Working with Photoshop’s Blending Modes to Color a Black and White Photo

Working with Photoshop's Blending Modes to Color a Black & White Photo

I love looking at Black and White pictures…it somehow gives me a very calm feeling and intimate thoughts. However, seeing a bit of color on a Black and White picture makes it more exciting and outstanding. Thus, we see selective color photography everywhere nowadays. It usually draws attention to the subject in the photo and turns it into a work of art.

Most selective color photos are converted to Black and White,  leaving some parts with color. But, this time I want to share a “Selective Color Technique” that will color some parts of a Black and White picture.

Color a Black and White Photo

How to Color a Black and White Photo

Tutorial Details

Program: Photoshop CS5

  • Music: Colbie Caillat’s You Got Me (I play a song in the background as it helps me to be in the groove while working)
  • Comfy Working Table
  • Pen Tablet or your trusty Mouse
  • Black and White Image – you can get the image I have used here

First of all, study your black and white photo and decide which part of it you want to color. Well, in this case, of course, I’m going to choose the couple in my picture, because they are kissing and I’m a romantic!

Okay, so let’s start now…

Step 1

Start by creating a path using the Pen tool.
Pen Tool

Let’s work on the woman’s face first. Make sure that you carefully trace the outline of her face so you get to color it perfectly.

TIP: When using the pen tool and you’re trying to trace or crop an image, you just click and drag and follow the contour of the image.  To close the path you’re making, you should be able to see a little circle beside the pen tool instead of the “x” symbol if you put it on the first anchor point you created. (Please see the image below to check on the anchor points – they are the little squares on the woman’s face.)

Anchor Points

Once you have closed the path, you’ll be able to see the grey outline on the woman’s face.

Face Outline

Step 2

Select the Work Path.

Go to Paths tab and point your mouse on top of the layer or the path you created, and then press and hold the CTRL key from your keyboard and then click on it once you see the small square beside the mouse pointer. You should be able to see an ants trail after selecting the work path as shown in the image below.


TIP: You also have the option to rename the path by double clicking on the layer. I have named mine F face (Female face). This is for future modification so it will be easier for you to find it just in case you have created more than 10 paths.

Step 3

Choose a color and fill the selected path to create a colored layer. Go to Tools and click on the Foreground Color to pick a color. With this one, let’s try #feba8f hexadecimal to achieve a light skin tone for the woman. You may try other skin tones, but I prefer this one since they are Caucasians.

Color Picker

Once, you have chosen your preferred color for the skin from the Color Picker or Foreground Color window, click ok and fill the selected  layer with the paint bucket or press shift + backspace from your keyboard and click OK once you see the Fill window as another option.

Color Fill

Step 4

Use Blending Modes to achieve the right skin tone and make the colored layer blend into the original image. Color works well with our chosen hexadecimal #feba8f for the skin.

Color Blending Mode

But, the color needs a little more fine-tuning so let’s try to adjust the Opacity to 54%. Try to do the same thing for her hand.

Set Opacity

Step 5

Repeat Steps 1 to 4 to color the other parts of the picture like the woman’s hair, coat, bag, plastic bag and her laptop bag. Do the same thing to the man’s face, hair, jacket, knapsack, pants and umbrella.

TIP: Play around with the Blending Modes and the Opacity so you can get the right blend for each element.
Color Fill Layers

TIP: Create a folder and drag all the layers you have created for the woman inside it so it won’t be hard for you to find a particular layer later on. It’s also good to have your layers organized.

These are the colors and blending modes I used:

Female Hair: #f78f08, Soft Light, 54% Opacity

Female Hair

Female Hair Blended

Woman’s Jacket: #ff18c1, Subtract, 100% Opacity

Woman's Jacket

Woman's Jacket Blended

Scarf: #ff18c1, Color Burn, 100% Opacity


Scarf Blended

Purse/Bag: #ffe42b, Soft Light, 100% Opacity


Purse/Bag Blended

Carrier Bag: #fff36d, Divide, 100% Opacity

Carrier Bag

Carrier Bag Blended

Step 6

Create a new group for the color fill layers for the man.

