Using colour as a creative tool is common in art, particularly for symbolism because of all the associations colour has with emotion. For example reds conjure feelings of passion, anger and evil. Most colours can be used in lots of different ways.
Selective colouring is when a particular colour is emphasised more than others in an image to make it the focal point. In photography, this involves using certain tricks and techniques when taking the photo, and in post production.
You may have seen photographs where editing software has been used to desaturate all colours in the frame except one (known as spot colouring). This deliberate style of colour isolation is overdone, and there’s really no reason to remove all unwanted colours completely in a photo as long as the colour that you want to highlight is bold enough.
Instead, let’s look at ways to do selective colouring in-camera. For example, in the image below, the yellow and pale greens of the nest have been left in. We can clearly see that the dominant colour here is the blue eggs. There’s no competition, so there’s no need to go and remove all other colour in post-production.
Composition plays a big part in getting a good result with selective colouring. The nest and eggs from above have been cropped in close to eliminate competing colours, like green leaves for example.
In the image below of the couple walking through the park, the couple have been placed on the left third of the scene, and they appear small in the photo, drawing attention away from them and onto the vastness of the trees and their golden leaves.
Try to compose your shot so that you have a background of subtle or muddy colours present that won’t distract from your dominant colour.
Depth of field
You can also use depth of field as a colour isolator. A shallow depth of field will not only help your subject pop out of a blurry background, but also help to show a colour contrast, like in the image below.
Colour contrast is when one colour is enhanced by the presence of another colour. For example, a person in a bright yellow coat, walking through a crowd of businessmen in grey suits, or the bright flotation devices against the blue wall, in the image below.
Setting Up The Shot
When you want to capture selective colour based on an idea you have, carefully consider your use of props, wardrobe and even the light at a certain time of day, to match the rest of the colour palette.
In the photo below, by purposely placing this green car beside lush green foliage, the artist has thrown all emphasis on the colour green.
It also seems like the props and wardrobe choices in the below image were specially chosen to put yellow in the spotlight, which evokes feelings of warmth, brightness and joy.
Post Production Methods
The best photographs with selective colouring are usually a combination of in-camera methods and small tweaks in post-production, like in the photo below. When taking this shot, the photographer has kept the model against a neutral background to make her red coat pop and only included two other colours in the frame - the white of the snow and green branches.
But by also using editing software, they have also lightened the child's skin to appear less warm, in keeping with the winter tone of the photo, as well as making her lips, eye colour and the tree branches less bright and more muted shades of their original colour, so as not to draw attention away from the bold reds that are meant to be the focal point.
Try all of these in-camera techniques when taking photographs featuring selective colours, before having a play with different editing tools in Photoshop. Most importantly, remember that achieving a great selective colour palette requires having a good "eye" and noticing the colours in the environment you're shooting in.