I was browsing an unrelated question here and noticed this photo:


I've seen countless street-photography shots with this kind of color effect / exposure. At best guess it looks like the white balance was warmed a bit, blacks were dialed up and saturation was dialed down.

I haven't been able to do a similar effect though, I'm curious If I am missing something obvious here, this is a common visual style I see in many places and I'm interested in something similar for some of my photos.


Thanks for the answer ElendilTheTall, I took a quick sample shot and tried this out on it. It wasn't the ideal shot for the effect, but I was able to apply the effect for the most part, some tweaking in the future on the shots I would like to do this on should render some cool results:





  • If you supply a photo I'd be willing to take a shot and try to get that effect in Lightroom. I also have a similar question here, though it is for a different effect. Maybe we can help each other out :) Thanks!
    – rabbid
    May 21, 2011 at 7:20
  • Yes, it's a good starting point for desaturation. You can experiment with warming filters, tints, all sorts. You can also merge the layers into one, hide the effects layers, then mask the merged layer and paint away the desaturation to reveal stronger colors in certain areas. May 22, 2011 at 8:47

4 Answers 4


These desaturated shots seem to be growing in popularity. This one appears to have been tinted slightly with a sepia tone.

If you have Photoshop, open the photo you want to use. Duplicate the background layer and set its Blending Mode to Multiply. The image will darken. Make a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and drop the saturation to 0. Set the opacity of this layer to about 40% - experiment with this. Finally make a new Levels or Curves layer above all the others, and use it to bring the brightness of the image to a normal level. Add a Photo Filter layer set to Sepia to add that brownish tint.

  • Thanks, I'll give this a shot and let you know how it went.
    – Aren
    May 22, 2011 at 8:18
  • thanks for the info. I was able to produce a decent faxcimilie of the effect on a simple test photo. I can look into this for more specific (& targeted) works in the future :)
    – Aren
    May 22, 2011 at 8:51

I think the common features to such images are:

  • story telling through perspectives; little to do here in post-processing
  • dramatic high-contrast scenes (bright sky or artificial light sources and almost black silhouettes and shadows); this can be emphasized with curves;
  • undersaturated colors; this can be achieved in different ways, but saturation slider is the easiest way;
  • color tints (and also split-tones, with one tint in shadows, and another tint in highlights); through channel combinations, separate color curve adjustments or with a dedicated instrument/filter;
  • emphasized or artificial vignetting (darker corners like in cheap lenses); radial gradient masks and channel combinations or a dedicated instrument/filter

All together this gives slightly wrong colors and lo-fi look, and somewhat resembles vintage amateur photography. Overall it may give a surprisingly good impression, and there are countless variations.

Your photo processed this way in Darktable, saturation reduced to 65%, split tone (cyan in shadows, red in highlights), vignetting; curves untouched:


Increased contrast may be great sometimes, but I think you overdid it in your processed example. There is enough of it already in this photo. Undersaturated colors stand out from the oversaturated colors of commercial imagery around us, and have a retro feel. They are also more forgiving for custom color tints. Color tints help to avoid dull gray of the modern urban architecture, and also make even distant accidental colors appear closer and more harmonic. They define the general warm or cold apperance of the image. Split tone may be used to increase color contrast though, and in some shots may help the subject to stand out. Vingetting darkens the border of the frame, to draw attention to the subject in, otherwise, often too noisy street photo composition.

  • Oh yes, I probably did overdo it in the example, but it was a matter of seeing the boundaries of what I could produce. The sample photo really wasn't ideal for this effect imho, but I like the result you posted. +1 for sure.
    – Aren
    May 22, 2011 at 22:13

This kind of effect is a ton easier to achieve using a filter like Nik Color Efex Pro. Alternatively, a number of RAW image processors, including Lightroom have some of these grunge effects included as presets. Try Bleach Bypass as a sample.


That is likely a split tone effect. He used Photoshop, but it's very easy also in Lightroom (it's a built-in effect).

The highlight colour would be the warm creamy white and the shadow colour would be a cool hue, probably blue on the border of aqua.

If I have time I will see if I can recreate the look and report the settings used.

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