Selective Desaturation In Photoshop

Chinese lantern, Jiufen, Taiwan

Chinese Red Lantern in Jiufen, Taiwan

Today, I’m going to walk you through the steps required for selective desaturation in Photoshop. If you missed yesterday’s phototip that introduced selective desaturation in the RAW process, you might want to check it out. Sometimes images will require a much more complex process to achieve the look and for those, it’s best to work on layers in Photoshop. Like everything in Photoshop, there are a few different methods that all end up with a similar result. Let’s take a look at two easy ways to accomplish the same thing. I want to isolate the main Chinese lantern in this, while having the rest of the image black and white. Here’s the original color image.

Chinese lantern, Jiufen, Taiwan

Chinese red lanterns, original image.


When we selectively desaturated the red gate yesterday, it was enough to simple boost the reds and set everything else to -100. If we do that here however it doesn’t look right at all. In theory you could go in with the adjustment brush and paint out all the other parts of red throughout the image but that would be very time consuming.

Selective desaturation in RAW requires a lot of work.

Start by creating a new layer (Cmd/CTRL J). It’s not strictly necessary to do this but it’s a good habit to get into. With the duplicate layer selected, apply a black and white conversion. There are many different ways to do this but to keep it simple, I’ve simply done a Hue/Saturation adjustment to fully desaturate the image.

Duplicate the layer with Cmd/CTRL - J


A quick black and white conversion using Hue/Saturation

Next, take the brush tool (B) and set the foreground color to black. Working on the hue/saturation layer mask (the white box) all you need to do is paint over the area you want to color to show through. The black brush will reveal the underlying color layer. If you stray a bit over the lines and bring in color from an unwanted area, simply set your brush’s foreground color to white to cover it up again.

Use the brush tool to paint in the layer mask - the white box.


Final image using this first method.

An alternative method to achieve the same result is to first make a selection of the area you want to remain colored. Once again, there’s more than one way to do this. For this image, I’ve just used the quick selection tool which I find works well for easily defined shapes such as the lantern. Once you’ve made the selection, the next step is to inverse it. That’s done through the Select menu (Selct > Inverse) or with the keyboard shortcut Cmd/CTRL – Shift – I.

The lantern roughly selected.

This causes the selection to flip so that the selected area is the part of the photograph that you want to make black and white. Now, simply apply your usual black and white conversion and your done. In this case I’ve just used the same Hue/Saturation method as before for simplicity. There are better ways to convert to black and white but that’s a whole new post. You may want to increase the saturation a bit in the lantern but for this I’ve decided to leave it with the orange-shade of red.

Whichever method you use, you’ll probably want to save the file as a PSD or TIFF with the layer structure intact before flattening and outputting for end use.

Chinese lantern, Jiufen, Taiwan

Chinese Red Lantern in Jiufen, Taiwan - final

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