Using Spot Colour – Without Being Heavy-Handed

#9 in the Judging a Photograph Series

.Using spot colour without being heavy handed Photography critique tips on Falcondale Life blog. Understand what makes a successful spot colour image and avoid common mistakes. Image description: black and white photo with red racing cyclist, plus colour version of the same photo and blog title wording.


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

Using spot colour without being heavy handed Photography tips on Falcondale Life blog Cycle Race

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 previous blog in this Judging a Photograph series here or continue on to the next blog post in the series by clicking here.

Read the Judging a Photograph series from the start by clicking here.

Using spot colour without being heavy handed Photography tips on Falcondale Life blog Cycle Race




  1. suchi
    23rd March 2017 / 1:56 pm

    I am not a big fan of spot color personally
    , but sometimes it helps to create interesting feel and look to the image!

  2. 22nd March 2017 / 3:14 pm

    I’m personally not a fan of color pop. I just do not get it. Actually I take that back, there was one I saw I while back of a closeup of a child’s face and it was black and white except for the bright blue color of the eyes. Maybe for editorial purposes but most of the time, I want to see the whole picture, I want to see how the other colors relate to each other.

    You did however achieve what you were trying to do with this particular picture. My eyes went straight to the biker. I also didn’t know you could do this in Lightroom so thank you for that!

  3. 22nd March 2017 / 6:16 am

    This is so interesting. I just bought lightroom and haven’t really learned how to use it yet. And I didn’t know there is such a trick in lightroom. Gonna try it soon. Thank you for sharing.

  4. 22nd March 2017 / 5:23 am

    This was so helpful. There is a food blogger that uses spot color for all of his posts and I am kinda envious. I had no idea how to do this until now. Thanks for the info.

  5. Billy M
    20th March 2017 / 8:22 pm

    I NEVER knew how people made photos like this, and always been fascinated by it so this was interesting to see from a different perspective! Definitely good tips here.

  6. 20th March 2017 / 5:04 pm

    I have messed around with spot color before and love it! Sometimes it can change a picture completely.

  7. 20th March 2017 / 3:00 pm

    As you said, it is not for every picture but I think with certain images it can really take the picture to a whole new level and make it really pop! I love the idea of it. What I dont love is Marmite 🙂

  8. 20th March 2017 / 2:33 pm

    I’ve always wondered how people do this! I love the look; it allows for a central focus! I’d like to play around with it.

  9. 20th March 2017 / 10:17 am

    I have some functions on my camera that does this and it always makes such a nice affect. It’s great doing in London and just having the red of the buses x

  10. 19th March 2017 / 10:43 pm

    The colour pop does work but I actually prefer the original and I think would have been improved with a tighter crop taking out the top 3rd of the image


  11. 19th March 2017 / 10:28 pm

    I must be cheesy as I actually really like it, sometimes it is a bit over the top, but I do like it #MySundayPhoto

  12. 19th March 2017 / 10:01 pm

    I’m not sure about spot colour and I don’t like marmite!!. I think it depends on the image. It definitely works on yours above, the contrast of the black and white with the red standing out is great.

  13. 19th March 2017 / 8:50 pm

    We have a few of our wedding photos like this for the yellow roses!

  14. 19th March 2017 / 6:34 pm

    I think it looks fab! I’ve never tried this, but it really works for this image.

  15. 19th March 2017 / 6:33 pm

    I do quite like spot colour, it’s great when you want to highlight a single figure against a crowd or background. And I like marmite!

  16. 19th March 2017 / 4:38 pm

    In the right situation spot colouring works wonders

    Thank you for linking up

  17. Hugh
    19th March 2017 / 1:09 pm

    Focus and edge aberrations? I’d be interested in an article where you point out how to spot them. Maybe they are hard to see on a small screen in this case.

    • 19th March 2017 / 1:41 pm

      It’s by looking closely, yes. But the overall effect is softness. Softness is caused usually by movement blur or bad focus but not here. I just happen to know what’s causing it with this lens because I’ve looked at the lens test data in detail.

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