Red poppies in a black-and-white field.

Because most colors are actually composed of shades from a few color groups, you may have to add additional colors back into the photo at minor saturations to get the hue you're looking for.


Technique: Reductive Production

If your subject of interest isn't a single object but rather a legion of bright color (say, a field of sunflowers or a flock of team jerseys), hand-selecting each piece might be more trouble than the final image is worth. If you want to highlight a single color or family of colors throughout a photo, a simple reductive production technique can achieve this striking effect.

  • First, open the color adjustment window in your editor. (In Photoshop, this is called Adjust Hue/Saturation.) This will allow you to select specific color ranges, such as blues, greens, yellows or reds, and then adjust their temperature, brightness and saturation. Saturation is the variable we're interested in here.
  • Select a color you don't want to highlight and drop its saturation to 0.
  • Repeat this for all but one of the color groups.
  • As always, make sure you save your edited image under a different name (using Save As) so that you'll still have the original color photo.

So what does this do to the photo? By pulling a particular color's saturation down to 0, you're omitting it from the image and creating grayscale. Whatever colors are left will be striking. You can play with the saturation levels of each color group to create the amount of grayscale -- and the specific hues -- you're interested in. Your final product will be a mostly black-and-white image with a few key objects painted in bold colors.

This technique will produce color highlights without the sharp contrast of the selective filtering technique from the previous page. However, adjusting a color's saturation will affect everything from that color group in the photo: If your bridal bouquet and the brick church walls are both shades of red, they'll both pop. You can select any unwanted color areas and apply a black-and-white filter to them.

Enjoy your new-found power as you practice these techniques, but never forget the fundamental rule of photo editing: The most striking effect in the world is pretty much worthless if you use it on a lousy photograph. Composition, balance, rhythm and good exposure should always come first. Use these fundamentals to make a striking image; your special effect will push a good image over the top to truly wow-worthy [source: Ghodke].