An Easy (and FREE) Lightroom Tutorial for Spot Color Photography

Spot coloring is all about adding a huge pop of color to your images. It’s a photography editing technique that people seem to either love or hate. Personally, I find spot coloring works very well in certain situations but should be used sparingly — like most photography tools. If you love the look, this tutorial will show you exactly how to draw attention to the most colorful part of your images using Lightroom.

What is spot coloring?

Spot coloring is where you turn a whole image into black and white, with the exception of one color or region. So you pick a spot and color it, leaving the rest black and white. It might sound complicated, but it isn’t. Here’s an example photo that has been spot colored red.

Boy reading paper Otavalo market Ecuador

Spot color photography keeps one hue in color, while the rest is in black and white. All photos in post copyright Laurence Norah of Finding the Universe

In the rest of the post, I’ll show you how to spot color your images, using the above image as the example. To follow along, use a photo that has a bright concentration of color in one area.

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How to spot color in Lightroom

First, you’re going to need to load up Lightroom and head to the Develop Module.

Step 1 for Spot Coloring a Photo

Then, scroll down in the right-hand module to the HSL (Hue, Saturation and Lightness) panel. For this photo, the goal is to isolate the red of the boy and the chair. We can dial all the other colors down to 0 except orange and red, giving us the following result:

Step 2 for Spot Coloring a Photo

As you can see, this has desaturated much of the image, but there are still some areas to be worked out. Lightroom has some tools to fix this. Scroll back up on the right-hand toolbar to the selective editing functions, and choose the Radial Filter (shift + M).

Draw a Radial Filter around the subject you want to keep in color. In the Radial Filter options, move the saturation slider to 0 and leave all the other options as they are.

Lightroom spot coloring boy in market 3jpg

This results in an image that is nearly there — but the sharp-eyed among you will notice that there are still some areas to be fixed. You have a couple of options now: You can use the adjustment brush to edit them out, or, if you are using the latest version of Lightroom, you can edit the Radial Filter itself. I’m going to do the latter, as folks may not be aware of this most recent (and pretty cool) function.

With the Radial Filter still selected, select the “Brush” option next to “New” and “Edit,” or press shift + T.

You should probably deselect the “Auto-mask” function near the bottom, as it will likely hinder you.

Now, just paint out the areas that you want to be in black and white. You can track your progress as you go by checking the “Show selected mask overlay” check box under the image or by pressing the letter O on your keyboard. This will show with a red overlay all the edits that the current mask applies to.

Lightroom spot coloring boy in market 4jpg

Don’t forget you can change the size of the brush and zoom in on the image to make more precise edits. And don’t worry if you mess up — just select the erase option and delete that part of the mask.

Lightroom spot coloring boy in market 6

You can also, of course, just apply a different mask rather than working on the same one. When you’re done, your image should look spot colored as follows:

Boy reading paper Otavalo market Ecuador

And that’s it for spot coloring — easy! If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below!

16 Must-Have Lightroom® Shortcuts

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Make your work in Adobe Lightroom more efficient than ever with simple keyboard shortcuts sure to cut down on time!Get my FREE guide »

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