Selective coloring

There’s this little trend in photography that’s been going on for a while now – selective coloring – and I keep hoping that it will die a decent death and quit appearing.  In a nutshell, selective coloring is adding a color to one portion of a monochrome photograph.  Supposedly this brings attention to the colored bit – usually the subject’s eyes, or a lone vase or something. 

I’ll admit, I’m a snob.  I hate selective coloring. 

Used well, it can be effective.  Used poorly or too often and it’s corny or cliché.  I guess I put selective coloring in the same category as excessive borders, overcooked HDR images, and super high contrast monochrome: it’s not a professional look.  In my opinion, it’s not professional because it takes a trick to do what the image should do by itself (i.e. draw attention to the subject by framing and composition.)

More specifically, it’s a fad.  20 years down the road it will date your images.  Not good if you want timeless memories or some other tired phrase that wedding photographers use a lot.  It used to be that you could only add color to a black and white image if you had the skills to basically paint on the image.  It wasn’t done often, and it was usually pretty subtle.  Today, thanks to digital, it’s easily done.   And it’s used a lot.

So it’s pretty ironic that I like this shot (revisited the plums before they got all wrinkled and eaten) even though it looks, superficially, like a selective color image.  It’s not.  It’s a piece of fruit shot on a black backdrop:  my oh-so-impressive setup of window light and a piece of black paper.  Go figure.


7 thoughts on “Selective coloring

  1. Gosh, you don’t like selective color like I don’t like guacamole! I agree it has become a fad because it is so easy to do in digital photography and it tends to get overused, but I have always been a fan of good selective color. I hand colored B&W prints when I printed my own and it’s been around in that form for a hundred years. I hope we can agree to disagree on this point. Your photo is very nice. I have the same set up in my home. It show that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get excellent results.

    • I’m not sure we have to disagree on this idea – hand colored B&W prints are lovely, it’s the overly saturated digital versions that I don’t care for. You used the phrase “good selective coloring” – I don’t see a lot of that, but when I do, it’s nice. It’s the “not good” part that I detest! I do agree with you about the need, or lack of the need, for expensive equipment – sometimes simple is better.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more about the overuse and abuse of selective coloring. I have a friend who uses it for virtually every one of her images and it comes across as a gimmick rather than art. I just discovered your blog through TBC, through which I have attended four workshops so far and expect to attend Costa Rica next year. David

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