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Desaturated Colour

A Photoshop Tutorial

A Gimmick?

I don't care much for gimmicky effects in Photoshop. 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 new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens for my Canon EOS system. (This was a replacement for the 17-35mm f/2.8L that I'd been using for several years, and a significant enhancement. See Fred Miranda's review on this site.)

I was eager to see how the lens performed, and so I drove straight from the dealer to The CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), a Fall Fair with a midway, where I've shot several times before. 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 an M Leica in Black & White. Colour isn't often my preference for street shooting. But since I was using the EOS D60 which can only shoot in colour, I figured that I would convert to monochrome using Channel 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 in Photoshop. 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-old Technicolor movie before being restored.

The Technique

Fig. 1

The steps for trying this technique are very simply. Right-click on the Layers palette and select Duplicate Layer (Figure 1). With the new layer selected go to Image / Adjustment / Desaturate.

Fig. 2

Next, go to the Opacity selection in the Layers palette 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 in his 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 then Filter / Stylize / Find Edges. You can then add a Levels Adjustment Layer to modify brightness and contrast. You can also play with the blending modes. Try Hard Light.

As always with Photoshop it'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 entitled Enigma Variations


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Concepts: Camera, Canon EOS, Photography, Photographic lens, Portmanteau, Blend

Entities: Canon, Canadian National Exhibition, Michael Reichmann, See Fred Miranda

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