Create your own black & white pictures with spot color

There is a popular photographic style making the rounds that I call "spot color."  Basically this style uses an image editing program like Photoshop Elements to convert a regular color photograph into black & white, then it combines that same black & white picture with "spots" of color from the original color photograph.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so look at this photo below.

This photo started out in full color.  Here is the original picture below.

The photo was taken at a children's "face-painting" party.  I thought the photo was pretty cool as it was taken, but what if I could make it even more interesting using my computer and its "digital darkroom?"  So, how did I do this little bit of photo-magic?

In Photoshop (or any other image editing program) you create a duplicate layer of the original image.  Then you convert the top layer to black and white.  You can do this is in a number of ways, but for this example I just turned down the saturation slider-bar in the original color layer to zero, effectively making it a black and white photo.  In Photoshop the saturation slider is located under Image (in the top menu bar) and then under Adjustments.

Then, by turning the top layer (the black and white layer) on and off (click on the eyeball to turn it on and off), you can see where the bottom layer (color layer) has interesting colors that you want to peek through to the black and white layer.  Think of these layers in Photoshop like artist's onion-skin paper lying over an original drawing.  You could theoretically stack as many layers as you want.

Then, after choosing the top black & white layer to work on (click on it), you select the eraser tool from the tool menu and begin carefully erasing the top layer in pre-selected areas where you want color to appear. I usually dial in a lower opacity on my eraser tool, maybe around 30-40% to begin with.  It helps to control the amount of color that peeks through.

Name and save your photo as a "layered" file (in Photoshop that would be a PSD). Finally, when you have your new "spot-color" photo just like you want it, "flatten" the layers, rename and save the image as a JPG image file.  Then you can make prints or post your new photo online so friends can see your new-found creativity.  That's all there is to it.

Below are two wonderful photos I took of a high school senior.  Both use the technique described above, only with a twist.  Dressed in the red dress, I thought she would look awesome with a sepia tone colorization to the black and white part of the photo.  With the other picture, I knew the location where we were photographing her had graffiti with greenish/blueish tones, so I "helped" her choose the green top to match.  I think it works perfectly with the background.

 Are you interested in learning how to knock your photos up a notch with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.  I highly recommend a learning website called  These folks use a combination of strong teachers and screen-view videos to teach complicated software programs with learning at your own pace.  And, make no mistake, Photoshop is a complicated program.  I have been using Photoshop for over ten years and I occassionally teach Photoshop at a local university. Even with that experience I really only rate myself at a six or seven out of ten in overall knowledge of the program; the software is that deep.  But, once you learn the program's basics, you will be amazed at how it will unleash your creative instincts.  Photoshop and image editing programs like it will take your photography to a whole new level.

Until next time, live life well and remember, save memories with photographs.

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