What is Spot (Selective) Colour Photography?

What is spot color photography?

selective colour photography
spot colour photograph.

I’m pretty much confident that if you are a photographer, you may meet the term of spot colour photography before, and probably wonder what is it.

Spot or selective colour photography is a style of photography where the image itself is black and white but a selective area remains in colour, to draw focus on some selective elements from the photo (usually the subject)

Some photographers underrate this style of photography, bringing up the question “why some elements are more important than others in a photograph, that it has to be coloured while the rest of the photo remains in black and white”?

Spot colour photography is and it will remain from my personal point of view an unique experience to express emotion through photography. Nevertheless, with any style of photography, you may be able to express emotion but with spot colour photography is different.

Selective Colour Photography
Selective Colour Photography

Few useful tips about spot colour photography:

  • As a photographer, shuffle between your older photos, which are not part of your portfolio. You probably ignored a few of them as there may not be “good enough”. Pick a photograph where a specific colour is drawing attention, and try to remove all the other colours.

Below is an example. It may not be the perfect one, but you get the point. Click on the images for full screen sample

  • When you are going outside, try to focus your attention to a scene or element where a specific colour may draw the viewer attention. Convert that photo into a spot colour image.
  • Whenever you are trying to create a spot colour photograph or better said to take a picture which later you will try to convert it into a spot colour, think about emotion. What does image will express when converted?
  • One another hint is that although most of the image is black and white whilst a part will remain on colour, this does not apply the same rules of a black and white photograph. As I’ve mentioned in my guide to black and white photography, when you create one b&w image, you have to think in B&W.
  • Do not forget also to shoot in RAW. It will be basically impossible to create a spot colour photograph while shooting in JPEG. Post-processing is necesarly for creating this style of photography.

The camera settings

As simple as it is, spot or selective colour photography does not require special camera settings in order to be achieved. Still, few things we have to keep in mind for the top results.

One of them would be like using the Aperture Priority Mode (A) on your camera. It is also a nice benefit to shoot with a full-frame camera.

Why is that? It is simple as if we are trying to obtain a shallow depth of field, this can focus more attention on our spot colour photograph.

I cannot tell you the exact camera values because this is directly proportionate with the focal distance of your lens and the distance of your subject or elements, but try going for a very wide aperture. Experiment with this.

In this case not only that our subject is coloured while the rest of the image remains on b&w, but the background will be having a lovely shallow depth of field.

Although spot colour photography has a similar concept to B&W photography, this doesn’t apply the same rules. Whenever we are taking a spot colour photograph, the aforementioned will not appear on the screen how we see it in our minds but in colour. Draw your total focus to the subject and think if this is the only element in the viewer’s focus, how everything else will be looking in black and white?

Photography niches where we can use the spot colour technique

Here we have two ideas fighting head-to-head. In one-way, spot colour photography is considered to be a style or a minor niche in photography, but this can work altogether with many other styles.

Furthermore, from my own personal experience, I will try to cover how well it can fit the spot or selective colour technique in some photography styles.

  • Abstract Photography – 5/10

In abstract photography, there is a wide range of concepts from illustrating a non-objective background to shapes and figures. In the case of shapes, if those are coloured, we may be able to apply the spot colour techniques to it, but the illustration will remain under abstract photography.

  • Aerial Photography 6/10

Unlikely the abstract, with a drone, we are able to cover large areas in our photographs. Let’s imagine a coloured field with some other elements/fields nearby which are not that prominent. We can definitely apply the spot colour techniques in this situation. Or a coloured house / train / tree / whatsoever 🙂

  • Cityscapes 2/10

This just doesn’t work with spot colour photography. A cityscape is more or less the landscape of a city. There would be plenty of colours and elements, and if we are trying to apply our technique, we may create confusion or unpleasant image for our viewers.

  • Landscape 4 to 7/10

Let’s be a bit realistic in this case. When we are taking landscape photographs, some of them are mountains, fields, rivers, ocean and the list can go on. If we are trying to apply the spot colour techniques in this case, it may not work.

