Few pictures with a washed out effect are actually worth looking at (I'm talking about things like this).

I think this guy has it figured out, though:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

At least, that looks good to me.

Now, just for the sake of knowledge, how would one go about achieving a similar look in, say, Lightroom or Photoshop?

I don't have a clue where I should even begin, I tried mucking about in Lightroom 4 with the sliders in the HSL section, but couldn't come up with anything even remotely meaningful.

Any pointer on how to get started would be appreciated.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @BBking: no, I'm talking about the way colors are "washed out", or "creamy", or "desaturated"... I don't know what to call it. I'm definitely aware of what the depth of field is :)) I'm talking specifically about post production here. \$\endgroup\$
    – s.m.
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 21:37
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, you're saying you like the effect of the second examples, but not the one in the previous question you've linked to and presumably the ones @dpollit is pointing out as well, and want to know what the difference is. Correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for the dupes, but with titles like "What sort of color correction and effects are used in this photo?" I think you'll agree with me that they are rather hard to find ಠ_ಠ \$\endgroup\$
    – s.m.
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 6:57
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that's why I'm always sounding like a broken record asking people to put specific titles on this sort of question, and to describe the desired effect in as many words as possible even though it's difficult. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ email me directly and I would love to help [email protected] Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – user16130
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 18:04

2 Answers 2


Low contrast (just look at the areas of deep shadow-- grey instead of black), possible desaturation, plus possibly a slight touch of simulated cross-processing, I'd say. Note also that in the region of the head, the contrast is stronger, indicating that a mask was applied at some point. This tutorial on a washed-out look may be interesting to you-- I suggest a Google search and browsing around.

Below is a portion of one of the images. The left side shows the original image. The right shows the image with curves applied to bring the darkest pixels to pure black.

enter image description here

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I've added a before/after image - you're right, it's the blacks being grey that gives the look the OP is probably talking about. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 5:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good stuff, MikeW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Iucounu
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 7:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeW yes, I guess the faded blacks are what plays the biggest part. Thank you Iucounu, that definitely helps. \$\endgroup\$
    – s.m.
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 18:35

Those images have little colour to start with, a touch of red and the rest are earthy tones. He may have desaturated the colours somewhat.

The lighting is very even. From the catchlights the main light seems almost behind the camera, so there isn't a lot of shadow. However the tones in the images to my eye range from black to almost white, so I wouldn't say they are really washed out or low contrast.

So I'd say if you had overcast conditions, even lighting, muted colours in your subject and background, then all you would need would be a little desaturation and possibly lower the clarity slider a bit to lower the contrast in the mid-tones.

Edit: on further review, I think Iucounu nailed it. The histogram shows nothing pure black. The darkest areas have RGB values of around (32,32,32).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I accepted Iucounu's answer, but wanted to thank you too, yours has been helpful as well. I appreciated your observations on the lighting. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – s.m.
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 18:37

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