Desaturated Colour

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

A Gimmick?

I don’t care much for gimmicky effects inPhotoshop. I typically do just those things that I’ve always done in the darkroom‚ contrast, levels, colour balance, etc. But sometimes what comes out of the camera isn’t quite right for the subject.

In late August 2002 I picked up a newCanon 16-35mm f/2.8Llens for myCanon EOSsystem. (This was a replacement for the 17-35mm f/2.8L that I’d been using for several years, and a significant enhancement. SeeFred Miranda’s reviewon this site.)

I was eager to see how the lens performed, and so I drove straight from the dealer to TheCNE(Canadian National Exhibition), a Fall Fair with a midway, where I’ve shot several timesbefore. This is an excellent locale for street shooting.

Normal Colour Desaturated
Vampire‚ Toronto, 2002

Photographed with EOS Canon D60 & 16-35mm L lens at ISO 100

The Samples

I usually do this type of shooting with anM LeicainBlack & White. Colour isn’t often my preference for street shooting. But since I was using theEOS D60which can only shoot in colour, I figured that I would convert to monochrome usingChannel Mixer.

As it turned out once I started to review my images I kind of liked them in colour, but I wasn’t very excited about the way they looked in B&W. I decided that I’d try and see how they looked with colour that was somewhat less saturated than what the camera produced. Call it a compromise‚ something between colour and B&W.

Normal Colour Desaturated

Diablo Tilt‚ Toronto, 2002

Photographed with EOS Canon D60 & 16-35mm L lens at ISO 100

The photographs on this page are my two favourites from the afternoon’s shoot. The frames on the left shows them after normal processing inPhotoshop. The frames on the right show them with the desaturation effect. The effect makes them look like they are faded‚ not colour, but not B&W either. Something like a 60 year-oldTechnicolormovie before being restored.

The Technique

Fig. 1

The steps for trying this technique are very simply. Right-click on theLayerspalette and selectDuplicate Layer(Figure 1). With the new layer selected go toImage / Adjustment / Desaturate.

Fig. 2

Next, go to theOpacityselection in theLayerspalette and adjust the slider to your taste. (Figure 2).

That’s it. I find an opacity of somewhat between 50% and 70% usually looks best.

Try it. See if you like it.

The Lens

Oh yes‚ the new 16-35mm lens. How is it? In a word‚ "superb". If anything, it is better than Fred describes inhis review, and in my opinion well worth the upgrade for existing 17-35mm owners. It may well be the ideal wide-angle zoom for Canon users still in need of one. Expensive, but worth it.

Variation on a Theme

Shortly after this was first published a reader suggested a variation on this technique. It produces results which are a bit too "graphic" for my usual taste, but it’s fun to experiment with.

When you’re done the above steps, select the background copy and thenFilter / Stylize / Find Edges. You can then add aLevelsAdjustment Layerto modify brightness and contrast. You can also play with the blending modes. TryHard Light.

As always withPhotoshopit’s easy to get carried away. Try and keep what you do as "photographic" looking as possible. Or not. It’s up to you.

More on how and where these photographs were taken
Can be found in an article entitledEnigma Variations

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Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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