Partial Color on Black and White Background

by Michelle

Q: I have a colored image that I would like to have the background in black and white. However, I would like to maintain the color of the my focal objects (the water lilies). How would you execute this using Elements 8 for Mac?

A: Hi Michelle. That is a beautiful picture.

The effect you want to achieve is relatively easy to do in Photoshop Elements. Here are the steps:

Step 1 - Duplicate your background layer.
In the Layers Panel drag your Background Layer onto the Create a New Layer icon (The square with the curled up corner). Or just press Command-J (PC: Control-J)

Step 2 - Convert layer to black and white.
Go up to the Enhance menu and choose Convert to Black and White…

You will get a Dialog box with a preview. Try some of the Styles from the Dialog box and use the sliders if you want to get your black and white version looking good. Click OK.

Step 3 - Use the Eraser Tool to bring back color.
Your duplicate Layer is now all black and white. If you erase on the black and white layer the color from the background layer will show through.

Click on the Eraser tool from the Toolbox. Press the letter D to make sure your Foreground and Background colors (the 2 big squares at the bottom of the toolbox) are set to their default settings of black and white.

Up in the Options Bar make sure Mode is set to Brush and Opacity is set to 100%.

Place your cursor over the flowers. Adjust your brush size by pressing the left and right bracket keys (they are located to the right of the letter P) on your keyboard until your brush is the size you want.

Now just click and drag to erase away the black and white and let the color show through.

That's all there is to it. Here's a look at a version I did using the steps above:


For a slightly different version of this technique see the post black/white with a touch of color.

In that tutorial instead of using the Convert to Black and White menu, you just desaturate the layer. And you create a Layer Mask instead of erasing the Layer. It gives you a little more leeway for mistakes when your bringing back the color.

If you need more explanation or have more questions on this don't hesitate to post a comment here using the Comment link below. Other readers can join in too!

Take care,

Comments for Partial Color on Black and White Background

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I did it!
by: Christine

I love how easy this was! Thank you!

Yay Christine, way to go!
That's the main reason I think Elements is so awesome. You can make dramatic effects fairly easy.

Keep up the good work Christine. - Rick

by: az_girl

Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me a very easy and straight forward way to do this technique. I've been scouring the internet for over an hour trying to find out how to do this and your method was the easiest, quickest, simplest way to do this technique :).

You're welcome, you're welcome, you're welcome :^)
Thank YOU for visiting my site and leaving a comment.
I'm glad you found it helpful.
Take care - Rick

by: Hayes

Hi Rick, great tutorial! I was just wondering; I've made my picture black and white and I'm not trying to bring back ONE stick of bamboo in colour. The problem is that to do this accurately (the bamboo is surrounded by water) is really difficult with a freehand eraser?

Is there any other way?


Hi Matt,
Yes, there is a more Controlled way to isolate objects. Here's a quick step-by-step of what you can do after you create your b&w Layer:

1. Add a Layer Mask to the b&w Layer by clicking on the "Add layer mask" icon in Layers Panel.

2. Make a selection around the bamboo stick. Try the Quick Selection Tool, or if the edge is pretty straight, use the Polygonal Lasso Tool

3. With your selection active, click once on your Layer Mask in the Layers Panel to make sure it's selected.

4. Go to the Edit Menu and choose Fill Selection... In the Dialog Box choose Black from the Use drop-down menu.

That should do it. Let me know how that works for you or if you need further clarification. Good Luck!

one little problem
by: SHatcher

For some reason when I start to erase on the black and white duplicate layer the color that comes through is orange. I would expect it to be blue. I have done the "D" thing to set my colors at black and white. Thank you for your very helpful instructions and I will look forward to hearing back from you.

That's really bizarre! I tried to figure out what might cause that and can't figure it out.
I would quit out of Elements and shut down my computer, and then restart everything and try it again. It's amazing what a restart can do sometimes.

Other Readers: Has anyone else experienced this? Please comment and let us know.

Good luck - Rick

Easiest Thing n Refreshing As Well..
by: Wilfred

dis is sooooooo easy n really refreshing... once u do it u feel like u hav achieved sum thing great...

Way to go Wilfred!!

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