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How to Add a Dash of Color to Your Black and White Photographs

written by: Fatima A.•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/8/2011

Black and white pictures with color are a great way to emphasize a part of the picture. They can be used to show an artistic approach or can even be used for advertisement purposes. Read this article to learn some of the techniques used in composing and editing these pictures.

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    Making a Statement

    Black and White Pictures With Color Black and white pictures with color certainly make a statement when composed creatively. They can be used to bring out the most important part of the picture without losing detail in the rest of the image. Creating images with a shallow depth of field can be used to focus on just one area and have the rest of the picture remain out of focus, but with the selective coloring technique the entire picture can remain sharp and in focus, yet still have a focal point where the photographer wants to show emphasis. This helps to make a clear statement as to what the viewer should take from it, and the method can be used for different purposes such marketing, advertising products, telling a story, focusing on a character, setting a mood and more.

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    Spotlight Without the Light

    So you want to emphasize a part of the picture and you don't want to draw a huge red circle around the area to tell your viewer what they should focus on, this is where this technique is ideal. Black and white pictures with color bring the attention where you want it to be. For example, say you have a field of flowers you want to photograph and there is a specific flower that you want to make stand out. If the picture is left in full color, this flower will blend into the rest of the flowers in the field, but if you made the picture black and white but left the flower in color, the viewer's eyes will automatically focus on that.Black and White Pictures With Color 

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    Which Parts to Pick?

    So you have decided to give black and white pictures with color a try and want to know which part or parts of the picture you should leave in color, and which parts you should turn into black and white. First of all, choose a picture which requires this technique the most. If the picture is already focused on a subject and the rest of the picture is out of focus; this most likely will not bring much difference, or worse, will end up looking really awkward. Try to find a picture that is sharp overall.

    The second concept to remember is that usually pictures that are somewhat busy tend to be good candidates. One of the best photos with selective coloring I saw was of a man standing in a busy street with his broom, while the public around him was whizzing by without paying any attention to him. What made the picture even more striking was that he was looking at the camera and had a bright colored uniform on which made him stand out even more.

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    Photoshop Techniques

    Black and White Pictures With Color There are three different techniques that can be used when editing the picture to bring out color on black and white:

    1. Desaturate the photo to remove all color. This can be done by selecting "Image," then "Adjustments" and then "Desaturate" in Photoshop. Now click the "History Brush" from the tool palette and choose an appropriate size brush making sure the hardness is set to 100%. Carefully brush the part you want to bring the color back to and you are done. You can zoom in to brush the corners or any tight areas.

    2. The second option is to make a duplicate of the image and convert that to grey scale. Then use the masking tools on the grey image to mask the area you want to bring to color by creating a hole in the grey scale picture. Now merge the two images together to show the colored part of the image through the grey scaled image. Masking tools can also be used to mask the area you want to remain in color and then desaturate the rest of the image.

    3. Another option for selective coloring in Photoshop Elements would be to convert the image to black and white by selecting the "Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer" from the "Layers" menu. Now choose the "Brush Tool" from the tool palette and brush over the part you want in color. Make sure the color of the brush is set to black. Adjust size of brush for smaller areas when needed.

    Choose whichever one of these techniques is easiest for you. The commands may differ slightly depending on which program you are using. Also, be sure to always make a copy before applying any changes so that you have a duplicate on hand just in case.

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