Selective Saturation


By: Nathan Cool

Breaking the black and white barrier.


Black and white photography has been used to portray the mysterious; a way of using shadows to capture depth, dimension, and purity. Today it's become popular to take this one step further, like I did in this "Night Rose" shot, using selective saturation. The extra hints of color enhance the beauty of the original black and white in a way that adding a simple sepia just can't's like sepia on to speak. Here, I'll share some tips I've used to process this kind of shot, which takes just a few minutes.


About 90% of the processing for this photo was done in Adobe's Lightroom software, and about 10% was done in Photoshop. The selective saturation effect though was entirely done using Lightroom, which brought the processing time down to a mere 15 minutes for this effect...which included sips of wine while listening to dark metal music while pondering my next effect. Oh, I should mention, that it is imperative to listen to the appropriate music to prepare yourself for this kind of me, it helps :) For this shot, I suggest a light Pinot Noir with this sound track by Dark Moor cranked to 3/4 volume (or higher...yes, it's OK if your ears bleed a little).


If you've never used Lightroom, I can tell you it's money well spent, giving you some of the easiest tools to process most of what you'll ever need for enhancing (and organizing) your photos. With Lightroom, you merely use a series of sliders and brushes to quickly adjust aspects of your pics. Using just a few sliders and brushes you can apply selective saturation effortlessly, where using Photoshop would take much more time.


After getting the mood set right and being inspired to break the black-and-white barrier into photographic oblivion, the trick is, using Lightrooom, to NOT convert this to black and white. Instead, use the saturation sliders (under HSL in Lightroom). Now start moving each color slider to the left to desaturate each color. In Night Rose above, I didn't desaturate the blues. I did though desaturate everything else. To bring out the reds, I created a new Saturation Brush at 100% saturation and painted over the parts I wanted to bring into color (the rose, lips, and left iris). For that streak of purple in her hair, I used another Saturation Brush, but this time I also added Color to it.


The same trick was done with Sarah Parker's BADDASS shot shown here as well. But, Sarah already had purple streaks in her hair, making my job easy by just using a simple Saturation Brush.


But that's not the end of the story. So far, we've only brought out some color (saturation) in selective places of the photo. To make any black and white a killer pic, we need to consider contrast. When it comes to black and white, my style is to go big or leave it in color, so I go for deep shadows and heavy contrast. This though can take just another two minutes (and a sip or two of that Pinot) to process.


To now bring up the contrast and make this  monochromatic hybrid picture pop like it's hot, increase the exposure slider (to the right) in Lightroom until the histogram shows you're clipping highlights. Then slide the recovery slider to the right until the highlights are no longer clipped.


Next comes Clarity, and a lot of it. Move the Clarity slider to the right, upping it to about 50 or more. Then in the Levels adjustments, select Medium Contrast. You should have a very shadowy photo. But we're not done yet.


A certain amount of grain can be useful. To make this "sharp", use the Sharpening slider, moving it to about 50 or so. You can also use the Sharpening Mask by holding down Alt and moving the slider until you see just outlines of the subject selected, that way the background remains smooth.


At this point you should now have a cool looking photo with a mysterious pop of color...and high adrenaline from listening to heavy dark music, and possibly a slight buzz from all the wine you've been sipping.


Now it's time to continue with the rest of the processing, perhaps some vignetting, or edge blur, etc.


I should note though that before I start into the selective saturation process, I usually do all the usual touch-ups, removing blemishes, distractions, skin softening, etc.


Note that not all photos will look good with this effect. A quick way to see if they will is to just quickly convert a pic to black and white in Lightroom, and see if it looks better. If it does, adding this color effect will no doubt enhance the picture further.






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