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Simple Mask-Free Color Pass in Photoshop
David Smith on Thu, March 29th 0 comments
In Photoshop it is possible to remove all colors except one using masks. David Smith demonstrates an even simpler technique for applying color pass on photos. No messing with masks required!

Color Passing is not a new phenomenon. I first became aware of it and the impact it can have in Stephen Speilberg’s movie Shindler's List. I’m referring, of course, to the shot of the little girl in the Red coat, standing out amongst all the Black and White images. The original TRON movie had a similar visual aesthetic I suppose if you want to go back in time a bit. 

These days it's a common sight though somewhat overused perhaps such as in Souvenir Postcards from London. For example, the iconic Red of a Bus, Postbox or Guard standing out against the Black and White scene behind. That's perhaps because, unlike when Mr. Spielberg needed to do it, it's a fairly simple operation for designers today. In its defense however, it does pack quite a visual punch. Here's my quick and easy method.


Step 1 - Select the Right Image

For a start, try and select an image that has a clearly distinguishable color, preferably one that is quite attractive. I stumbled across this car on a Film Shoot in Glasgow recently, I loved the blue. 

A blue car


Step 2 - Add an Adjustment Layer

Using the Adjustment Layer Panel add a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer. 

Hue and saturation adjustment layer


Normally the Hue and Saturation adjustment might be used to dilute the strength of a particular color or range of colors, or perhaps remove one altogether. We are going to use it remove all color, except one. 


Step 3 - Add a Limiter

In this image the majority of the color that needs to be removed in my opinion is Red, and maybe Yellow (so Orange, I guess...duh!). Using the drop-down menu set the Range Limiter from Master which affects all colors to Reds

A limiter


The Hue and Saturation Meter at the foot of the Adjustment Panel now has a Range selected around the Red Hues.


Step 4 - De-Saturate

Drag the Saturation slider down to 0.

Remove the reds


The Red hue within the Range Limiter becomes de-saturated. Some Reds may have escaped the range and are still red in the image, but some will not.


Step 5 - Increase the Range

Using the Add to Sample tool in the Adjustment Panel (an eyedropper with a + symbol), click on any red pixels that are still visible on the image. Soon all the Red color will be desaturated. 

The increased limiter


Keep clicking with the Add to Sample tool until all the Yellows and darker Blues are also gone. 

TIP: Use a different range of colors depending on your images content don't forget.


Step 6 - Adjust the Range

In my experience, the Add to Sample tool, while it can cut down on the workflow, never gets things 100% right. The Range Limiter on my image is now set to ignore mostly green Hues. I require a little more cyan.

Bring in the Cyan!


The Range Limiter can be moved and adjusted manually. Click somewhere in the middle of the range and drag it along until the Green hues are included in the range, and the Cyan hues are not. 

Tip: Grabbing and adjusting the handles at each end of the limiter allows for yet more precise adjustments. 


Step 7 - Saturate

The image should now have no color other than the one you desired in the beginning. Next, why not crank up the saturation of that color to really hit home?

Select the Background layer and then add a further Hue and Saturation adjustment layer. This new layer will sandwich itself between your Background layer and the existing, modified adjustment layer. 

The saturated effect


Keeping the adjustment layer set to master, I pushed the Saturation level up to +34. Your image might require something else in order to look its best. Whatever you choose make sure it gives the image a bit of a kick. 

And there you have it, no complicated selecting and masking required! This method can be much faster provided the original image has enough contrast to work with.


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