Color is a complex thing. It doesn’t get its intensity solely from saturation, but also from contrast. This can include color contrast with colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, brightness contrast between bright and dark colors, and another type of contrast we can call ’saturation contrast’. This is where you contrast strongly saturated colors against weakly saturated colors.
Or even no color at all. A prime example of this is where the entire picture is in black and white except for a single object or objects picked out in red. It’s a pretty obvious processing technique, though, and it’s possible to use the same technique but just reduce the saturation of other colors and not remove it.
Reducing color saturation doesn’t sound like a good way to give color more impact, but it can work.
Here’s an example of an image that’s full of color but all the colors have a similar strength so that they are all fighting with one another and none of them stand out.
So I thought I would select a color to protect – reds are always good for this – and then reduce the strength of every other color.
This is the result, and I think it’s a lot more effective. The blue in the sky is now relatively undersaturated but more striking and a better contrast with the color in the dockside buildings.
So how is it done? It’s a simple job in any program which offers hue, saturation and lightness adjustments where you can select hues individually.
Normally, you would select a color in the image and then adjust its saturation, hue or lightness to alter it. In this case, I’m doing the opposite, selecting a color to leave unaltered and then reducing the saturation of all the others.
To make this image I used Capture One. This technique will work in many other programs too. The advantage that Capture One has is that it allows you to ‘invert’ your color selection so that you can adjust all the other colors at once rather than having to select and adjust them individually.
Here’s how it works:
- Use the eyedropper (circled) to pick a color in the image that you want to edit – or, in this case, preserve.
- Use the invert selection button (circled below) in capture one to select all the other colors instead.
- Reduce the saturation and lightness of those other colors.
For this shot I took the saturation down to a point where the other colours were toned down but still visible, but I also reduced the lightness so that they were darker too.
I think the result is very effective, and this technique has had the lucky side effect of intensifying the contrast between the blue sky and the clouds. You might not want to reduce the saturation to quite this degree for every shot, but once you know the technique it’s really easy to adapt and use in all sorts of ways.