Selective Coloring in PS - layer mask tutorial

Digital Matt

alter ego: Analog Matt
Jan 30, 2004
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Santa Barbara, CA
Can others edit my Photos
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This tutorial pertains to the photo theme thread started by Pilgrim which can be found here:

Basically, you are making an image B&W, but leaving one or two key elements in color. The secret behind this technique is using a layer mask.

There are numerous ways to make an image B&W, but for the purposes of this tutorial, I'll use one of the more popular methods, and my method, which is the channel mixer. Vonnagy touches briefly on it in this thread:

Here's the original color image I chose to work on.


Be sure and use a channel mixer adjustment layer, which you'll find by clicking the small B&W circle at the bottom of the layers palette.


On the channel mixer layer above you'll see a small white box with the outline of the oak leaf in black. This is the layer mask. When you first create the channel mixer layer, this box will be all white. At this point, your entire image is being affected by the channel mixer. Making sure your channel mixer layer is highlighted, grab your paint brush and begin to paint with black directly on your image over the areas that you want in color. You won't see black on your image, rather you'll see the color from your background layer coming through. In a sense, this "erases" the effect of the channel mixer. The great thing about it though, is that it doesn't actually erase anything, it just "masks" it. If you make a mistake, you can press X on your keyboard and switch back to white, and paint over your mistake in white, which will again make that part B&W. Don't be afraid to zoom in, way in, on the edges of your color object, and be precise. The work you spend here pays off in your final image. Speaking of the final image, here it is.


I added a color balance adjustment layer to boost the orange/red in the leaf. The settings were [ +38 , 0 , -15 ]
The channel mixer settings I used were [ 32 , 42, 38 ] Be sure and check "monochrome" when you do this. I also did a curves adjustment to help boost the contrast. That's it :)

Any questions?


TPF Noob!
Sep 19, 2003
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In the Basement
Nice tut!

You can also use a similar technique to give b&w photos a "hand-colored" look.

I change the image over to CMYK color, then add a curves adjustment layer with layer mask. Mask out everything except one element, eg. one person's skin. Then open your curves box, and adjust the curve for each individual color (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black if needed) to get the skin tone the way you want it.

Then make another curves layer and repeat for everything you want in color. It takes practice and some time, but probably much less of both than actually learning to hand color prints.

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