Here are the colors and blending modes I used for him:

Male Hair: #663f0d, Soft Light, 100% Opacity

Male Hair

Male Hair Blended

Man’s Face: #ffbb94, Color, 55% Opacity

Man's Face

Man's Face Blended

Man’s Hand: #ffbb94, Color, 40% Opacity (we make the hand a little darker as there is something covering it)

Man's Hand

Man’s Pants: #1a5685, Color Dodge, 100% Opacity

Man's Pants

Man's Pants Blended

Sweat Shirt: #ffffff, Soft Light, 100% Opacity

Sweat Shirt

Sweat Shirt Blended

Sleeve Patch: #1264d8, Multiply, 40% Opacity

Sleeve Patch

Sleeve Patch Blended

Knapsack: #be0620, Multiply, 100% Opacity


Knapsack Blended

Knapsack Straps: #be0620, Multiply, 100% Opacity

Knapsack Straps

Knapsack Straps Blended

Knapsack Accents: #ffffff, Normal, 100% Opacity (or you can erase or mask out the red from the Knapsack layer in these areas)

Knapsack Accents

Step 7

Are you happy with it? We can still do something about this to make the colors more vibrant and make them more alive.

Improve Color

You can make a copy of the Female and Male folders to achieve this look.

Improved Color

TIP: In order for you to duplicate the female or male folder, in the layers palette, drag the group to the “Create a new layer” which is beside the Trash can icon/Delete layer, and then let go.

And you can just sigh and say, it’s always nice to have that fuzzy feeling and just be in love all the time. LOVE can color your gloomy world. That’s for sure!

Finished Image

Further Resources

There have been many, many tutorials written on selective coloring, so here we bring you the links to a few showing different techniques using Photoshop.


I hope this tutorial has shown you the power of Photoshop’s blending modes. You can change the mode and opacity until you find something you prefer, or go back to the above suggestions. Your original image is still intact using this non-destructive method of coloring.

Please leave any comments in the section below.

Dianne Lane Co is a graphic and web designer from the Philippines who can put color in your dull world. She is so much in love with arts and crafts. Photoshop is her sweetheart and she’s developing a romance with HTML and JQuery. She does things that can fuel her passion.


  1. / Reply

    Sweet!!! I always wanted to know how that do that effect, when the background is white&black, and just some object on the front is colored.
    Thank you for the great tutorial.

    1. / Reply

      Hi Tobias!

      Glad you liked it! Are you motivated to do one now? ^.^

  2. / Reply

    Excellent article. I use a slightly different technique.

    Assuming the original colour photo has the colours you want in the final, then

    In CS3 for windows

    1. I create a completely separate dupe of the original CTRL-A, CTRL-C, CTRL-N etc
    2. Convert it to greyscale Image-mode-greyscale
    2. Convert the greyscale back to rgb colour (its still grey though) image-mode-RGB-colour
    3. Copy all of the grey image and paste it as a new layer on top of the original colour image
    4. The grey image layer should be on top of the colour image layer
    5. Use the eraser tool etc to erase the grey foreground revealing the coloured lower layer
    Voila! Spot colour

    1. / Reply

      Thanks so much Drew!

      Yes! I think that’s one good approach you can consider when you want to do selective coloring.

      The technique you shared is usually good for a full colored photo and you want to turn the other parts of it into Black and White. This will allow you to accent an image in color over a black and white picture. Definitely, much easier! Thanks for sharing it as well! ^.^

      • Chiboy,
      • March 7, 2012
      / Reply

      hi Drew & Dianne,

      Im using CS3, but i can’t find subtract or divide ..something im missing ?

      @Dianne nice tutorial by the way :)

  3. / Reply

    The one thing ive never understood about photoshop is that it is soooo complicated…i just cant get the hang of it to be honest! is anyone else in the shame shoes as me?

    1. / Reply

      Hi Martin!

      I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it! ;) Just make sure that you’re very interested with it and that you want to get to know Photoshop with all your heart. ^.^

      But, what is it that makes you think that it’s soooo complicated?

  4. / Reply

    Being the developer, I’ve always wondered how you do this.. Well I guess now I know! Good tutorial, I’m gona have to try it now.

  5. / Reply

    Awesome tutorial, I like it! Thanks for sharing…

  6. / Reply

    A perfect tutorial, thanks.

  7. / Reply

    what you have said in this article has deeply impressed me and i wish you can write more about this subject.

    • Alisha Gray,
    • August 13, 2012
    / Reply

    Pop of color

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