Black and white doesn’t have to be completely black and white! If you preserve just a splash of colour you can create a very striking effect, and it’s a very easy technique to try out because it doesn’t need any complex selections or colour adjustments. The same broad technique can be applied in most image-editors, but here’s how the Lightroom selective colour technique works.
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I’m starting with this full-colour shot of some old railway trucks in a siding. I want to preserve the bright red colour of the truck in the foreground, right, but make the rest of the image black and white.
01 Color panel
First of all, you need the HSL/Color/B&W panel in Lightroom’s Develop module. There are a couple of ways to do this, but I’m using the Color panel, where you’ll see the colours of the spectrum broken down into eight main bands, represented by the buttons along the top.
The idea is simple. I’m going to reduce the saturation of every colour in the picture, bar the one I want to keep. That’s red, which is the left-most button in the row. So I’m going to start at the right-hand side, selecting the Magenta button and pushing its Saturation slider down to zero.
The picture doesn’t look much different at the moment, but I’m going to keep going through the colours from right to left, reducing the saturation of each one to zero…
02 Only reds remain
Now you can see the difference. I’ve worked my way right back to the Orange button, and when I’ve dragged the Saturation down to zero here too, so that it’s only the reds in the image which remain. I said it was simple! From now on I’m simply going to enhance the effect with a few tweaks of my own.
03 Increased saturation
I want the reds to stand out more clearly, so I’ve selected the Red button and I’ve pushed the Saturation right up to maximum…
04 Split Toning
…But I think this picture needs a mild toning effect too, because the plain black and white looks a little bland. Lightroom doesn’t have a Toning panel, but you can achieve the same effect with Split Toning.
Here, you choose one colour for the highlights and another for the shadows… but if you make them both the same colour, you get a regular toning effect instead.
05 Increased clarity
Lightroom’s Clarity tool is great for giving pictures real ‘punch’ and definition, and I can’t resist giving this one a boost with a setting of +75.
06 Vignette effect
Finally, you can’t beat Lightroom’s Post Crop Vignette effect for giving black and white pictures a bit of drama. It acts as a kind of frame for the picture, focuses attention on your subject and adds some visual contrast too. It’s a bit off-topic for a tutorial on selective colour, but I think it finishes the picture off nicely.
07 The finished picture
This selective colour technique can produce really effective pictures, though I’m not sure it’s enough on its own. Half way through, when the selective colour effect was the only change, I thought the result looked a bit weak. With the toning/split toning and the vignette effect, though, I think it works rather well.