Quick Way to Isolate Color (in Black and White Photo) in Photoshop

At the end of one of my Basic Photoshop Workshops recently I was asked how they make black and white photos with just one aspect of the photo in color (like a flower, child, etc.). It’s a great question, and my response is that it is easier than you might think.

Again, we will start with the assumption that you have already launched Photoshop, and I also must add the caveat that you know your way around Photoshop on a basic level. If you don’t, you should sign up for my Basic Photoshop Workshop.

In this case we are going take a photo that was originally in color, turn it into a black and white one, and then isolate the color portion. Adding color to a black and white photo is a little different, and a bit more difficult. I may address that in a future blog, if there’s any interest shown (on how to accomplish this).

The first thing we need to do is open the photo you want to change. (File>Open, or Ctrl+O in Windows or Cmd+O for Mac).

Color in Black and White One

Color in Black and White Two

Now that we have our photo opened in Photoshop, we need to create a new layer (bottom right of your workspace).

Color in Black and White Three

Now that you have the new layer, make sure that it is selected (it will be highlighted, as shown in the photo below, when it is). From there, turn it into a black and white photo (Images>Adjustments>Black & White, or Alt+Shift+Ctrl+B in Windows or Option+Shift+Cmd+B on Mac).

Color in Black and White Four

Color in Black and White Five

Since we are going to do a quick and easy action here, I suggest just erasing the top layer. Select the Eraser Tool from the Tools Panel.

Color in Black and White Six

We are going to make the Whataburger Field sign stand out in our photo, so we need to erase the top layer of the black & white photo to allow the color photo underneath it to show through. Make sure that you have selected the top layer as shown above. I’d suggest zooming in to the part of the photo you are planning to erase, to have better control over the edges, etc. To zoom in, just hold down the Ctrl button (Cmd on Mac) and use the + key.

Color in Black and White Seven

When you start erasing the top layer, the color will show.

Color in Black and White Eight

Alternatively, you can switch off the color layer by deselecting it in the layers panel (unclick it and get rid of the little eye icon).

Color in Black and White Nine

Once you have erased out all the portion you want to show in color (the Whataburger Field sign, in this case), you can zoom out (Ctrl button – Cmd on Mac – and _ key) and see how it looks to you.

Color in Black and White Ten

If you choose this second option, don’t forget to select the layer in the layers panel again (make sure the eye icon is back).

Color in Black and White Eleven

You can now just zoom all the way out (Ctrl button – Cmd on Mac – and _ key again) and admire your work.

Color in Black and White Twelve

Once you are happy with your artwork, be sure to save it. If you save it as a PSD file, you can always go back and make any changes to the photo. If you are completely through with it, and really don’t plan on going back to make any changes, etc., go ahead and save it as a JPG, thus basically locking everything in.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a quick and easy way to accomplish this. However, there are other ways to do this (using the Quick Selection, Lasso, or Marquee Tools and then deleting the selection). Once you get more comfortable with Photoshop you should explore and see which technique is more comfortable to you. They all essentially do the same thing. Give it a try and let me know how it went!


Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425


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