#9 in the Judging a Photograph Series
Spot colour in photo editing is quite a controversial subject. For many people it’s a love or hate thing like Marmite. Normally I fall into the “I hate it” camp but I admit there are times when it works well.
What is Spot Colour?
If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, let me explain! Spot colour – or “colour pop” or “selective colour” – is when most of an image is turned black and white with the exception of a small part. This small part is left in it’s original full colour, and it is emphasised as the focal point of the image.
When Spot Colour Goes Wrong
From this description it’s immediately obvious how this could go wrong. It just doesn’t work when the colour part of the image isn’t important, isn’t the focal point or is too large. The other problem with spot colour is it’s popularity. It’s become quite cheesy. There are many wedding photography disasters out there too, with brides and grooms shown in colour in a monochrome landscape. Monochrome is great for adding drama but you don’t need that it in a low-contrast wedding landscape. It’s rare for spot colour to look good when a whole person is left in colour anyway.
Why I Used Spot Colour
So why do I think it works in this photo “Cycle Race”? First of all there was a problem with the original colour photo. I shot this image during the golden hour before sunset and the light was beautiful. However this light was doing it’s beautiful thing on the wrong side of the road! The action was taking place on the right, and the dappled light was distracting on the left.
The second strong, competing feature of the image is the white line in the middle of the road. It’s a fabulous leading line, taking the eye up to the word “SLOW” in the distance. I’ve cropped the image so that the line finishes neatly in the bottom left corner, which always a good place to tie a leading line. This line stands alone as a feature, but I still need you to look at the cyclist.
The third point to note is this hot tip: Photographers love red! This cyclist is wearing red and riding a red bike. I will be forever grateful for his style-consciousness because there is no better colour for spot colour than red.
How I Edited it
There are different ways of editing photos for spot colour but as there was so little in the image that is red, the quickest way was fairly low-tech. Using Lightroom, I desaturated all the colour channels except red. This left a red tinge on the cyclist’s skin which I didn’t want, so in Photoshop I used a desaturating sponge tool just to dab these bits out. It took two minutes.
The final image looks much more balanced than the original. I really think this was the correct edit. If I’m being harsh, the image would have been better if there was some interest in the middle third, and if I had used a better lens as there are quite a few focus and edge abberations. The lens I used is a super cheap 300mm which I can’t afford to replace.
What do you think? Have you ever tried using spot colour or do you hate it? Please do leave a comment, I read every one!
Read the Judging a Photograph series from the start by clicking here.