During workshops one of the most requested “can you show me how” techniques is selective saturation.  The technique produces eye catching images popular with amateur photographers and I think with good reason.  It allows us to focus on individual elements of a composition, often for the first time.  Done properly, selective saturation can really emphasize certain elements of a composition and create an overall attractive image.

Olympus E-10, @F3.2  1/200th  36mm  ISO 160

 

Introduction

During workshops one of the most requested “can you show me how” techniques is selective saturation.  The technique produces eye catching images popular with amateur photographers and I think with good reason.  It allows us to focus on individual elements of a composition, often for the first time.  Done properly, selective saturation can really emphasize certain elements of a composition and create an overall attractive image.   

Okay, you can tell I’m tip-toeing around the subject so I’ll just tell you, I’m no fan of selective saturation.  I think it’s most often overdone and poorly done.  But it needn’t be.  The actual process is easy, so let’s take a quick look on how it’s done, and then study a couple examples and the choices I made during processing. 

 

The Process

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

In Lightroom choose the “localized editing” tool (circled in blue below), drop the saturation bar all the way to the left (circled in blue below), and then ‘paint’ the areas you want to be desaturated.

 

In Lightroom choose the “localized editing” tool (circled in blue below), drop the saturation bar all the way to the left (circled in blue below), and then ‘paint’ the areas you want to be desaturated.

 

You’ll need to take your time and make sure to paint inside the lines, but you’ll soon be able to produce selective saturation examples with relative ease.

 

Adobe Photoshop CS5

Adobe Photoshop is a more advanced way of doing the same thing, and it offers you more control and choices along the way.  Let’s take a look.

 

In Photoshop CS5 you first make the entire image black and white, or desaturated, or toned, or Sepia, or anything you like.  There are at least a dozen popular ways to make an image black and white inside Photoshop, so for this example I’m using their “Black and White” option.  In the example above you can see you select “image/adjustments/black&white” and you’ll then get the black and white dialog box.  You can just click ‘okay’ and the image will now be black and white.

 

In Photoshop CS5 you first make the entire image black and white, or desaturated, or toned, or Sepia, or anything you like.  There are at least a dozen popular ways to make an image black and white inside Photoshop, so for this example I’m using their “Black and White” option.  In the example above you can see you select “image/adjustments/black&white” and you’ll then get the black and white dialog box.  You can just click ‘okay’ and the image will now be black and white.

 

Now that your image is black and white, select the ‘history brush’ from the toolbar and brush the areas you want to bring back the color on.  You can vary the size and opacity of your brush as you go along to make it more accurate for the size object you’re brushing

 

Now that your image is black and white, select the ‘history brush’ from the toolbar and brush the areas you want to bring back the color on.  You can vary the size and opacity of your brush as you go along to make it more accurate for the size object you’re brushing. 

When done, flatten your layers and the image will be complete. 

There are much more complicated ways to do the same thing, for example creating a separate layer for each color, or a layer for all colors, or any number of editing layers.  But simple  or complicated, you can get it done and start turning out selective saturation images within minutes.

 

Technique

As I said above, in my humble opinion, most selective saturation images are poorly done, overdone, or just don’t add to the composition in a meaningful way.  Let’s talk about a few examples and the choices they present.

 

Above is an image of my son practicing his ‘pul-gays’ for Tae-Kwon-Do.  The dojo was uninspired, dirty bright white walls with bright harsh lighting.  The color images looked terrible, flares, washed out color, and an unattractive background.  I processed the image in black and white and studied the scene.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM @F5.6 1/125th  148mm  ISO 320

 

Above is an image of my son practicing his ‘pul-gays’ for Tae-Kwon-Do.  The dojo was uninspired, dirty bright white walls with bright harsh lighting.  The color images looked terrible, flares, washed out color, and an unattractive background.  I processed the image in black and white and studied the scene. 

The walls were basically a solid color, white.  His gi was a solid color, black.  The mat was also a solid color, blue.  The scene lent itself nicely to a proper black and white toning.  From there the choices were easy, the only parts of the scene not white, black, or blue.. were the patches and script on his gi.  A few swipes with the history brush and I’d restored the color in both.

Looking at the completed image it feels like my eyes are drawn to the color.  Would it have been better to leave the patches alone and only brush the script on his belt?  Perhaps, the dangers of overdoing this sort of thing are very real.  I find the more you look at a processed image, the more you’ll realize you did too much. 

 

Using the above image as an example:  The original was terribly oversaturated right out of the camera.  A combination of late afternoon sun and fall colors produced an image where the bike rider colors blended into the background colors, and not in an attractive way.  A proper black and white toning really enhanced the image.

Nikon D100, 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR @F4  1/640th  120mm  ISO 200

 

Using the above image as an example:  The original was terribly oversaturated right out of the camera.  A combination of late afternoon sun and fall colors produced an image where the bike rider colors blended into the background colors, and not in an attractive way.  A proper black and white toning really enhanced the image. 

I liked the black and white image just fine, but this being a selective saturation tutorial it would be good to find a part of the scene where we bring the saturation back.  To me the helmet was a logical choice.  His leathers were blue, the bike is blue, the shoes are blue, but bringing back all the blue would have been over doing it for sure.  Instead, I selected the helmet on the top, and a small blue area on the front of the bike which almost goes unnoticed.  Notice how modest the changes are?  I think this is the best kind of selective saturation example. 

 

In the above sample I went too far on purpose.  But darn it, it looks pretty good that way!  Again, my son mountain boarding down a hill wearing the same protective helmet and leathers in our previous example.  Except this time I restored the saturation not only in the helmet and the complete leathers, but I couldn’t resist bring out the orange wheels.

Olympus E-10, @F3.2  1/200th  36mm  ISO 160

 

In the above sample I went too far on purpose.  But darn it, it looks pretty good that way!  Again, my son mountain boarding down a hill wearing the same protective helmet and leathers in our previous example.  Except this time I restored the saturation not only in the helmet and the complete leathers, but I couldn’t resist bring out the orange wheels. 

Would restoring the color on his face brought it way over the top?  I think so.  However, remember art is very subjective and as the artist you get to please yourself first.  Do what you like and what makes you smile, the hell with everyone else.  It’s your camera.. ;o)