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Turn an Image Black & White Except for One Area in Photoshop

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I'm a Scottish law student. My interests include photography and music. I'm a tech geek and a lover of science.


Making Part of a Picture Black and White, and Part in Color

This is probably an effect everyone has seen: a photo that is partly in color and partly in black and white. It's a striking effect that really draws the viewer's attention to the colored area and, personally, it's one of my favorite effects.

How to do Color-Blocking in Photoshop

So, how is it done? Well, you might have guessed that it was done in Adobe Photoshop, and you'd be right. Now you want to know how to do it yourself, don't you?

Well that's what this article is here for. I'm going to show you a couple of ways to color or grey-out parts of a photo using Adobe Photoshop CS5. (Don't worry if you don't have that exact version—the process is pretty much identical, regardless of what version of Photoshop you're using. . .though some of your tools may be in different places.)

Your toolbar might look a little different to this, but the icons themselves will look the same regardless of what version of Photoshop you use.

Your toolbar might look a little different to this, but the icons themselves will look the same regardless of what version of Photoshop you use.

Before we go any further, you might want to take a look at the image displayed above. It will show you some of the tools in the Photoshop toolbar that you will need to use during this tutorial. If you're not familiar with Photoshop, you should take a moment to familiarise yourself with the various tool icons.

Please note that the icon marked "Selection Brush" in this photo is the one I'm referring to if I talk about the quick selection tool.


How to Make One Object Color and the Rest in Black and White

The first thing to do, before you get started, is to make a copy of the photo before you start editing. I cannot stress that enough. Alternatively, you can work on the photo and then save the edited version. For example, if you edit "MyPhoto," select "Save As" when you're done and save it as "MyPhoto_Edited" or something similar.

1. Use the Marquee Tool

To demonstrate how to remove color from different parts of a photo using the marquee tool, I'm going to use this image. In case you're interested, it's a photo of a musician called La Roux. She has bright ginger hair and a colorful jacket, and she is standing against a bold blue background, so you should be able to see the effects of selective coloring quite clearly.

Let's get started. Open up your chosen image in Photoshop. It should look something like the screenshot shown below.


2. Select Part of the Image to Decolorize

Now select the "Rectangular Marquee" tool from the toolbar of the left-hand side of your screen. (It doesn't have to be rectangular; you could make it elliptical, for example).

Using the marquee tool, select the part of the image you wish to remove the color from. I've chosen to make the right-hand side of my image black and white and retain color in the rest of it.


3. Create an Adjustment Layer

Once you've selected the part of the photo you want to decolorize, you have to create a new adjustment layer. To do this, go to your Layers panel (it should be on the bottom-right of the screen). Then select the icon that looks like a half shaded circle. If you hover over it with your mouse, text will appear saying "Create a new fill or adjustment layer". Click on that icon and then select "Hue/Saturation..." from the list.

This is what a hue/adjustment panel looks like.

This is what a hue/adjustment panel looks like.

4. Drag Saturation Slider to the Left

Once you click on "Hue/Saturation" a new panel will appear, shown here on the right. To remove the color from your selection, simply drag the "Saturation" slider all the way to the left. This will pull all the color out of your selection, turning it black and white while the rest of your image remains the same.

As you can see in the picture below, all the color has been removed from the right-hand side of the image, leaving the rest unchanged.


If your mind is already jumping ahead, it might have occurred to you that this panel lets you do more than remove color. For example, dragging the "Saturation" slider to the right would increase the intensity of the colors in your selection. Perhaps a more useful slider to play around would be the "Lightness" slider. This will let you control how light or dark your selected area is, allowing you to draw the viewer's eye to it or away from it, or to simply keep it more in line with the rest of your photo.

That's really cool!

Yes, yes it is. But it's also a little crude. And that was a very simple example. Let's kick it up a notch. What if you just want a small part of the photo to remain in full color? Well, Photoshop has this handy little option called "Select Inverse" which we're about to make use of.

How to Use Select Inverse

Let's go. Open up the image you want to use, just like we did before. I'm going to use the same photo as I did last time.

Now use the marquee tool to select the part of the image you want to remain in color. I chose the area around the eyes for this example. Next, right-click on your selection and click the "Select Inverse" option from the list. This will deselect the area you chose and select every other part of the image. I drew a small rectangle around the eyes. Once I clicked "Select Inverse", the screen looked like this:


Okay, now you have the area you wish to decolorize selected. The next step is to create a new "Hue/Saturation" layer, just as we did in the first example. Once you've done that, move the "Saturation slider as far left as it'll go. Your original selection will stay colorful, while everything that was selected when you clicked "Select Inverse" will turn black and white.

When I did it, I ended up with the photo shown below. I rather like it actually, since it's rather more subtle than the end result in the previous example.


How to Colorize More Complex Shapes

I won't lie to you; a lot of things in the world aren't rectangular. There will be times when you want to highlight more complex shapes than rectangles or circles. To perform more advanced selections, there are a number of tools at your disposal, including the lasso tool and the quick selection tool. The lasso tool allows you to free-draw selections, and is good for fiddly work on small areas. For most shapes however, the quick selection tool is the one to go for. It automatically selects areas based on color and tone, allowing you to select important areas quickly. You can also remove parts of the selection with this tool, which is handy because although it's very intelligent, it's not perfect.


Let's have a look at the picture to the right of this text. It's a picture of the actor Dylan O'Brien and I want to make it black and white except for his top, which has some bold red colors I want to preserve. Clearly the marquee tool won't do here. Nor will the lasso tool since the area is quite large. The quick selection tool is therefore the best choice.

