Selective color in Aurora HDR Pro

Yeah, you can do THAT in Aurora HDR Pro, too!  ;-)

As I experiment more and more with Aurora HDR Pro, I get more ideas about things that I want to try - so I try them and they work - and then I end up writing a blog post about them.  Hope you enjoy these!  I'm having fun testing my ideas and writing about them for ya!

Have you ever seen a photo done with selective colorization?  I’m sure you have.  You know, it’s all black and white except for one thing (a strawberry, an umbrella, etc) in the photo that is bright, cheerful, and full of color?  Yeah, I knew you’d seen it.  It’s an old trick that’s been around a while.  Some might even call it a cliche.

After all these years, it’s not something I’ve ever experimented with.  I’ve not really been interested, but not because I don’t like the effect.  I find it kind of interesting, as long as it doesn't show up in every image that someone creates.  I guess I've just never thought about trying it.

But now that I am fully diving into using Aurora HDR Pro and the other products in the Creative Kit by Macphun, I started thinking about it.

You see, the beauty (and power) of Aurora HDR Pro is in the fact that you can quickly and easily add layers to your photos, so that you can selectively apply effects to certain portions of a photo.  I do that ALL THE TIME with Aurora.  It’s fun and gives me a great creative outlet when I am editing my shots.

So the other day I started thinking about mixing things up a bit between layers.  I have layered effects upon effects and presets upon presets, and it’s great.  I love to do that stuff.  But I got the idea to try selective color on some shots, because it should work just using layers, right?  Right (and it does).  In fact, if you have never used Photoshop or just never learned how to use layers there, just forget about it.  You don’t need it.  It’s quicker and easier in Aurora HDR Pro.

But Jim - Aurora is for HDR, right?  Well, that’s right and wrong.

It IS the best product out there for merging HDR photos in my opinion.  It’s absolutely fantastic for that.  But if you stop there, you aren’t getting the full picture (no pun intended).  In addition to doing a great job creating your base HDR photos (which always need further editing, regardless of how you create them), it’s an incredibly powerful photo editor - for any photo, HDR or not.  Between all the presets, the use of layers, and the ability to brush in effects selectively, you can get everything done right in Aurora.  No other software required.  I process ALL my photos in Aurora now, single exposure or HDR.  It's that good.  In fact, in my opinion it's the best stuff out there, especially when you have the entire Macphun Creative Kit at your disposal.

Hey Jim, get back to this selective color thing.

I was trying to think of an image I had that would be a good fit for selective color.  You want an image with a great focal point that draws the viewer's attention, and you want that focal point to really have great color, so it just pops off the screen (keeping in mind that it will end up being the ONLY color on the screen, so it really needs to pop).  So I started with the image you see in the screenshot below, which is something I photographed while wandering the back streets of small but lovely Bratislava, Slovakia a few years ago.  I like doors anyway, and this one just caught my eye.  Red does that.  

By the way, if you prefer to watch this on YouTube, you can do that here:

This is an HDR that I had previously processed and shared a few years back, and I didn't bother to redo it since I like the result.  I came across it in my library and knew that it would be the perfect example for this tutorial, so here it is after I have loaded it in Aurora (but have done nothing to it yet):

The first thing I do is create a new layer and call it "BW", which is short for Black & White.  This is the layer that I am going to use to remove the saturation from most of the image (everything except the door) and make a few minor tweaks to some other parts of it as well.

So I click on the teal-colored + sign next to the word Layers in the upper right, and create the BW layer.  The first thing I do on this layer is create a mask of that lovely red door.  It takes a few minutes because it requires some detailed brush work to get the lines mostly straight, but the mask ends up looking like this:  

But on this layer, I'm technically going to be working on everything BUT the door.  So why did I mask the door?  It's smaller and therefore quicker to mask it, and then just invert the mask.  So once you have the mask looking just the way you want it, invert it using the drop-down menu right by the BW layer (it's the one next to the Opacity gauge just above my BW layer).  Now the mask covers everything except for the door, as you see below.  This is good, because we will be making adjustments to everything except the door next.

