I can't wrap my head around how the bright, washed-out colors in these images are achieved. Does anyone have an idea?
They look to be done with a Hue/Saturation/Luminance tool, sometimes called a Hue/Saturation/Value tool. An HSL or HSV tool divides color into eight or so bands and allows you to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance (brightness) of each color band separately from the other color bands.
In the case of your example, it seems the photos have been adjusted so that the saturation of alternating bands of color are moved in opposite directions. Red is boosted, orange is reduced, yellow is boosted, green is reduced (except the fourth image), aqua is boosted, blue is reduced, purple is reduced and magenta is boosted (particularly in the fifth one). The overall saturation is still held fairly low, but the absence of some colors makes the colors present look more vivid.
What is probably critical to make this work is that all general color casts must be removed. In addition to using the proper color temperature, white balance correction must also be spot on so that the whites in the scene are white.
One way to achieve it is to use selective saturation adjustments. You can do this a number of ways:
- Use a tool that allows adjustment of saturation based on the hue. Some applications have a Curves dialog that allows you to adjust saturation against hue or other such combinations. In Photoshop, you can use the Hue/Saturation adjustment and set it to "Reds", for example, to adjust the saturation of just the red pixels
- Color selection - use a tool that selects by color. Once selected, adjust the saturation of only what's selected.
- Manual selection - just select, paint, or mask what you want to change by hand, using the pen tool, or whatever, and again, once selected, adjust the saturation of only the selection