Highlighting certain area with color, leaving the rest grayscaled — what is the name of this effect in photography?

What is the most precise way to achieve this effect in Lightroom?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi @Michael. Since you have two distinct effects, you should probably ask two separate questions. It will be easier to respond, upvote, and accept answers that way. You could reuse this question for the color highlight, and start a new one for the spot light. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ have you had a look at split toning. that allows highlights and shadows to be coloured separately. \$\endgroup\$
    – rapscalli
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


I'm surprised at all the incorrect answers to this! The technique of converting part of a photo to B&W is known as selective colour (the resulting image is sometimes referred to as a cut-out). There are two ways of doing it in Lightroom (v2 onwards) depending on the effect you're trying to achieve. They're both very easy to use. I'll demonstrate using this as an example image:

Example image:

enter image description here

Method 1: Leave a specific area in colour

This is done using the Adjustment Brush.

  1. Switch to the Develop module.
  2. Select the Adjustment Brush (right-hand panel, in the little tool strip right beneath the histogram).
  3. Ensure all the sliders are at their default (middle) position, then slide Saturation right down to -100.
  4. Choose an appropriate brush size, feather and flow and disable the Auto Mask feature.
  5. Simply paint in the grey areas.


enter image description here

Convert to B&W but leave certain colour(s) in colour

This is done using the Hue/Saturation/Luminance (HSL) controls.

  1. Again in develop module, open the HSL / Color / B&W pane in the right-hand panel.
  2. In the top strip, click Saturation.
  3. Using either the sliders or the drag control (the little circle in the top left of that pane), desaturate the picture colour by colour. I've desaturated everything except reds and yellows.


enter image description here

I agree that Photoshop might produce better results: simply desaturating isn't always the best way to convert to B&W, and Photoshop gives you much finer-grained control over the process. But you asked about Lightroom and it's definitely possible. Both of the above examples took a few seconds each: with a bit more care and attention they could both be improved.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. I never heard it called a cut-out though. All cameras that have this built-in call it Selective Color. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually I agree that's a better term. I've always known them as cut-outs and there are some references that agree (e.g. flickr.com/groups/cut_outs) but selective colour seems to be the more common term (and you're right, it's what cameras seem to call it). I'll edit accordingly. Thanks. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ p.s. In the first method you could also increase the Contrast and/or Clarity sliders in the Adjustment Brush to make the B&W parts a bit more punchy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 16:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note also that you can combine the two techniques. So, if you wanted to keep the person in red's clothing in B&W, you could add an adjustment brush on that person with saturation at -100. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Itai Doesn't in-camera selective color follow the second result above? That is, it preserves a band of one color regardless of the specific color's locations in the image. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 4:11

'Selective color' can be somewhat achieved by using the adjustment brush and brushing saturation '-100%' out of all the areas you don't want to have color. This would be CRAZY HARD for many things because you can't mask areas off in Lightroom. Really, Lightroom is the wrong tool for it.

Depending on the image, you may also be able to drag the saturation for individual color sliders down to achieve a similar effect, but the results are unlikely to be great.

For this, your best bet is PS or the Gimp.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You CAN mask, using the adjustment brush's auto-mask feature. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mark - Auto-mask is terrible. You are not masking, you're hoping Lightroom appropriately masks for you - totally different. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree: auto-mask is a great tool as long as you're aware of its limitations. Of course it can't do all the things you can do with proper masks in PS (hence my comment in my answer about PS giving greater control) but I've had lots of cases where it's worked brilliantly - especially around high-contrast edges. Anyway, I was just correcting your statement that LR doesn't have a masking feature (it does!) but I didn't imply anything about its quality versus Photoshop's. As we say over here, it's horses for courses. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mark - Being aware of the limitations doesn't mean that something is a general great tool - it just means it can be a great tool in specific situations, like something with high-contrast edges. Maybe its my subjects I shoot, but it rarely, rarely masks appropriately for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, I'll add this to my list of things not to argue about online! As long as we both get the results we want we're both happy, right? :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 20:03

(not having LR experience, and not being a PS expert) in PS you would use a layer'ed approach. In your first example creating a BW copy of your image and using a layer mask to expose where the color version popped through. A similar layer/mask approach altering the intensity of the image in your second example.

I am not sure if LR supports this sort of layer editing, but googling for LR and layers shows up lots of results for a plugin that seems to be able to do this.

First link I found on google (and I repeat I am not endorsing this product) adding layers to lightroom

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry I don't need it in PS, only LR. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pablo
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Understand .. but you seem to be able to do layers in LR in a similar fashion to PS \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ LR doesn't have layers really. You can try to simulate it sometimes but the results are usually lackluster. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:37

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