So now it's time to get cracking on this selective color thing.  While on this BW layer, I reduce Saturation and Vibrance to zero.  Take them all the way down - we want no color at all there.  I also bump up a few other sliders, namely Contrast, Clarity and HDR Look.  I'm just giving the black and white portion of the photo a little more pizazz.  Might as well make it dramatic, right?

Now it's time to create another layer.  This one I will call Color because I am going to do a little work on that red door.  Once I create the layer, I need to make sure I have a mask for the door so that these adjustments ONLY apply to the door.  Since I did that in the previous step, I can just copy that mask and paste it onto this layer and invert it (another beautiful thing about Aurora!).  So this layer, with the mask visible, looks like this:

On this Color layer, I am taking the following steps to give the red door a little boost:

  1. Clarity increased
  2. HDR Look increased
  3. HDR Details increased
  4. Saturation increased
  5. Vibrance increased

None of these were huge increases, but just subtle enough to give it a little kick.  I figured if I am already in the fantasy world of partially-colored scenes, why not add to it a little?  ;-)

That leaves me with a photo that looks like this:

Initially, I was going to call it quits at this point.  I like the photo and it was exactly what I had in mind when I started. But you know how it is with software - sometimes you just want to push some more sliders.  So I did.  Ain't it fun?  ;-)

Since I consider all of my next steps to be experimental, I wanted to do them without messing up what I already had.  So, that means it's time to add another layer...

This layer I named Tone variations, since that's exactly what it was.  To make sure I was just messing around in the black and white space, I also copied the mask from the BW layer so the door would remain unchanged. 

I wanted to experiment with tone and temperature changes, among other things, just to see if anything caught my eye.  It turns out that something did.  The first thing I did was reduce the temperature to make it cooler, but to offset the blue, I dragged the tint slider to the right.  My intent here was give it a silver look, and I think I achieved that.  It's a little blue, but mostly silver to my eyes.  OK, maybe bluish-silver.  But I digress.

Then I got a whim to drag some more sliders around, so I moved the Temperature and Tint mostly back to where they started and ended up with a few changes to Top & Bottom Lighting (reducing both) and adding a Vignette.  That put me here:

I stared at this one for a few long minutes, and ultimately decided I liked it better than the rest (although I like all the versions for different reasons), so I just hit "Apply" and I was all done.  Here's a bigger view of the final image (click to view larger):

It looks to me like something out of a fairy-tale (especially given the cobblestone street and European architecture), which wasn't my original intent, but I really like the fantasy element that is at play here.  You know, like a Princess is about to run down that street, being chased by a monster - under stormy skies, of course! - and trying to get to safety behind the red door.  Or something like that.  ;-)

Here's the first version, in a bigger size.  Now that I have stepped away and come back to look at it, maybe I like it better.  It's a bit less dramatic than the other one, but there's some beauty in the simplicity of it, to my eyes. 

All together this was a few minutes of work, though most of that was getting the mask for the door clean, and spending time just experimenting until I found something that inspired me, or at least got my imagination in motion.  The actual implementation of my ideas was quick and painless.  I love doing this stuff.

Just for fun, I did similar things with several other photos, which are included below for your viewing pleasure.  Let me know if you have any questions and thanks for stopping by!

Did you know you can download a free trial version of Aurora HDR Pro to test out yourself?  It's true!  Just click the link below and you will be taken to their site, where you can download a trial version.  Note that I am an affiliate with Macphun, and if you purchase the software through my links, I make a small commission which I reinvest in this site.  YOUR PRICE IS THE SAME WHETHER YOU USE MY LINKS OR NOT.  If do you use my links - thanks a lot, I appreciate it!  Please know that I only recommend stuff that I believe in, and Aurora is AMAZING.  I think you will enjoy it too!

OK, here are some more sample photos where I have employed the above technique for selective colorization: