HOW TO… Do Color Accent: B&W with a dash of Color

Here’s how to turn an image into black and white, leaving only one color as the accent. There are a number of ways of accomplishing this selective coloring effect depending on the image editing software you are using. In this tutorial, I will use Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0.

  1. Always make a copy of the image you want to work with, so you don’t muck up the original. Here is the image I will be using:
  2. Original Picture

    Original Picture

    In this example, I want to keep the leaf green while turning the rest of the picture B&W.

  3. Use the Magic Wand Tool to select the area (color) you want to accent.
  4. Select Color

    Select Color

    You may want to start with a Tolerance level of 30 and then switch to 10 as you get closer to selecting everything. You may also need to use the other selection tools to make it easier to select small areas of pixels. Use Shift + selection tool to add new areas to your selection and Alt + selection tool to remove areas selected by mistake. Ctrl-Z will undo your last selection.

  5. Now, do Select – Inverse to select everything except the colored area.
  6. Select Inverse

    Select Inverse

    Everything except colored area is now selected

    Everything except colored area is now selected

  7. In the Layers window, click on the Create adjustment layer icon and select Hue/Saturation…
  8. Create adjustment layer - Hue/Saturation...

    Create adjustment layer - Hue/Saturation...

  9. Move the Saturation slide all the way to the left to remove all colors.
  10. Desaturate all colors to B&W

    Desaturate all colors to B&W

    Final Result

    Final Result

Et voilà!

Other examples:

In the example above, I selected the whole sail boat (instead of just one color) and let everything else go B&W.

Need more inspiration?

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  • Hello,

    I am a bit of a novice in photography editing. However whilst reading this tutorial I couldn’t help noticing how fantastic the effects of colour accenting were. Is there a way to do this with iPhoto?



  • Really good tutorial. It is also possible to do this effect in-camera. My canon IXUS-960IS supports this feature and yields excellent results.

    The only downside with in-camera is that you can only specify one colour (although you can add a tolerance), but does mean that if you choose red, then all the reds in the frame will be coloured.

    Also cannot do the sail boat example above in-camera.

  • Hi Nasar,

    You are absolutely right! Some of the Canon digital cameras have this feature. Don’t know why they do not advertise it more; a quick search on the Web should convince them that it is a really popular feature.

    As you also mention, it is more flexible to do it in post processing, allowing a specific object (or part of an object — not necessarily ALL the red objects, for example) to be chosen, or as in the sailboat example, just one object irrespective of colors.

  • If I could add a little tip to this great tutorial…

    There are a bazillion (at last count) ways to convert to black and white, but one thing I like to do is insert another hue/saturation adjustment layer BELOW the desaturation layer.

    So, create a new adjustment layer, add a hue/saturation layer, and then just click OK without making any changes (your image still looks the same so far).

    Then create a 2nd hue/saturation layer, and drop the saturation to 0, as in your tutorial (or whatever other way you want to change to black and white), and click OK… now you’ve got your B&W image.

    Now go back down to the 1st adjustment layer you created and open it up (double click the thumbnail on the layer palette)… now slide the HUE slider around, and you’ll see the tonality of the black and white image change…. it’s sort of like using a lens filter with black and white film… you can use the different settings to accentuate different parts of the image. =)

  • My parents have accidentally shot all the pictures with “color accent” with my Canon SD870 during their tour, is there anyway to reverse these photo back to its original color ? Thru the camera, or any other supported software ? Photoshop ? Thanks a million, my parents are so sad to see how these pictures turned out (all black and white).

  • I don’t believe there is a way to undo Color Accent. If there is any consolation, B&W pictures have a charm all their own and are often even more presentable than their color equivalent. Sorry I couldn’t help. Maybe there are some readers who have a better idea.

  • i have a nikon d60. is there a way to do it in camera. someone told me you could and i have yet to figure it out. thanks

  • Sorry Michelle, I don’t believe you can do it in-camera on the D60. There are Filter Effects which intensifies red, green or blue but that is not the same as selective coloring.

  • Usually DSLRs do not have those effects as an option but it is so easy to do it in photoshop or another image editing software.

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