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Graphic Thoughts: Color Isolation in Photoshop
Posted Nov 29, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

I’ve created designs my entire life, but over the past 15 years, I’ve focused my efforts on creating designs for production clients. Originally, I served primarily wedding clientele, but my business has been all corporate-based in recent years. I’m one of three partners at PixelPops Design, LLC in Dallas, and since merging my former production company into PixelPops back in 1999, there’s been no lack of design work to come my way.


On a daily basis, we find ourselves creating motion graphics and still graphics on a variety of platforms using numerous tools. Since presenting my first Photoshop seminar at WEVA Expo 2001, I’ve been a featured speaker every year at either the WEVA or 4EVER Group conventions, as well as at a number of video associations around the country. Since 2001, thousands of videographers have enhanced their own work with the graphic design software we’ve created at PixelPops as well as the training videos we’ve produced to teach people not only to create graphics, but to do it quickly, efficiently, and in a way that helps bolster their bottom line.

While most people associate my work and my training efforts with one product—Adobe Photoshop—my plan for Graphic Thoughts is to discuss my workflow in a variety of scenarios which often includes Photoshop, but also may focus on a variety of other tools.

One recent Sunday, I was watching my Dallas Cowboys play an incredibly thrilling game against the Buffalo Bills (for the record, Dallas pulled it out in the last second with a field goal), and at a break in the game, the network cut to a commercial. The image that lingered on the screen featured an increasingly popular graphic style that may have debuted in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List: The entire image was black and white except for a single element (a girl's red coat) that was in color. I can’t tell you how many times clients have asked me to produce this effect—but it’s also the most-asked "How do I do that?" question I get from other videographers.

As a test, just to see if this effect has become a known quantity in our industry, I phoned up a friend’s studio to find out how they would do it, and I got a long, drawn-out answer. This convinced me of the need to explain a much simpler way of producing the effect using in my favorite application, Photoshop. Here goes.

Step 1: Open a Color Image in Photoshop
To begin, open any color image in Photoshop. In my case, I’ll be working with an image of a bride (Figure 1, below) wherein I want to make the entire image black and white, except for the flowers. I’m using the latest version, Photoshop Extended CS3, but any version, even as far back as 6 (maybe even earlier), will do just fine.

figure 1

Step 2: Adjust the Background Layer

In your Layers palette, your original opened image automatically will be named "Background." Look at the bottom of that palette and you’ll see a row of icons. (Note: Depending on your version of Photoshop, some icons may look slightly different from mine.) You should see one icon that looks like a circle that is half black and half white. Click it, and you’ll see a drop-down list (Figure 2, below). From that list, select Hue/Saturation.

figure 1

Step 3: Make Your Background Layer Black & White

After you click Hue/Saturation, another pane will open up with three sliders: Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. In the bottom right corner of the window, make sure Preview is checked so you get real-time preview as you make your adjustments. Drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left or type in -100 (Figure 3, below). Your color photo will now be black and white. What you’ll also notice is that on your Layers Palette, a new layer has been created just above the background layer. It should be named something like Hue/Saturation 1. Click OK to close the Hue/Saturation pane.

figure 1

What you have just done is choose something that, in the Photoshop world, is called an Adjustment Layer. There are a variety of uses for Adjustment Layers (and I’m sure I’ll write more articles on them at a later time), but for now, think of them like colored pieces of glass you would look through. The world may "look" a different color when you peer through them, but really it’s just an altered perspective.

The strength of adjustment layers is that—as the name implies—you can "adjust" them. Remember how you moved the slider and the image changed from color to black and white? If you double-click the adjustment layer 1 icon (it looks like a gradient box with a slider along the bottom) that was created in your Layers Palette, you’ll see the Hue/Saturation pane reappear. Slide it all the way to the right and you’ll see things change again. This is called "nondestructive" image editing—nothing is permanent—and, boy, is that helpful when the client comes calling! For now, close the Hue/Saturation pane—we won’t make any adjustments there at this point.

Step 4: Select the Brush Tool
Choose your Brush tool (left side of the screen, circled in red in Figure 4, below) and choose any size of brush. I’ll generally start with a soft edge brush. Make sure your foreground color is set to black (press D for default—this will set your foreground colors to white/black, then press X to switch the foreground to black).

figure 1

Step 5: Paint the Adjustment Layer

Go back up to your Layers palette and click on the white icon created on the Hue/Saturation 1 layer (right side of the screen, circled in red in Figure 5, below). By doing this, you’ll actually be painting on the alpha channel of the adjustment layer. Big words, I know—but for now, all you need to know is that when you paint with black, it’s like erasing the adjustment layer. Paint with white, and it all magically reappears.

figure 1

Step 6: Polish Your Final Image

Since you want to erase the black and white adjustment layer, paint (with black as the selected brush color) in the area of the flowers. (Note: Black or white will not actually show up on your image when painting as long as you selected the white icon on the Hue/Saturation 1 layer.) As you do this, you’ll notice that the white icon on the Adjustment Layer will get a little bit of black on it (see Figure 5, above). This is simply a visual representation of what you’re painting in the bigger window.

In my example, I painted only in the area of the flowers as I wanted to erase the adjustment layer thus revealing the color from below, as shown in the finished image in Figure 6 (below). However, if you press the X key to switch to white, you can "bring back" the desaturated adjustment layer. This is what I mean by nondestructive: nothing is permanent, and if you mess up, simply switch your foreground color to black or white, paint a few strokes, and the results will change.

figure 1

Ultimately, my best advice is to experiment! You’ll notice that in this example I chose only the Hue/Saturation option. Try something different like Gradient Map—the results are pretty cool. Also, adjustment layers are like any other layer in that you can move them up or down in the Layers Palette area, which will affect whatever is below them. I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Graphic Thoughts. Trust me, there’s much more to come.

Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.



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