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Photoshop Tip: Tinting the Grays in a Color Image

Using the Selective Color adjustment layer By Dave Nagel
We've recently looked at a few methods for desaturating selective elements of a photo, with a particular emphasis on minimizing the manual labor involved. So what if, after desaturating parts of an image, you them want to colorize them to create even more of a nostalgic feel? No problem.

Not only does this process involve a minimal amount of labor on your part, but it can also be accomplished via an adjustment layer, which means that the effect will remain live and editable throughout the process.

So here's basically what we want to do. We have an image that we've desaturated except for some specific elements. Here's the original, full-color image.

And here's the selectively desaturated image.

Now we want to take the grayscale background and tint it just a little bit to create the effect of discoloration and/or hand tinting, or maybe a more pronounced tint job. In the case of this particular photo, I want to boost the luminance of the neutrals and add in a little bit of a blue-gray tint to give it a more convincing black and white feel and to flatten it out a bit to make it look a bit more hand-tinted. That's the image below on the top left. The others are variations to show a more pronounced tint job.

Here's how it works.

Step 1: Preparation
There's very little preparation to do for this type of project. We'll assume you've already desaturated a portion of your image using the techniques outlined in the previous two tutorials in this series. That is, you've created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and used that to desaturate some elements of your image, using others in full color.

Before we get started, if you haven't done so already, you might want to go back and read the previous two tutorials in this series, which detail the process of desaturating selective elements from an image.

Part 1: Desaturating Parts of a Picture
Part 2: Color Range in Hue/Saturation

It isn't necessary that you use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for that part. It just helps to keep everything fully editable, should you need to make changes later.

Step 2: Create an adjustment layer
So I'm beginning with my basic desaturated background, which consists of an image and, in my case, two Hue/Saturation adjustment layers.

Now I want to adjust my background. So I'll choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. A dialog will pop up at that point, and you can just click OK to dismiss it, or choose to use the previous layer as a clipping mask, if desired. (That's usually not necessary for this type of adjustment. But, if you want to work just with a particular selection from your image, you'd want to use this option.)

Then you'll be presented with the main dialog, which allows you to adjust the cyan, magenta, yellow and black levels for various "colors" in the image. And this includes grays, which is what makes the Selective Color adjustment applicable for this type of project.

Step 3: Adjust grays
So now we just need to adjust the fray levels. And we'll do this by switching from the default "Red" in the pull-down menu to "Neutrals."

The first thing I want to do is flatten out my neutrals a little bit by reducing the amount of black in them. The amount you use for this will vary widely according to the tones of the image you're using. But in my case, I'm going to reduce them to -54.

And now I want to bring in a little bluish gray for the background. This will "cool down" the image and also, in my opinion, create a more convincing black and white photo effect, as opposed to a simple desaturation, which usually looks like what it is: a color image that's been desaturated.

To do this, I'll boost the Cyan to +48 and the Magenta to +18.

Again, the specific numbers you use will vary by project. In most cases, that much cyan and magenta will produce a darker, more saturated blue. But because my image was dark to start with and because I lowered the amount of black in the image, the blueness isn't as pronounced here as it normally would be.

That's all I need to do to this image. If you want to produce a sepia effect in the background, you'd use more yellow and magenta, with no cyan.

In some cases, you might also want to tint the darker and lighter areas of your image. You do this the same way we did with the neutrals. Just be cautious about how much tinting you do to those areas because you can quickly lose contrast and definition in your image. (For example, you might lighten up the blacks too much or darken up the whites too much, and the image will become muddy.)

So that's all there is to it.

If you have any questions about Photoshop--from the most simple to the most complex--be sure to visit me in the Adobe Photoshop forum at DMN Forums by clicking here.

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