But if as an instance, we take a photograph, let’s say to an autumn morning, in the foggy field with a red tree in the middle of it. This would definitely work. But we should not make everything else but the element in focus in black and white, only to decrease the saturation to the point this gives like moody autumn look to the image, while the tree remains a bright red autumn tree.

  • Portrait photography 3/10

I’ve tried before to create a spot colour photograph from a portrait. It just doesn’t work that well. A portrait looks lovely with natural lights and colours.

But for a close-up portrait, I give a score of 8/10. Think about some close-up blue shiny eyes. Now, this is another story.

  • Product photography 4/10

In the case of product photography, this doesn’t work against it, but neither with it. Most of the product photographs are basically taken on a unicolour or monocolour background. It is a practical neutral decision if to use or not the spot colour technique in product photography. It really depends.

  • Fine-art photography 8/10

Although many people see fine-art photography differently, is it not spot colour photography a part of fine-art whatsoever? If you think otherwise, what category can you classify under? I personally don’t see a main photographic rule which says that this belongs here or not. It is just my concept.

But of course, not all spot colour photographs can be fine-art. But one or another can be classified as fine art. What is your opinion about this? you can for sure leave a comment on the section at the end of the post.

  • Macro and Nature Photography 5/10

In macro photography, we have our subject, our elements and a very shallow depth of field. If our subject is in colour(s) while the other elements and the background remain in black and white, this can either look extremely good or extremely bad. There is no middle option. But in nature photography, this can look a bit different if done right

If you are aiming to try the spot colour technique on a few macro photographs, make sure you ask a friend or relative before publishing it.

Below is one another photograph which was supposed to be a macro (not so macro though) spot colour but the lens I used did not have any macro capabilities.

butterfly spot colour photograph
  • Wildlife Photography 2/10

Ugh. Ugly. I’ve never seen a spot colour wildlife photograph (probably other than mine) because it just does not fit the profile. Maybe I am wrong and I do not appreciate how a wildlife image can become if this is right processed.

  • Sports photography 2/10

Same as wildlife, this does not fit the profile. Photographing race cars or motorbikes and converting them into spot colour photographs, may work, but about people, football or other sports… definitely won’t work

  • Street photography 9/10

In the case of street photography, I see how this can excel, as seeing a red umbrella on the street on a rainy day – This is a unique spot colour photograph.

Now you can see that spot colour photography and the technique of creating a specific spot or selective colour photograph can apply to some other styles while many others can remain out of question.

But have you’ve been thinking about specifically creating a selective colour photograph which does not belong at all to any other styles? This can make the process kinda unique because you will never know when you hit a masterpiece instead of an ordinary coloured photograph.

Now let’s try to cover a bit of how to create a spot colour photograph?

Creating a spot (selective) colour photograph in Lightroom

There are multiple ways of creating a spot colour photo, both through photoshop and Lightroom, but me personally, I’m using Lightroom to do that.

Let’s assume that you already have the photo imported in Lightroom. Go over to develop tab and before everything let’s make the basic corrections.

Adjust or correct the image accordingly before converting this into a spot colour photograph. Make sure that you will have the right colour temperature, play with the shadows and highlights.

Maybe you want to add a bit of texture into the image, but leave the clarity aside for now.

Now you have your image with the basic corrections. Next, identify the element(s) you want to remain in colour from the image.

Go over to radial filter and draw a small to medium-sized circle away from your element.

Make sure that all the settings will be on ZERO for now, but on saturation, bring it to -100. Now go down and tick the box invert.

What you will notice is that the inside of the circle will be black and white. Now go over the brush (I usually select brush B) and ensure that feather, flow and density will be at 100, while the size will be set accordingly.

Now if you are going over your photo, you are able to paint with that brush in black and white. Try to paint everything around the element you decided to leave it in colour.

You can also zoom 1:1 into the image for fine brushing, and as well you can tick the box “show selected mask overlay” or press “O” on your keyboard

By doing that, the black and white areas will be highlighted with red. Doing this you ensure that you don’t miss an unedited part of your image. You can disable and enable it at any times.

