Yellow and green birds on a branch, black and white background
Africa,  Bird Weekly,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Gallery: playing with a selective colour technique

In nature, light creates the colour; in the picture, colour creates light

Hans Hoffman

Lisa has set an unusual challenge for this week’s Bird Weekly, the selective colour editing of photos. It’s one that really attracted me to have a go. I love fiddling with my photos, as regular readers will know (I call it editing but really it’s quite often just fiddling!) So the idea of removing much of the colour in an image to leave just a splash appealed to me.

I’ve used phone apps to do this in the past, but they can be a bit of a blunt tool. So I was happy to find that Lisa’s detailed instructions for creating this effect in Photoshop also worked for my own Photoshop Elements software. Thanks Lisa!

The results

For some of my photos I picked out just one small feature, like this Little Bee-eater in Senegal.

Bright yellow and green bird on a branchBird on a branch, black and white apart from yellow throat
Little Bee-eater, Souimanga Lodge, Senegal

And this White-crowned Plover by the Chobe River in Botswana (who also featured in my Reflecting on Birds post where he looked a little different thanks to another bit of fiddling/editing!)

Long-legged bird catching an insect by a riverLong-legged bird catching an insect by a river, mostly black and white
White-crowned Plover, Chobe NP

For others I chose to colour the whole bird, leaving the background black and white, like this Village Weaver, also in Senegal, and the other version of my Little Bee-eaters, featured above.

Small yellow bird in a bushSmall yellow bird in a bus, black and white backgroundh
Village Weaver, Souimanga Lodge, Senegal

One thing this exercise did, is made me look more closely at the individual colours of each bird. For instance, I’d always been so taken by the striking pink and turquoise of my favourite Lilac Breasted Roller that I hadn’t appreciated the darker sheens or his wings, nor realised that he had yellow feet.

Pink and blue bird on a dead treePink and blue bird on a dead tree, black and white background
Lilac-breasted Roller, Chobe NP

With this Fish Eagle in Chobe National Park I experimented with setting the eraser to 50% opacity to blend the colour on his wings into the black and white. I rather liked that effect.

Brown eagle in flight past a dead treeBrown eagle in flight past a dead tree, mostly black and white
Fish Eagle, Chobe NP

This is quite a small gallery, as creating this selective colour effect is time-consuming. Ultimately I found myself wondering whether I really liked it when applied to birds in this way. Colourful birds are meant to be just that, colourful; while less colourful birds wouldn’t really suit this technique. It would also be a lot easier to do this on subjects that have a defined edge; something that wasn’t so … well, so feathery!

I’m really glad to have learned the technique and practiced it for Bird Weekly. But I think in future I’ll experiment with it on other subjects. Perhaps it would be good for architecture and street scenes? Views welcome, pro and con!


  • Alli Templeton

    These are stunning photos, Sarah. This is all new to me as I’m not a techie photographer, or really a photographer at all. But isn’t it amazing how the entire feel of a picture can be changed by fiddling around with the colour? That bee-eater in mono with the splash of vibrant yellow looks absolutely fantastic, and then it looks fantastic in a completely different way in full colour. Wonderful stuff. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Alli 🙂 It was fun doing these and it did make me look at the colours of the birds more carefully than I might normally do. I quite agree about the bee eater – he’s beautiful however you look at him!

      • Alli Templeton

        He is indeed – all your pictures are! I admire your talent, and wish I had some too… 😀

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I think you share some lovely photos on your blog, but where you really excel is in your writing – you know just how to bring history alive and your passion for your subject shines through all your posts 😀

          • Alli Templeton

            Oh thanks Sarah, that’s a lovely thing to say, and I’m glad the passion comes through. I’ll take that, then! 😀

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😊 I love rollers and have a few reasonable photos from different places but this is by far my best! I know what you mean about flubbing though – I messed up the opportunity to photograph a sunbird in the same place as the bee eaters 🙁

  • Lisa Coleman

    You made the perfect selections and it makes me happy that I have introduced you into a new creative way to work on your photos. I think it will sharpen your eye when you are there photographing anything. I have found that I am more aware of colors since I’ve been doing this. I have another way in photoshop that I do it that I will share the next time this challenge rolls around that might make it even easier with those feathers. These were just intro to what someone can do. I sure loved the Bee-eater. They are quickly becoming one of my favorite birds that I hope to see someday. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks for those kind words Lisa 🙂 Yes, Bee Eaters (all of them) are among my very favourites, as are the Lilac Breasted Rollers 🙂 I’ll look forward to reading about the alternative approach and trying it out!

  • maristravels

    I’m very impressed by your skills. I’ve never managed to do more than use the straighten tool (somethng I always need as I seem to tilt my head left when I take a photograph), the crop tool and a few enhancements. I still haven’t mastered removing people from my photographs which I’d dearly love to be able to do, but it seems to take such a lot of time and I’m a slow worker. Your birds are lovely.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Ha, yes, I nearly always need to straighten too 😆 Removing people is a real pain at times, depending on where they are. The photo has to be really important or worthwhile for me to bother, but I do rather like the challenge 🙂

  • margaret21

    These are really striking and I admire your skills. But I don’t really feel motivated to try this for myself. I think I’m not really much of a ‘fiddler’ with photos. I’m a snapshot-ist at heart.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret 🙂 I’m probably guilty of over-fiddling at times but this was a fun challenge although it’s a technique I would use only sparingly normally, if at all!

  • Rose Vettleson

    Sarah, your image capabilities here are fascinating. It’s something I thought only highly trained graphic artists with tons of invaluable equipment and programs would be capable of producing. And here you’re saying – Photoshop Elements software can do this. Wow! They should hire you for advertising purposes.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Rose 😀 Honestly, I’m no expert and not trained in the slightest. I just enjoy fiddling as I said, and have picked up a lot of PS Elements simply by experimenting. On this occasion I had Lisa’s excellent instructions to follow, as this was a technique I’d not used before!

  • SandyL

    You keep challenging me to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Your photos are stunning. I agree though, that birds are better seen in all their glory.

    I’ve done a little bit of spot-lighting, not much. I think it’s best when there’s a coherent focal point that needs to be distinct from a mixed background. Eg. busy street or crowd scenes.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I would never claim to have ‘learned’ Photoshop 😀 I just pick up bits and pieces from either experimenting, or tips from friends, or on this occasion following Lisa’s excellent instructions!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😀 The roller is my favourite! I’m always happy to see one on our travels and this is one of the best photos I’ve been able to get 🙂

  • lisaonthebeach

    Nice work Sarah! I agree with you on the difficulty, I did just a simple experiment and didn’t do a very good job. I do like your photos where the background is B&W and the bird is his colorful self. Makes him pop! It is fun to play and experiment with our editing tools 😊

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Lisa, and thanks too for setting the challenge 🙂 I agree those ‘whole bird coloured’ shots are the most effective.

      I learned some more colouring techniques at a camera club zoom last night so once I get the hang of those I’ll share the results in a post 🙂

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