Selective colouring in Lightroom

Header selective colouring

One of the most engaging effect to achieve in Lightroom is the Selective Colouring effect. This consist in having a Black&White scene with only a coloured element, being the protagonist of the whole scene.

Even though there are many approaches about how to get this result in Photoshop, the possibility of getting this done in Lightroom is more than appealing, given the fact you are also doing the postproduction adjustments inside Lightroom as well.

Unlike Photoshop, in Lightroom we don’t have layers to work with. Instead we have a more precise way of working by using the sliders at the Develop Module, although, you have to keep in mind the changes you want to apply since you can’t turn them off like a Photoshop layer.

For creating the Selective colour effect, I am going to focus on the HSL panel. As you can see, there are many sliders for us to play with. First comes the hues, which tell us pretty obviously what is going to remain as the selected color at our scene. Next follows the saturation sliders, for applying that B&W effect to the colour. Finally, the luminance sliders, for adjusting lighting information at the scene (since light is not white for this shot, every adjustment you apply to the lighting conditions will affect the overall lighting of the image).

Start by importing a Photo. By looking at this picture, what I want to achieve is finding the right tint for standing out at the scene… let’s go to the Rowing Club at the back of those yatchs.


Then what I need to do is reducing the values at the sliders at everything but the needed colours; this means, everything but the reds.
As you go through the process you will notice the image starts to black out, but the effect is mostly noticeable at the Luminance sliders. In my opinion you should go by reducing every colour you don’t need, then focus on the unwanted consequences of these adjustments. For example, if you reduce the Luminance value of Blue, the overall sky colour will became black; same in this scene if you reduced the luminance value for Yellow, making the boats look black.


The hue sliders control the tint that is applied to the picture, meaning that if every one of them is settled to zero, every value will be nearby black and white. Saturation controls how much tint is contained at those hues, being 100 value full-colour and zero black&white.
Luminance works in a different way: it only controls the colour of the highlights, so in case you reduced the hue sliders and you are still seeing colour, this means the scene has tinted highlights you should reduce.

This process is the “manual” way of achieving this effect; several presets are capable of handling this effect, or even you can create a preset that suits your needs. In my case I prefer to apply postproduction adjustments prior to the selective color effect. The reason behind this is that even the image will became black&white, that doesn’t mean the image doesn’t need detail or enhancement, as well as a proper white balance. And since Lightroom works in a non-destructive way, you can always revert the values given to achieve the selective color effect and get back the original tinted shot.


Note that you can also get this effect with the Adjustment Brush tool. This method comes handy if you have several elements tinted with the same colour you want to keep; start by picking the Adjustment Brush tool and move the Saturation slider to zero. Also tick the Auto Mask box, since if you use it to areas where you want to keep the colour, the Adjustment Brush can erase those pixels in case you didn’t Auto-Mask them.
Go then painting every single element you want to be black&white, and then with the HSL tool increase the saturation value for the tint you chose to be coloured at your scene. Same result, but it takes a bit longer to achieve.
Remember to keep an eye at the Exposure value, otherwise, the scene will become black or too white; exposure needs to be settled at zero for proper exposure balance.


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