How To Quickly Create A Partial Colour Effect In Photoshop

This is a popular effect, that’s really easy to create. By using only a small block of colour in a black and white image, you can create an interesting focal point. Some photographers feel this look is overused, and maybe it is, I suppose like any effect applied to an photographic image, the key to using this is moderation. There are numerous ways to partially colour an image in Photoshop, but in this case I’m using an adjustment layer and a layer mask.

So here’s how to do it.
1. Open up the image you want to apply the effect to.


(This is a picture I took recently at an event with jousting knights. If you’d like to see more photography from the event, check out my photography on

2. We’re going to add an adjustment layer now, to convert the image to black and white. Click on the Add Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette and choose Black & White.


3. The Black & White dialog box opens, and from here you can play around with the sliders to get the kind of contrast you like. Click OK, to close, you now have a nice black and white image, and importantly by using an adjustment layer you haven’t harmed any pixels!

4. Click once on the new adjustment layer mask (it’s the white thumbnail on the left). Then select the Brush tool (B).


5. Select a small, round brush tip and make sure that your foreground colour is set to black and your background colour is set to white. The shortcut for this is to hit D, followed by X.

6. Start painting on the parts of the image that you want to leave in colour. By painting with a black brush on a white mask, you are basically cutting a hole in the mask, which allows you to see through to the layer underneath.

Don’t be afraid to zoom right in so that you can see individual pixels when you’re painting the mask.


7. If you make any mistakes, just hit X again to swap your foreground and background colours. When you paint with the white brush, you can cover up any errors.

And my final image looks like this … ta, da!


So what do you think of this effect? Is it overused these days?


  1. Tony says:

    Additionally, you could also add a selective color adjustment layer right on top of the Black & white layer to safely tweak the colors of the image. This won’t effect the appearance of the Black & White values hardly at all. Good post, I always enjoy the quick and easy effects.

  2. Stephen Holmes says:

    Great post, very useful. I can see the huge benefit for this kind of photo editing for commercial work, but I wouldn’t be a massive fan in the general photography category – perhaps I’ve seen it overused with wedding shots (flowers and the like) 🙂
    .-= Stephen Holmes´s last blog ..Misery =-.

  3. Kyle says:

    Nice comprehensive tutorial!

    Personally I think its WAY over done. I think everybody loves this type of thing when they first start using photoshop but it usually wears off quite quickly. It can look very good when done well but those shots are few and far between!
    .-= Kyle´s last blog ..Photography52 Design Stage =-.

  4. Jennifer Farley says:

    Thanks guys for all the comments and kind words.

    Tony that’s a good tip on using a selective colour layer adjustment. Will try that out.

  5. delysha says:

    thanks alot! i’ve just started using photoshop and your tutorial was really helpful and easy to understand 🙂

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