Why I use Selective Color for my photographic work

If there is one specific aspect of processing I am known for it is my use of Selective Color.  Selective Color is to me what oil paint was to Vermeer or marble to Michael Angelo.  I love Selective Color.  I use it on all my images.  I recommend that all other photographers use it. I teach it in my workshops, seminars and Mastery Workshops.

I thought I had taught everything I know about Selective Color.  I thought I had covered the subject, having dived deep into it in the Adjustment Layers and the Advanced Adjustment Layers Mastery Workshops.

I was wrong and I became aware of this when I started reflecting on my processing this spring.  I usually do not have time to reflect on my work because I photograph, process, print then go back to photographing. However last year, 2018, was different.  For some reason I did not process the images I captured from March to June until December 2018.  I did photograph from March to December but instead of processing my raw captures I let them stockpile until I had a huge backlog.  I started processing again in December 2018 and continued until I had processed a backlog which came to over 10,000 images.  I was done in April 2019.  Five months of processing were required and during that time I did not do any shooting, not wanting to add more captures to the quantity of images I had to catch up with.  These five solid months, during which the only thing I did was processing images, gave me time to reflect on my process.  Instead of photographing, processing, printing and photographing again,  I processed, thought about my processing, processed some more, reflected on what I was doing, processed some more, thought about why I was doing it and so on.   A new routine developed, uninterrupted by shooting or teaching.  I just processed and reflected on my processing.

More relevant to what I am talking about here is that I started taking notes on my approach to processing.  Over time these notes built up.  At first I just had a few things jotted down here and there.  However over these five months these notes started adding up to a sizable file.

What was strange is that most of these notes were about Selective Color.  I did not have much to say about the other aspects of my processing but I had a lot to say about Selective Color.  These notes were essentially about the work I did in Selective Color and they were detailed notes. It was something I had never done before.   I kept notes about the specific adjustments I did for each photograph.  I kept notes about aspects of Selective Color I started using that I had not used before. I kept notes about using Selective color in creative ways.  I kept notes about using Selective Color on subjects I had not used it with before.

Why did I write down these notes then and not before?  Simply because most of what I did in Selective Color was intuitive, you could even say ‘unconscious’.  I just did it.  I would teach it but only when I conducted consulting sessions in my studio and only when the need came up, usually to address specific problems in student photographs.  At that time ‘bottled up’ knowledge would surface and I would find the solution to whatever problem we had on hand. No matter how complex or arcane the problem I had to solve was, somehow the solution would come to me.  But why would I find a solution ?  This question intrigued me when I realized, during my five months processing and reflection period, that I had never been ‘stumped’ by a color or contrast issue on a photograph. I just knew what to do intuitively.  And if I did not I would figure it out on the spot.

A photograph whose colors were created with Selective Color

The notes I kept during my 5 months processing period were my attempt to answer this question. At first I focused solely on Selective Color until I realized that I was doing something similar to Selective Color when I worked in Lightroom.  Starting in 2017 I begun processing some of my ‘lower processing need’ images entirely in Lightroom, going from raw to final image, and occasionally to print, fully in Lightroom.  Instead of Selective Color  I used HSL (Hue, Saturation and Lightness) because it is the closest thing to Selective Color. While I could not do in HSL the exact same things I did in Selective Color, I did a lot of things and some of them were very powerful.  So I started taking notes about my work in HSL as well. As you can see my notes were building up!

As I continued reflecting on my approach to image processing I realized that I used two other Photoshop adjustments in combination with Selective Color, and this for every one my images. These two other processing adjustments are Reverse Unsharp Masking (RUSM) and Shadows/Highlights.  I do not use these just to add local contrast or control the density of shadows and highlights.  Instead I use them to enhance, control and facilitate the work I do with Selective Color. In other words I use these adjustments in combination with each other, often making refinements as I work my way from raw conversion to final image.  They are linked together by the desire to achieve a specific look for my images and to reach a defined goal that expresses my vision for each image. Most importantly this combination of adjustments is what allows me to define my personal style.

Eventually I reached the understanding that what I was doing was creating a new process, one specific to me. I felt the need to name this process because giving a name to something makes it real,  makes it exist as its own entity.  So I named this process the Selective Color Process.  Going further I started comparing the Selective Color Process (SCP) to processes used during film days, processes that followed the film paradigm and that were comparable to the digital paradigm I follow. This was clearly only a loose comparison given the fundamental differences between the way film and digital captures are processed.  However this comparison is valid because photographers and artists at large have used specific processes to enable them to express their vision and define their personal style.

This essay is continued in the next essay: The Selective Color Process. Stay tuned, this essay is a suivre.

In the meantime why not sign up for the Selective Color Mastery Workshop on DVD or USB pre-announcement list? This Mastery Tutorial will be published this summer and being a member of the pre-announcement list will keep you informed of my progress as I work my way thorugh the completion of this Mastery Workshop.   It will also give you access to free gifts and to a unique discount when this new Mastery Workshop is published.

Plus, joining the list is easy: just email me at alain@beautiful-landscape.com with the words ‘Selective color mastery’ in the subject line. There is no obligation and everything to gain. Quite a no brainer.  Just do it 🙂

Alain Briot
June 2019


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