What I will do next, while my photo is zoomed 1:1, I will try to get over the edges of your coloured element. If you do any mistakes you can always undo, but if you notice later that you have to add the original colour back, go on brushes and select “ERASE” (which you will erase the black and white created).

Next, after you finished contouring the photograph and you have left only the spot colour of your choice, try to boost the vibrance and saturation of your image.

I usually prefer to do it after finishing the spot colour photograph because if you boost too much, you will notice that areas from the black and white may be getting some colour. If whatsoever happens, slide it back down a bit.

Now you gave a little boost of colour to your element. What is next?

Next, I will try to fine-tune even more. If you go back on your radial filter and you select it, you may be able to change some values.

The saturation will remain at -100. I can slightly add some contrast and lower the shadows a bit. This will generally highlight your spot colour element.

You remember earlier when I said that don’t touch the clarity just yet? Although many photographers would like to boost the clarity, what I usually do, I like to lower it for giving a soft touch to the image. Not too much, but enough for a lovely soft.

You can countereffect this for your spot colour element by increasing the overall clarity of your image and then lowering the one from the radial filter.

Okay. Even more, scroll down on your right panel and go to lens correction > manual > vignetting.

Now decrease the vignetting amount and the midpoint. This is not a mandatory step but considering the fact that your photograph is kinda heavy post-processed, this will give another nice and soft look.

Pretty much you finished your spot colour photograph. Do not forget to export it now.

The very alternative is to use photoshop which is a totally different technique.

Where can you use the spot colour photographs?

Maybe I am not the best photographer related to spot colour but I am very confident that using this technique and practising, you may be able to take outstanding selective colour photographs.

This can add or boost your portfolio, and maybe your social media profile.

I remember when I came through Gatwick airport if I remember right, I’ve seen much canvases and framed pictures of (a) telephone box(es) in selective colour.

You may be able to print outstanding pictures and even to sell them.

I also seen shops and restaurants with spot colour canvas. And advertisers on the bus stops (oh, UK).

There can be many areas where you can use a spot colour photograph.

What is your opinion about Spot Colour Photography?

I love to take photographs which later I can convert them in spot colour images. I do not generally aim (but sometimes I do) for taking images which will be mainly used as spot colour photographs, but If I do see vibrant colours in my image and can fit the profile, this I generally do.

Before ending, I want to say one thing: do not listen to anybody which will tell you that spot or selective colour photography is not the way you should go. You do whatever you love to do. If you like taking images and converting them into spot colour, that’s what you have to do.

Thank you for reading our post and I would appreciate a share to spread the love of spot colour photography.

Take care my friend and make sure you leave a comment below if interested. Goodbye for now!

You can check a few of my other posts:

Pin it!

This is a Pinterest-friendly post. You can easily share it using the Tailwind Publisher or Pinterest Save Button, and you can choose one or more vertical images created for this post.

Subscribe to get your Monday Morning Photography Dose

What is spot colour photography and how can I achieve it?
Although spot colour photography has a similar concept to B&W photography, this doesn't apply the same rules. Whenever we are taking a spot colour photograph, the aforementioned will not appear on the screen how we see it in our minds but in colour. Draw your total focus to the subject and think if this is the only element in the viewer's focus, how everything else will be looking in black and white?

Follow Us on:

Publish your photos with the hashtag #photornia on Instagram! It would be great to share your results with us and others!

Thank You 🙂


About Gabriel Mihalcea

Howdy! You’re here! Great things to start! Hi, I’m Gabriel I live in the UK in the beautiful town of Hastings. I am a photographer, and I do DSLR and drone photography. I always loved to capture everything I could see through the eye-finder of my Nikon, or the bird-eyes of my drone. My expectations are to share everything I learned about photography and help anyone in need to reach their potential. Honestly, nobody ever reached their maximum potential as there would always be more room for improvement, more information to achieve or new technologies in photography released on the market. But leaving that aside, I am here to help anyone in need.

Check Also

What gear do you need to have as a photographer?

The process of photography is a bit more complex than many people think and the …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content