How-To Geek

Beginner Photoshop: Black and White and Red Photo Effect in Ten Seconds


It’s a classic effect: the black and white photo with the stark, isolated red. Here’s how to knock out that effect in Photoshop in ten seconds with our (GIMP friendly!) method.

This is a great, simple how-to for the entry level Photoshop user. This method also translates easily into a GIMP technique, as the tools used are similar in both programs. More advanced users can check out our bonus method, or leave their own methods in the comments to help out beginners.


One Method: Lighting Fast Selection of One Color

We’ll start with a good quality photograph. You can use any photo you like and even isolate any color you want—it doesn’t have to be red. But pick a photo that has a good focal point or something you can highlight with your isolated color.


You can grab your eyedropper with shortcut key i. Pick the a color that represents the “average” color you’re trying to isolate. In other words, there are multiple “reds” in this red car, but I pick the sort of “middle red” in the area shown above. Left click the color you want and continue on.


Navigate to Select > Color Range.


You can create a selection here based on wherever Photoshop finds the color you just selected. Take a close look at your preview image as you play with the “Fuzziness” slider. You want most of the color you’re trying to isolate (in this case, the red in the car) to appear as white in the preview. Press “OK” when you feel you’ve isolated the parts you want to stay colorful.


As an aside for advanced users, you can isolate all of the primary colors using this same tool and method by changing the drop down menu to any of the options shown above. You can safely ignore this screenshot if you’re simply following the beginner how-to.


When you press OK on the Color Range dialog, you’re given a selection of your reds (or whatever color you have chosen to use).


Press Ctrl shift i to invert that selection—instead of selecting the reds in the car, we now have the entire rest of the image selected.


ctrl shift U to instantly Desaturate this selection. Navigate to Select > Deselect to see what you’ve done. Since this has all been done in a single background layer, make sure you use Save As to save an alternate copy of your photograph, and not overwrite your precious original!


Note for GIMP users: You can achieve similar selections and effects by using the “Select by Color” tool, which can be found under Tools > Selection Tools > By Color Select. You can set your Threshold in your toolbar, shown above right, and get similar results in the “Selection Editor” panel, shown above. Open this panel by navigating to Select > Selection Editor.


Method Two: Isolating Complex Colors With Layers


I’d bet most readers have come across this image once or twice, even in casual browsing. Let’s give Jimmy a makeover by isolating the color in his eyes. This second method assumes you have a slightly higher comfort level with Photoshop.


Make a rough selection with your Quick Selection Tool, shortcut key “W.” It doesn’t have to be very good, as you can see above, although you can be as precise as you like, or even use any method that suits you.


We’ve created selections on both eyes. Press Ctrl J to create a new layer from them.


Note that we’re using the background layer in our how-to: many purists hate modifying the background layer, so before the next step, Save As to create a new copy or simply right click your background layer to duplicate it. After doing that (or ignoring that advice) go to either your Background or Background Copy layer in your Layers Panel.


Press ctrl shift U to desaturate the background part of the image, leaving the eyes on a separate layer.


Press e to get the eraser tool. If you know how to use layer masks, you can always create one to mask out the parts of your isolated color (eyes, in our example) layer. However, beginner Photoshop users may find it easier to simply use the eraser. Make sure you jump to your “eyes” layer in your Layers Panel to begin erasing. Eliminate any part of the selection you don’t want to be colorful.


Jimmy’s eyes are very subtle, so we can increase the saturation. Still in our isolated color layer, we can bring up Hue/Saturation and adjust it by itself.


Press ctrl U to bring up the Hue/Saturation slider.


We adjust our color layer as shown above right. The “Colorize” option is on, and the sliders are changed to make his eyes a colorful, saturated blue that stands out from the gray of the background.


And here’s our final image. There are likely to be a hundred different ways to accomplish this same effect, including using layer masks and adjustment layers. If you’ve got a favorite method to do this trick, leave it in the comments below to share with the other readers!

Image Credits: Corvette 1958 by Softeis, available under Creative Commons. Jimmy Wales by Manuel Archain, available under Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 07/11/11

Comments (17)

  1. Mark

    Nice tutorial, thanks. I’ll try this out in my trusty Paint Shop Pro X as well. Cheers.

  2. Hatryst

    Seriously, I always wanted to know how its done, I did it the hard way :D

  3. Shogo71

    Where is the like button lol

  4. Hector

    One of the best tips so far! Didn’t know it was that easy.

  5. Tim

    Where’s the +1 button? ;)

  6. Joe O'Loughlin

    Fantastic…… Do you have more “tutorials” like this. I am a totally ignorant
    and newbie GIMP user. I have the book but am having difficulty with understanding
    the jargon used. I’m willing to learn but I need something simple. This article
    is what I am looking for.

    Joe O’Loughlin

  7. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Joe, All: Thanks, guys. I can write a lot more articles like this, they’re a lot of fun to put together and the reaction has been pretty positive. If you have any questions about graphics editing, particularly about the “jargon” you mention, Joe… You can always ask me at I can explain things simply, but it helps me to know where people’s blind spots are.

  8. mr_beez

    Please do more of these! I also am a newbie to gimp and can usually figure things out but there’s so much. I’m already thinking how can I have fun with this tutorial. Nice job!

  9. kzinti1

    Nice tutorial. I don’t understand any of it but it really did help me.
    I’ve just placed my camera on eBay. It just ain’t worth the bother.
    I wish I could still find film for my Polaroid “Swinger.” Press the button and wysiwyg.
    That was the only camera I ever enjoyed using.

  10. Brumm

    cooooooooool…………………. :-)

  11. Andy

    Love this very much!

    You have now piqued my interest in GIMP.

    Thanks for your effort

  12. Vinay Jhedu

    thanx for sharing this article this was very use full

  13. e1sunz

    man im such a noob im even still struggling with this that everyone find easy

  14. tommy2rs

    For myself I have an even easier way. I just give it to the wife (professional graphic artist) and make my wishes known, then say make it so. Works perfectly every time. Unless I’ve done something to piss her off.

  15. Bridget

    Ok I really need more help than any of you guys/gals. What is GIMP? I would really like to learn more. I enjoy playing with pics. And I certainly enjoy all the articles that how to geek puts out. Thanks for the tips and info for use less knowledgeable.

  16. jeroen

    A nice description. From experience, I would only suggest to “Save as” before doing any editing, just to avoid hitting CTRL-S without thinking before the original is safe.

  17. sVen

    @Joe O’Loughlin — Good glossary of GIMP terms at

    @Bridget — Google, “What is GIMP” … It’s a great image editor… Free… Open Source.

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