selective colour photography

Single and Selective Colour Photography

Selective colour photography is shooting and focusing on single colours. This can be tricky. Do you often wonder how to incorporate more of a specific colour whilst reducing the impact the other colours have on the frame?

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From zooming in to crop out all other colours to using selective colour tools. We have got you covered for all things in the selective colour photography niche.

Focusing on One Colour

Perhaps you want to really display the vibrance of a certain colour or object. Maybe you want to add a slightly different feel to an image by focusing on more of the dark colours. This is when it is important to know how to use your surroundings to your advantage when it comes to selective colour photography.

A plain and contrasting background needs to be the first thing you look for. If you can draw the viewers eyes away from noise and other things going on with a plain background you immediately pull their focus to where you want. Alternatively, void all backgrounds by completely filling your frame with your single colour.

selective colour photography

Secondly you need to flood your frame with your desired colour. Make it the overpowering factor. Us the frame to make all other colours look inferior. This is where you need to be creative and use your brain.

How much time do you have?

If you have all the time in the world bring in props and other things of the same colour. Add some nice plain, open spaces to add further contrast.

If you don’t have to much time use your zoom to your advantage and crop out other colours. Remember you do not need to make other colours disappear, you just need to overpower them!

Selective colour photography in Camera (Nikon only setting we think)

The Retouch menu on some Nikon cameras offers the Selective Colour photography filter which enables you to desaturate (remove colour from) parts of a photo while leaving specific colours intact. For example, in the following figure, everything is desaturated except the yellows and peaches in the rose. The result lends additional drama to your subject because the eye goes first to the areas of colour, and distracting background colours are eliminated.

To select a color you want to keep, move the yellow box over it and press the AE-L/AF-L button.

To select a colour you want to keep, move the yellow box over it and press the AE-L/AF-L button.Select the first colour to be retained: Using the Multi Selector, move the yellow highlight box over the colour. Then press the AE-L/AF-L button to tag that colour, which appears in the left colour swatch at the top of the screen, as shown on the right in the preceding figure.

Set the range of the selected colour 

Rotate the Command dial to display a preview of the desaturated image and highlight the number box to the right of the colour swatch, as shown on the left in the following figure. Then press the Multi Selector up or down to choose a value from 1 to 7. The higher the number, the more a pixel can vary in colour from the selected hue and still be retained. At a low value, only pixels that are very similar to the one you selected are retained. The display updates to show you the impact of the setting; for example, lowering the value to 1 turned some of the rose petals to gray, as shown on the right in the following figure.Rotate the Command dial to display a preview and activate the range value box (left); press the Multi Selector up and down to adjust the range of affected colours (right).

Choose one or two additional colours

Rotate the Command dial to highlight the second colour swatch box. Then repeat the selection process: Move the yellow highlight box over the colour and press the AE-L/AF-L button to select that colour. Rotate the Command dial to display the preview and activate the range value box; press the Multi Selector up and down to set the range. To choose a third colour, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Fine-tune your settings

You can keep rotating the Command dial to cycle through the colour swatch boxes and range values, adjusting each as necessary.

Reset a colour swatch box

To empty a selected swatch box, press the Delete button. You can then move the yellow highlight box over a new colour and press the AE-L/AF-L button to select it.To reset all the swatch boxes, hold down the Delete button until you see a message asking whether you want to get rid of all selected colours. Highlight Yes and press OK.

Save a copy of the image with the effect applied: Press OK.

How to Lighten or Darken Selective Colours in Photoshop

There are endless techniques for colour grading your images, but one aspect that can be tricky is manipulating the tonal range of those colours. If you prefer performing your colour work in Photoshop, this quick tip will show you how to control the luminance of the hues in your photographs.

To start, you will add a Black & White Adjustment Layer. After that, change the Blending Mode to Luminosity. Reviewing the tool properties window for the Black & White Adjustment Layer, you will see the following ranges of colour: red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta.

Use the sliders

Dragging any of these sliders to the left will darken that hue while dragging to the right will lighten it. While these options exist in similar forms in Lightroom, Camera RAW, and in Capture One, this particular technique takes only a few seconds and might fit into your workflow perfectly.

Watch the following video by Kevin Roodhorst to see this technique in action, and give it a try.

Another option is to do it on each layer. The dialog for Selective Colour can be found in your Adjustment panels within Photoshop, and I’ve found is best used when put onto a layers mask. The panel itself is broken into 9 different colour channels (Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas, Whites, Neutrals & Blacks), each with their own colour channel adjustments (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black). Sounds complicated, but it’s not.


The colour channels (Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas, Whites, Neutrals & Blacks) will be where you select the colours within your image. For example, if you have a blue sky that you want to tone down a bit, you’re able to make adjustments to the colour within the Cyan and Blue colour channels. When you’ve selected your colour channel, you’re then able to make adjustments to it by adding and subtracting the various Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Blacks.

Working With Opposites

The general breakdown of the colour channel adjustments are as follows –


Absolute or Relative

The difference between these two settings within the panel is pretty simple. Relative is going to be a much more subtle technique for the tool. What Relative does is it takes the value of the colour tone in the image, and then changes it by a percentage of the total. So if your image is 50% red tones, adding 10% to the red slider is actually going to add 50% of the 10%….bringing the total to 55%.

Absolute is going to work in absolute values, meaning the 10% adjustment is going to adjust that colour by 10%. For the sake of simplicity, just think of relative being a much more subtle option to use, and absolute being far more dramatic in it’s adjustments. For me personally, I use relative, cause I prefer the fine tuning you can get from it.

Using Selective Colour Photography to Adjust Skin Tones

Getting skin tones to look correct can sometimes be complicated. Using the Selective Colour tool allows you to make global adjustments to skin tones easily and on a layer mask, which then allows you to go through and correct where needed. The three colour channels you’ll use for this are the Reds, Yellows and occasionally Green (for olive skin tones only). Using this, you’re able to push back pink tones in skins, and give a much more muted, beautiful tone.

Using Selective Colour photography for General Toning

This is where the true power of Selective Colouring comes into play. Using the Whites, Neutrals and Blacks, you’re able to cross process your images easily, by working on a basic histogram to adjust your images. The idea is pretty simple – Whites will control the colour cast of your highlights, Neutrals are your mid tones, and Blacks are your shadows. Using this technique, you can make your shadows stark, faded, or even with a blue cast with ease.

We hope this helps you understand more and gets you shooting some beautifully vibrant colours! As always let us know your thoughts.

Hate shooting in colour? This black and white guide will take your skills to the next level.

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