Make Your Photos Pop With Color

Surely you've seen television commercials in which everything is rendered in black and white except for one item--a person, perhaps, or the featured product--that appears in full color. The trick is effective because your eyes are drawn to the splotch of color image in a sea of gray. And really, the effect is a lot of fun.

On television, this trickery is typically done with the creative use of multiple cameras. On the PC, though, we can do it after the fact with a single image--you don't need to have this effect in mind when you take the shot. Best of all, it's not hard to do. It's particularly easy if your photo editor supports layers.

Here's the basic idea:

  1. Stack two copies of the same image in separate layers.
  2. Convert one of the layers to gray scale.
  3. Switch to the color layer and select most of the photo, leaving the point of interest unselected.
  4. Delete the selection, leaving the full-color section on top of the gray-scale image.

That's not so complicated, right? Let's try it out in Adobe Photoshop Elements. You can use any image from your own photo collection or you can use one of my sample images.

Duplicating the Photo

Open the photo in Photoshop Elements and make a copy of it by choosing Layer, Duplicate Layer, then click OK.

The top layer should be selected automatically, but we want to work with the bottom layer. Look at the Layer Palette on the right side of the screen. The top layer--called Background Copy--is highlighted. Click the bottom layer, called Background. We want to convert this layer to gray scale. To do that, choose Enhance, Convert to Black and White, then click OK.

Because this is the bottom layer, you won't see anything happen on the main canvas. Remember that the top layer is still in color, and it's covering the black-and-white layer. If you look at the Layer Palette, you'll see that the layer has changed.

Select Your Subject

Now it's time to work on the top layer.

Click the top layer in the Layer Palette, and use your favorite selection tool to trace the section that you want to appear in color. For this photo, I'm going to make just the pink petals of the flower appear in color, so I'll use the Magnetic Lasso tool, which you can find in the sixth cubby on the left side of the screen.

To use the Magnetic Lasso tool, click on an edge of the petal and then move along it a little at a time. The tool will automatically "snap" to the flower's edge without any clicking, but you can click when you want to force the tool to lock to a particular point, such as around a tricky curve. When you get all the way around, double-click and the petals will be selected.

Finishing Touches

When you're done isolating the petals, choose Select, Inverse from the menu. Press the Delete key to remove everything but the area that is in color. Immediately, the black-and-white image from the bottom layer should show through. Choose Select, Deselect to finish it off.

You should now have a gray-scale image with a single element in color. Save your new photo--you're done.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: This week's Hot Pic: "Glance of Africa," by Dave Hicks, College Station, Texas

Dave writes: "I took this picture while spending a summer in the village of Khohlo-Ntso in the southern African country of Lesotho. Our village was hosting a dance competition for the surrounding villages. Of the 1000 or so spectators, I was the only person with a camera, so apparently I attracted the split-second glance of this young Basotho girl during her dance."

This Week's Runner-Up: "The Guitarist and the Sunset," by David Benedict, El Cajon, California

David says he shot this silhouette at Ocean Beach in San Diego with his Canon Rebel XT.

See all the Hot Pic of the Week photos online.

Have a digital photo question? Send me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Shop ▾
arrow up Amazon Shop buttons are programmatically attached to all reviews, regardless of products' final review scores. Our parent company, IDG, receives advertisement revenue for shopping activity generated by the links. Because the buttons are attached programmatically, they should not be interpreted as editorial endorsements.

Subscribe to the Best of TechHive Newsletter