Friday, 12 July 2013

How To — Creating Hybrid Color/mono Pictures

Last post I'd a picture dilemma when one of the portraits, the one of myself crouched rod in hand in the middle of the river, came out so badly in the original that there was no choice but go to town in Photoshop to extract something from what was a truly terrible result. It was blurry, out of focus, overexposed, you name it. What could go wrong did go wrong apart from the composition which was just too good to throw away.

Just dreadful and as it stands, unusable. But something can be done with it...

Automatic cameras seem to hate being left to their own devices. If I'd shot you in the exactly the same place, from exactly the same angle and under exactly the same light conditions I'll guarantee the camera would have made a great job of it, but on self-timer it's as if the poor thing can't make up its mind without a human hand to press the shutter button and just hazards a guess. Consequently self-takes are a bloody nightmare for me.

The best short answer with a crap colour picture is to make it mono. That excuses the problems because black and white pictures are far more forgiving than colour ones ever are. They also gain a retro feel and that's good because we're used to seeing old crappy black and white pictures and accept them for what they are!

A whole lot better. Acceptable for blogging, still won't print well though...

It didn't really work. It looked OK but not exactly riveting. So, I decided to try an old trick — have the subject in colour and the background mono, then use sharpening and a blast of contrast to bring a little definition to it.

That worked well. The picture above is still crappy in terms of quality and would be a nightmare to prepare for print (about a day's work...) but now it looks good enough for publishing on the blog where high definition isn't required so long as the picture is published small enough to deceive the eye.

Then of course, I had to keep the theme running through the rest of the pictures for publishing that day...

How to ~
I've been asked by a number of people to explain how this effect is achieved and because I won't be using it again very often I don't see why I shouldn't give away the trick. It makes for good looking pictures framed and hung on the tackle shed wall!

It's simplicity itself really and though it might look difficult and can look highly professional with the right picture, is one of the easiest things imaginable. All it requires is a basic working knowledge of Photoshop or any other comparable photo management application, a few quick and simple steps, and it's done.

*This demonstration was made in Photoshop Elements.

1. Load the picture, then duplicate the layer.

2. Select the background layer and make that mono

3. Select the top colour layer and select the eraser tool

4. Make the eraser tool as large as possible and then cut away the bulk. The larger the tool the easier it is to cut accurately around convex outlines which are usually most of the outline of any subject.

5. Make the eraser tool smaller and cut away inside concave outlines, and then smaller still to cut away inside nooks and crannies

6. Flatten the image to one layer and make lighting adjustments such as brightness and contrast. Or, make adjustments to either layer first to see cutting mistakes more clearly, correct them, and then flatten it.

And that's all there is to it. A picture of an easy and forgiving subject such as a chub released back to the water done and dusted in just two minutes. You don't even need to be super accurate in cutting away the colour layer because the two layers are in register with one another so small errors will be unnoticeable to the viewer, big mistakes obvious in the making.

If you look closely at the top of my hand you'll see a small area of white on my knuckle.

That's a cutting error, not weed — but who would ever know?


  1. Great tutorial Jeff - many thanks!


  2. Automatic self takes are a nightmare sometimes, I've got loads of blurred Barbel shots at dusk where the camera can't handle the light levels on self take but is fine when you do a mat shot manually (my pb as an example)!! It's a shoot and hope thing mostly.

    Not tried the monobackground yet but will give it a go once I find my old disk with elements on it.