Easy Selective Colouring in Photoshop

Mar 2016

4 mins read

This is one of the oldest and the earliest trick anyone ever came up with in Photoshop. Selective colouring is where a particular object or region in a black and white picture is left to retain its colour. It’s a very neat technique and helps you bring in focus a particular point in an image.

We will be using the layer masking technique in Photoshop to do this.

Layer masking

I have already given a detailed explanation of layer masking in my previous blog.

To recap, layer masking is the technique of layering one image over the other and then tearing through the image in the top layer and revealing that area from the image in the bottom layer.

Selective colouring

Using the concept of layer masking, we will place the black and white image on top of the colour image in Photoshop layers. Layer mask the black and white photo over the colour photo and reveal only those areas where we require the colour to be shown.

Things you will need

All you will need for this trick is any colour photo and Photoshop installed on your computer.


  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  • You will see that in the layers’ panel this image has opened up as the background layer. While this layer is selected, press ctrl + J (command + J on mac) and you will see that this layer just got duplicated.
    diplicate layer
  • Having the duplicate layer selected press ctrl + shift + alt + B (command + shift + option + B) on mac. A new window will open up. In the background you will notice that the duplicate layer has got converted to black and white.
  • Alternatively, you can alter the black and white conversion using the various sliders in this window. Once you are done, hit enter on your keyboard. Or you can also use any specific black and white software like nik silver efex to convert your colour image to black and white for a more dramatic effect.
    convert to grey scale
  • In the layers’ panel you will notice that the duplicate layer which is now in grayscale (black and white) is on top of the original coloured image.
  • Select the layer with black and white image and press this icon to create a layer mask on top of the coloured image.
  • Using a hard brush tool at 100% opacity, select black as your foreground colour and start painting on those areas where you want to reveal the colour. It’s always best to use a hard brush so as not to spill colour on neighbouring objects.
  • 2. Once you have completed colour painting, merge the layers and save your image. selective colouring

    Points to remember

    Though it’s a very easy trick, selective colouring will not work on all black and white images. You must have a very good reason behind selective colouring. For example, a pattern of neatly arranged objects is a great example for selective colouring. If selective colouring is used here, the one coloured object of the lot in a black and white ambience will create a definite impact. It will be like throwing spotlight on a theatre performer.

    Selective colouring also works for jewellery. Shooting a black and white portrait of a model and then highlighting the tiny pieces of jewellery alone will make the audience focus on the jewels.

    There is no exact science behind it. When you are trying out selective colouring, just ask yourself why is it that you chose that particular object or region in your picture for selective colour. If your answer is convincing enough, you are probably going in the right direction. Experiment it yourself.

    Looking to sharpen your photoshop skills? Join our top-rated professional diploma in photoshop today!

    Join 12+ million students who already have a head start
    Sign up today and get 4 weeks free!
    No commitments. Cancel at any time.

    Shaw Academy

    Shaw Academy has over 100 globally recognised courses across 10 faculties. Sign up now - the first four weeks are free.