To select his shirt, I simply click and drag over the areas I want with the quick selection tool enabled.

Looks like I included some of his face by mistake.

Looks like I included some of his face by mistake.

It's not perfect though, as some areas like the fence and the handle of the bat have been included. Since I don't want those, I'll deselect them. To deselect areas you don't want, just hold down the Alt key while clicking that areas you don't want selected. I suggest zooming in and decreasing the radius of the quick selection tool when you putting the final touches to the selection. This will give you greater control over what is selected and what is not. You can change the radius of the brush near the top-left of the screen while you have the tool selected.

Fixed it. Now, only his shirt is selected.

Fixed it. Now, only his shirt is selected.

That's better, now only his red top is selected. Now, as that is the only part I want to retain its color, I have to right-click on the selection and choose the "Select Inverse" option.


With everything apart from the top selected, I can now create a "Hue/Saturation" layer. As in the other examples, sliding the "Saturation" slider to the left removes the color, leaving me with the image displayed below:


How to Fill From Background Color

As a general rule, Photoshop offers a lot of different methods for doing the same thing. We have already looked at how you can use selection tools and a "Hue/Saturation" layer to decolorize an image while leaving part of it in full color. That method gives us a fair bit of control over the image, but we don't always need that much control.

There are other ways of retaining color on part of an image while removing color from the rest. The only other one I'm going to show you though is how to desaturate and fill from background.

  1. First, select an image and open it in Photoshop. Here is the image I'll be using for this demonstration. What I want to do is remove the color from this photo, then restore the color of a single lilypad. To be begin, I have to desaturate the photo.
  2. Without selecting anything, create a new "Hue/Saturation" layer, either by clicking the "Create new fill or adjustment layer" icon, or by choosing the option from the "Layer" menu at the top of the screen.
  3. Once the "Hue/Saturation" layer has been created, move the "Saturation" slider all the way to the left. Having done so, my image now looks like this:

4. Next, I select a single lilypad using the quick selection tool. You can use a different selection tool if you like. It depends on what you're selecting. Once you have made your selection and are happy with it, right-click on it and click the "Fill" option from the list. This will open the window shown on the right.

5. You don't have to worry about changing "Blending" as the default option will be fine. If "Opacity" is set to less than 100%, reset it to the default value of 100%.

6. Under "Contents" you should select "Use: Background Color". This will fill your selection with color from that area on the background layer. (Another way of looking at is that it removes the "Hue/Saturation" layer over your selection).


And there we have it! The selection has been filled with the background color. The finished product is shown below.


All done!

Well, there you go. You should now know how to turn images black and white while preserving color in one area using Adobe Photoshop.

Hopefully you found this article helpful. If you have any feedback, please feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


JohanaPS on March 27, 2019:

I use this Selective Color Photoshop action

Chad on August 27, 2018:

Thank you for this information. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Andy on May 17, 2017:

Does it have an android app to do this??

Nomes on May 02, 2017:

Hey, this article is awesome! Just what I needed :)


Clipping Path Specialist from United Kingdom on October 10, 2016:

"Colorizing More Complex Shapes" We can make this effect without any selection.. Just need only Hue/Saturation.

Julissa from Miramar on August 01, 2015:

thanks for your help.

Labonno Mehtab on August 01, 2015:

Brilliant work, Thanks for showing us how!

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on June 09, 2015:

This is brilliant - I’ve never understood how to use the marquee tool before – you make it sound so easy! Great Hub, really useful. Thanks very much.

Nourhan on May 28, 2013:

So cool and helpful. thank

Nesbyte (author) from UK on October 11, 2012:

Hey chef-de-jour, I'm really glad you enjoyed the hub. It's nice to know it actually achieved what I wanted it to do. You're welcome. I'm not sure how that would look. I thought about it while making this hub. Of course, it'd be easy to do - the process is almost the same as this one. But I've never seen it before.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on October 11, 2012:

Clear and logical steps are what I like! You've done a great job of simplifying the process whilst not losing sight of the cool effects to be gained. Thanks for showing us how! I wonder what the reverse process would do to an image - black and white on a full colour.

Voted up.

Nesbyte (author) from UK on September 28, 2012:

Hi Rev, glad you like it. Yeah, the sequence is a little different depending on what version you use, but luckily the basic process remains the same. Thank you.

Rev. Earl Jackson from Massachusetts on September 27, 2012:

Nicely done and informative. I use Photoshop elements but most of what you say can apply to that as well. I liked the screenshots which helped to explain what you do. Good Job. Voted up.

Nesbyte (author) from UK on September 19, 2012:

CS6 might be a different story. Never tried it myself. But I suppose not being able to open a picture to edit would be a pretty bad start :)

Rhonda Humphreys from Michigan on September 18, 2012:

lol...maybe its just me. I down loaded a day trial of cs6 and had a hard time figuring out how to upload the picture to

Nesbyte (author) from UK on September 18, 2012:

Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you think so. You know, for all that everyone says it's really complicated, it doesn't take long to learn. And personally, I think it's more intuitive than alternatives such as GIMP. That said, I completely understand why new users find it overwhelming. Thank you.

Rhonda Humphreys from Michigan on September 18, 2012:

This hub is very useful. I currently do not have photoshop and part of the reason is it is over whelming to a new user. So thank you for simplifying it for me. voted up and useful

His princesz on September 03, 2012:

This is a great tip in turning ordinary photos into popping images. Wonderful photos as well. :) voted up!