle Use Of Selective Color

By | 2012-02-08T19:19:23+00:00 Feb 8th, 2012|

I think we can all admit to succumbing to the temptation of restoring color to a small portion of a scene that was processed for black and white, right? Maybe, maybe not. But, I have certainly seen enough examples of it where it just distracts from the overall image. At least it distracts me enough to notice it and that in there lies the rub.

Now, don’t misinterpret my words. I have nothing against selective color. In fact, when used effectively, I think it can be a gorgeous addition to a black and white image. I just think that it requires a soft touch and this is a tip that can be applied to all sorts of life lessons – everything in moderation.

For this image, I initially worked the entire scene in black and white. However, after reviewing the original color image, I realized that I loved the beautiful landscape that was painted on the wall. It really deserved to pop off the screen a bit more, so I masked back a small amount of the vibrant and punchy color, just enough to let it register to the viewer. I also think it contrasts very nicely against the stark, monochromatic sky and lights.

I think what I’m trying to say is that the application of subtlety often times will have a stronger impact than slamming your viewer over the head with blatant changes.

In terms of processing
I initially converted this image to B&W using a custom build effect in Perfect Effects 3 by +onOne Software. I also applied the Lighter effect under the Color & Tone category and selectively masked it onto the overhead lights to make them more pronounced. You will also notice that I masked just outside of the light housings, as well, to give them the appearance that they are glowing.

Next, I returned back to Perfect Layers and used a 10% opacity masking brush to restore some of the original color from the wall. Each stroke was iterative and compounded on itself so I masked in until I was happy with the output.

Finally, I added some contrast and clarity using the Develop Module in Adobe Lightroom 3.

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15 Comments

  1. Brad Sloan February 8, 2012 at 9:46 am - Reply

    I'm usually pretty against this +Brian Matiash This is a good example of how it can work.

  2. Brian Matiash February 8, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

    +Brad Sloan Thanks for that and, yeah, I am with you – it's more often than not where I see it used haphazardly.

    +Sean Galbraith Phases can be fun depending on what induces them. :)

  3. Sean Galbraith February 8, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

    This one time, in college, I might have done so. But I was just experimenting. It was a phase.

  4. Chris Bagley February 8, 2012 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Great example of how it should be done and how onOne rocks for processing :)

  5. Zachery Jensen February 8, 2012 at 9:57 am - Reply

    I've achieved very similar effects in the past by simply lowering saturation severely but not completely. Whether that works out depends on the original scene of course, but, the result is the same. I wouldn't consider either what I've done or this example to be "selective color" regardless of the processing method. There is nothing in this image that lacks color that I would expect to have color in a low saturation image.

  6. Michael Ratcliff February 8, 2012 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Nice work +Brian Matiash It's great seeing all these different things +onOne Software can do. Totally helps me out and I thank you.

  7. Brian Matiash February 8, 2012 at 10:01 am - Reply

    +Zachery Jensen Yeah, I am totally on board with desaturation of color as a whole. In a way, that is an effect in and of itself. What I tend to cringe at are those portrait scenes, for example, where the photographer masks back the color of the eyes, say, at 100%. It just screams tacky to me, I guess. Or when the photographer masks back the color of a bouquet of flowers at 100%.

    Doing the same thing at, maybe 15%, just seems to register so much more to me. It shows finesse.

  8. Lina A. Gugliotti February 8, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

    This is a great shot. I am always grateful when someone explains their work flow… always learning. Thank you!

  9. Zachery Jensen February 8, 2012 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Right. I think it comes down to harshness. We often talk (as photographers) about harsh tonal contrasts. We don't, as often, talk about color contrasts and that's what is at the heart of the issue with selective color. Just like most extremely harsh B&W images don't really work, some can. However, I think with color contrasts we are generally even more sensitive to the jarring effect and a selective color processing job could benefit from not entirely eliminating the color saturation transition from the object of emphasis to the rest of the scene, allowing it to fade into a desaturated, and not entirely B&W image suddenly makes selective color much more tolerable.

    It's definitely all about finesse.

  10. Joseph Fanvu February 8, 2012 at 10:16 am - Reply

    love the hint of color, thanks for the post!

  11. Russ Scullen February 8, 2012 at 10:27 am - Reply

    What made me look first look at it was the angle the shot was taken from. Then the subtle colors drew me in further. Nice work!

  12. Brian Matiash February 8, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

    +Russ Scullen Mission accomplished!

  13. IPBrian February 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    I am with Brad…usually I don’t like selective color images, but I realize its because people us it in too over the top a way. This is a good example Brian…thanks!

  14. Ivan Boden February 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    Terrific Brian. I agree, subtle color can be used to help create a mood or evoke an emotion.

  15. James Howe February 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    I think the reduced/selective color works well with this image. I've been finding myself drawn to creating black and white images and then reducing the opacity just a bit to bring back just a bit of color, or using a layer mask to again bring back just a bit of color. I'm not a big fan of strong selective color, but it does depend somewhat on the image.

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