Selective Colorization

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott on February 9, 2007

Update: I have written a more in-depth RGB -> B&W tutorial here.  Also, as jonny mentions in the comments, using a gradient map works very well too. To do this simply make sure your colors are set to Black foreground and White background, then select Colors -> Map -> Gradient Map.


Today, I’m going to teach you how to first simply create a black and white image from a color photo, then to selectively colorize any portion of the photo. I’m not going to directly adapt a Photoshop tutorial because this is a very simple process, but if you want to find the Photoshop way of doing this, simply google “selective colorization” and you’ll get about five gazillion results. For those of you keeping track, yes, this is the first Gimparoo original.

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, flickr’s CC license image search tool is totally awesome, and that’s where I found today’s image. In the spirit of the license, I’m attributing flickr user Daniel Montesinos as the original photographer. Thank you Daniel. I will also make my finished product available with the same license provisions on my flickr page.

On with the show!

  1. Open your photograph in the GIMP and duplicate the background layer. Name the new layer B&W or something descriptive like that.
  2. desat.layer

  3. Click on Color>Desaturate. This will make the layer appear black and white even though it’s still in RGB. That’s not terribly important for this tutorial, but it can be if you’re wanting to do some more advanced blending. But that’s a topic for another day.
  4. Right click your B&W layer and click Add layer mask and initialize it to White (full opacity).
  5. layer.mask
    Now you are all set to begin colorizing an area. What you’re going to do is paint black over the masked area to reveal the color layer beneath. I use a Wacom tablet for this which I find infinitely more usable than a mouse since I can use the pressure sensitivity to do neat things like change the diameter or hardness of the brush dynamically, but it’s not that hard with a mouse either. Onward!

  6. With a soft brush selected and set to black, start painting inside the area you want to reveal. In our case, the flower petals and leaves and stem of the center flower. Zoom way in (Shift++) to get the tiny little hairs. Notice the layer mask will have a black and white thumbnail of the areas you’re painting.
  7. layer.mask.2

  8. Once you’ve got the area you want colorized revealed, you may want to play with the color a little. I increased the saturation of the color layer in order to make it stand out a little more. Here’s the final revision:
  9. Bad Hair Day redux

Thank you for following along today. Stick around for more photo retouching and editing. I’ll try to pick something a little more in depth for the next topic.

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5 Responses

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  1. jonny said, on February 13, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Just an aside: sometimes a black-white gradient map creates values that are truer to the original image than desaturation does.

  2. Scott said, on February 13, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Hmm interesting. I actually don’t have a lot of education in photograph editing, so I definitely appreciate tips like this. I will experiment with that. Thank you.

  3. Dave MacLeod said, on June 19, 2007 at 8:14 am

    A great tutorial. Thank you. I’ve also found this technique to be excellent for making one or more people in a crowd stand out. Have a look at for an example of what I mean.

    There are some interesting variants of this technique I’ve enjoyed playing around with. Try it with a washed-out background (saturation of -80 to -60) instead of B&W. Also, instead of changing the saturation of the colours, try adding a gaussian blur for the background to simulate a narrow depth of field, with only the subject in focus.

  4. said, on March 3, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Schwarz-Weiss Bilder mit selektiver färbung

    Sicher hat jeder schon Bilder dieser Art gesehen:

    In dieser Anleitung zeige ich, wie man Schwarz-Weiss Bilder mit selektiver färbung erstellt!
    Verwendet habe ich dazu GIMP 2.4.4 für Windows.
    Diese Anleitung ist angelehnt an das Tutoria…

  5. […] habe ich dazu GIMP 2.4.4 für Windows. Diese Anleitung ist angelehnt an das Tutorial von Gimparoo. Thank you, Scott! Zuerst brauchst du ein Farbbild (am besten eine Makroaufnahme), auf dem ein […]

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