Painting from Color to Grayscale

... isolating your color subject against a grayscale background

painting One of the popular designer's tricks for focusing attention on the subject of a photo is to isolate it from its surroundings by making everything black and white except the subject. You've seen it a hundred times. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, and we've shown you several of the methods over the years beginning with Photoshop version 1. (Actually we showed the technique in several programs before the dawn of Photoshop, but all those are gone!)

It's really a simple operation -- and it works in all versions of Photoshop since version 3.5, and works in both Photoshop Elements 2 and 3. Rather than doing a different web page for each of those software versions we'll just do it once. We will show some screens in both Photoshop and Elements though.

Paint Brush Blending Modes

Many people forget that most of the tools work with blending modes just like the layer blending modes.

Nutshell: Blending modes modify the way the color or medium is applied to the image or layer. Layer blending modes control how the layer looks in relation to the layers below it.

We'll use our October photo with the girl and the pumpkins to illustrate the point. We want the entire picture to be black and white except for the pumpkin. We could:

  • a) Duplicate our layer and convert it to grayscale, then select the subject and remove it to let the color version show through.
  • b) Carefully select then copy the subject, then convert the whole image to grayscale, then convert back to RGB, and paste the color subject back in, or,
  • c) carefully Select the subject, then choose Select > Inverse and invert the selection to encompass the background, then use the Hue/Saturation feature to desaturate the whole backgroud to black and white.

These methods do have their value, all for various reasons. However, their number of steps and difficulty are higher than merely painting with a brush set to "Color" mode.

Paint away the color

color mode Begin with your color image, and then select the Brush Tool (B)
In the tool Options Bar select "Mode" then "Color" from the pull-down menu.

Now, select a brush size that works well within tight spaces around the object you plan to paint away. Simply start painting. Start with a large brush, painting at the edges and work your way into the object you wish to isolate. Once you are getting close, make the tip smaller.

elementsHere's a screen to illustrate that all this works just as well in Photoshop Elements. You'll find things in Elements only slightly different -- actually easier. Everything's in the options bar across the top 1) grab a brush, 2) set brush style and size, 3) set the blending mode to "Color" and 4) paint away!

Note that in versions 6, 7 and CS of Photoshop, you can make your brush larger or smaller by tapping the Open Bracket "[" Close Bracket "]" keys respectively. That way you can easily adjust the size of the brush on the fly without interrupting your painting progress. Make sure you have "Show Tool Size" checked in the Preferences so you can see the edges of your brush.

Variation on a theme

Now that was simple. Let's try another method -- one that might just give you more flexibility and forgiveness in case you really flub up.

hue saturationChoose Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.
Observe in the layers palette you've now picked up new Layer, complete with Layer Mask. Here, take a look and watch as we adjust the resulting dialog box. Here we crank the Saturation slider all the way to the left to desaturate the image, or remove the color. Remember that an adjustment layer is the key because it doesn't disturb the underlying image. At this point we'll also darken the overall image just a touch.

Start Painting.

Now click on the Layer Mask in the Adjustment Layer to make it the active component.
Tap the letter "D" to set your colors to the default Black foreground, White background because you want to now start painting in Black on the mask.
1) Grab the paint brush
2) Make sure that foreground color is black
3) Select the layer mask (See the double border, it's selected)
4) Paint the SUBJECT back in color.

Here: see how it's done in Photoshop Elements. Everything works basically the same.

Layer masks work by masking the subject with WHITE, and revealing the subject with BLACK. If you remember that, things will always go easy for you when working with masks. Black removes mask to reveal what's behind the mask.

Today you've learned various ways to isolate a subject as color into a grayscale background using the brush tools -- and two different methods. It's a nice trick and makes the photo or image more interesting focusing the reader's attention directly on the subject. Just remember that Blending Mode isn't just for layers, it works with the painting tools as well.

And that just about wraps it up for another tutorial.
Good day!

thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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