Spot Color in Black and White Travel Photos Tutorial

World War II Juno Beach World War II Juno Beach Stuart Claggett / Stulaine Studios

Have you seen those images in Instagram, 500px, Facebook and Flickr where a black and white photo has a spot of color in it?  It is a technique that when used well can create a special travel memory as a unique piece of wall art.  We had some people in our SomedayTrips community inquire about how we created this photography effect for the travel photo we posted of an English phone booth on a beach in France. We will share how we create those images using some of our favorite tools. Our tutorial for spot color in black and white travel photos will begin with image selection.

Original Photo

1. Selecting Suitable Travel Photos

When we previewed our shots that we imported to Lightroom for that day in France, we found this phone booth picture, but it was not quite good enough to be a color photo. The skies were gray and cloudy and the setting was not bringing any vibrant colors or textures into the photo, but we liked the composition. There was also a meaningful story behind the picture that kept it from being a rejected photo. The story was also about visiting a World War II site, therefore vibrant color was not the feel we were looking for but you can see the color processed version below. TIP: If you want the spot color to be more prominent in the final photo you can punch up the color like shown below before the black and white processing.

Processed in Lightroom & On One Software

In our travel photography workflow our next step was to see if it might be salvageable for our story/idea with some heavy processing or as a black and white photo. Following the black and white option, we created a virtual copy in Lightroom and saw how some of the black and white presets looked. Lightroom is not what we use for black and white photography but it provides a quick way to evaluate photos suitable for black and white processing. When we were satisfied, we moved forward with out black and white processing. TIP: Be sure to make any crop adjustments at this point.

B&W Look 4 Lightroom

2.  Silver Efex Pro for Black and White Processing

We have a multiude of options to process our black and white photos depending upon the look we are trying to achieve.  However, the primary software we use is Google Nik Silver Efex Pro and it has been our primary software for years.  Originally we paid for the whole suite from Nik but the good news is that Google has now made the full suite free.  You can read more about that and the other Nik collection products in our article.  Silver Efex Pro can be used as a plugin for both Photoshop and Lightroom making it very easy for Lightroom users to make it a seemless part of their workflow.  

Our first step is to launch the plugin in Lightroom and enter the Silver Efex interface.  The product has a good set of presets to select from to get you quickly started on the look and feel that you are trying to achieve and begin to make global adjustments. If you wish to select a specific tone, or pick a specific black and white original film type look and feel, you should do that before applying spot color. We do not burn edges or add vignettes until later when processing for spot color. At this point it is important to decide if the photo is great as is or if spot color would make it more dramatic.  We have seen a lot of people use spot color poorly with black and white photography so be selective with what photo you decide to use.  In this picture we decided that the composition was so strong with the phone booth that highlighting it would be a good choice. This was not chosen just for the composition but also because it had the color red in it. Lets understand why.

3.  The Power of Red in Travel Photography

An important decision in selecting when to use spot color in travel photos is the original color palette.  Red is a clear winner for using spot color, with yellow, orange and gold suitable options too. The color red is one of our favorite colors to capture in our travel photography.  Those who read color theory will say that the color red delivers a message of passion, desire, love, danger, determination, strength, power, and energy.  Leaving the theory behind, we like to say that red simply makes images "pop", bringing strong contrasts to busy or boring backgrounds.  They also lead the eye to the primary subject in a composition. It is why we took that photo to begin with as the rest of the background was somewhat lacking in inspiration.

Since red is not going to always be there for your your travel moment, here are some tips to punch up your travel pictures:  Pack some clothing and accessories with red, or your color of choice.  What do we pack?  A red umbrella, scarves, and shirts, to name a few items.  Now this does not mean you should be walking around glowing in red all day.  Just pull it out of the backpack to add some impact.

4.  Adding Black and White Spot Color

Back to our workflow.  Now we have a black and white image but no color.  In Silver Efex Pro this is where we use control points, which was the reason we started using this product years ago.  Instead of a paint brush that others may use in similar programs, we add a control point and put it on the telephone where we know there is red color.  We then right-click the selection and choose selective color and now you have red in your black and white photo as shown below.  You can adjust the size of the circle.  We used four control points on this image to get the right slection and color of red without bleeding into the black and white.

Setting Control Points


First Control Point for Spot Color

5. Finishing the Black and White Travel Photo

The last steps in our process are burning the edges and/or adding a vignette to the photo using the tools available within Silver Efex Pro.  This is clearly a personal decision by the user but we have found it is better to do at this step after adding spot color. Save the image and now you have it in Lightroom to export as you please.  Total time to create this effect was less than 10 minutes.

The Story

This picture was captured while documenting a tour for the Canadian Governor General's Horse Guards memorial tour.  A stop was made at what was named Juno beach during World War II where the regiment had landed.  The solo British telephone booth on the beach was not a formal monument but became a monument for the efforts and losses suffered by the British Commonwealth troops on D-Day.  We decided on black and white because it seemed to better fit the time and place in history that it portrayed.  The red of course made the picture.  You can read more about the tour, which was actually a 100-Year Anniversary Memorial Tour of World War I battles fought by the Canadian regiment.  We were pleased to volunteer our time to document this historic event.  Don't forget to visit the Juno Beach Centre when visiting this area for a great tour about the beach landings and more.

We hope that this tutorial on how to bring spot color to your black and white travel photography has been helpful in improving your creative genius with photography.  If you have a photo that you think would look good in black and white with a spot of color but feel intimidated by the process, or don't have the tools, reach out to us in the comments and we will be happy to create one for you.  You can also stay tuned for more travel photography articles by joining our email list. Keep shooting but remember to put the camera down and take in the scenery and culture that surrounds you.

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More Black and White Spot Color Photos




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