The Return of Spot Color Black and White Images: How to Create Them in Lightroom (Premium)

Years ago camera manufacturers developed a feature for digital cameras called spot color. It was often used by consumers as it was placed in consumer friendly cameras–not the more refined DSLRs of the time. Because of this and the typical lack of creative vision from most of these folks, pretty awful photos were created that were highly shunned by the photographic community. For many years, the format died–thankfully it stayed that way.

But one of the latest growing trends on Instagram is much different. It’s all about a revival of Spot Color, sort of. Instead, a lot of it is about taking a very specific part of the scene and leaving that in color overall. These days, it’s being done in a much more careful way by much more refined artists.

And believe it or not, it’s not that difficult to do in Adobe Lightroom.

What is Spot Color?


Traditionally, this is a better example of what those spot color images would have looked like. Lots of folks did them around St. Patrick’s Day–making everything but Green all black and white in a way that true photographers would gasp in horror at, Notice how there are elements of blue still in the scene on the left side. The problem is that we let the cameras do all the work instead of working with them because camera manufacturers truly believed all people to be that lazy. Not that they’re wrong, but the technology took a while to become better.


These days you’re more likely to see something along the lines of the image above. Photos like these keep an entire subject in color so that they stand out. It’s a bit better overall, though some still stray away from it.


The key to getting it right really has to do with composition, placement of the subject in the frame, and just how important that color or that person is to the scene as it is. Other creative effects like depth of field can be used too. But again, it has to be done just right. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are more typical standards amongst the art world that really do involve specific ways to emphasize a subject.

Radial Filter


In Lightroom, an easy way to do this is to use the Radial Filter. Set everything outside of the area to be desaturated and then go in and touch things up with the adjustment brush. This a very quick way of doing it but only works for very specific scenes.

The Very Careful Way


The other way is much more involved. Start out by going to the HSL panel and paying attention to your subject. Then ask yourself what colors are not associated with it. If the colors aren’t associated with the subject, desaturate them all the way. The colors that are associated, adjust the saturation and the luminance to your specific liking.

Then go in with an adjustment brush and touch up anything else that needs to be edited or desaturated.

Finally go ahead and share it to Instagram. Good luck!