How do I get this paradoxical look?
June 5, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I get this look when editing my photos? It seems to be characterized by high contrast in the midtones but muted contrast at the extremes, along with desaturated neutral colors but saturated vivid colors. I've tried and tried, but I can't seem to figure it out.

More examples:
posted by the jam to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
What software are you using? If Photoshop, try duplicating the layer and desaturate/adjust levels on one copy. Use selective color on the other to pump up individual tones, then maybe adjust levels to blow out the high-key tones and use "multiply" to blend.

There are a million ways to tackle any problem though, and I'm just guessing here because the technique really depends on what your original looks like and how much help it needs getting to where you want it.

(If you want to upload an image somewhere, I could play with it and let you know what works.)
posted by Fifi Firefox at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2010

I might be totally off here, but it looks like the photos might be a little overexposed?

Have you tried asking any of the people who posted the photos you linked to their post productions strategy? I bet at least one of them would be willing to share.
posted by kylej at 2:25 PM on June 5, 2010

Do you have Picasa? It's a free download and has a very basic set of image manipulation tools. What I used most was three sliders on the second or third tab - the sliders for fill light, highlight, and shadow. I'd crank the shadow way up until it looked ruined, and then do the fill light up until it un-ruined it. The result was that I recovered the pop of the original scene and got really vivid colors. I'd then add just a touch of highlight to add some final pop unless there were already really bright areas in the shot, because then it was often too much. But that too much was sort of what you've shown us here. When there are areas of the shot with a lot of light, particularly natural light, and particularly shots with sky in them, this technique would amp those areas to basically white, as in your last example above. Having the three sliders to play with really helps you fine tune it too. Go up past halfway on the fill light and shadow sliders, depending on the shot. The highlight slider is more powerful so you'll slide that one less. Then just play with it. There's probably some smartypants photo pro proper way to do it, but my accidental way may be an easy way to get started.
posted by Askr at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Overexposure + diffusion = my two cents.

For serious color correction, I can't recommend Adobe Lightroom enough, if you don't already have it. It's super powerful, easy to learn, and there are tons of presets (included and downloadable) you can use as jumping-off points.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2010

Example "One" also has a vignette, darkening up the edges and drawing attention to the subject in the middle.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:45 PM on June 5, 2010

I'm nthing overexposure. You could try messing with the meter on your camera to see if you can get similar results.

Alternatively, you can go into PhotoShop and mess with Image > Ajustments > Levels.
I pushed the middle gray arrow (midtones) pretty far to the left, and brought the far left black arrow slightly in towards the right and got a pleasantly bleached out look.
posted by ladypants at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2010

If you have photoshop, try using the curves tool as illustrated on this page on high key photos. It does also look like an increase in color saturation.
posted by DarkForest at 3:03 PM on June 5, 2010

It's always a bit of a fiddle, but another thing to add in the mix is "clarity" from lightroom, particularly in the photo of the chairs--it's sort of an edge sharpening. Plus, all are a bit over bright, the black point is pretty low (if on at all). The color temp is high on that one, and lowered on some of the others.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2010

Regarding the outdoors ones looks like they've metered off the colour elements and allowed the sky to burn out ... or nthing overexposed ...
posted by southof40 at 5:32 PM on June 5, 2010

Here's a technique I use to add saturation to shadows & midtones, and burn out highlights in Photoshop:

Create an adjustment layer, picking Photo Filter... from the pop-up menu. (bottom of th Layers panel) Change the color of the warming (81) filter to something more yellowy, less reddish. Go about 40-50%% density. After creating this layer, change the mode to Hard Light, then adjust the opacity of the layer down to 20-30%. It's all editable, so you can tinker with abandon, but I've found this is a great way to add a touch of bright daylight to pictures that might not have had enough sun.

Sometimes when hard light is a bit too much, soft light works well.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:20 PM on June 5, 2010

In Photoshop -> Image ->Adjustments -> Shadows/Highlights. Turn the Shadows and Highlights sliders down to 0, crank up the Midtone Contrast, and possibly tweak the Color Correction. When you've got it close you can then tweak up the Shadows and Highlights amount, and finish it off with a little Levels tweaking.
posted by Ookseer at 6:53 PM on June 5, 2010

Best answer: I believe that's Kodak Portra film overexposed one stop.

Does this look like what you are thinking about:

If that's so, I'm not sure you can "get it" with photoshop or digital. There's some reasonably good reasons you can still buy film these days. I think Portra, used well, is the most beautiful color you can get. Kodachrome was pretty awesome but it's over.

Some random favs of mine with portra

If you are interested in shooting film, you could try a used Yashica 124 or preferably a Mamiya C330, two reasonably priced medium format cameras that could rock that film.
posted by sully75 at 8:30 PM on June 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think the Portra stock is the best lead yet. Thanks!
posted by the jam at 9:19 PM on June 5, 2010

I think you're overcomplicating things by getting caught up with neutral saturation (something of an oxymoron), selective contrast, etc. It's possible to achieve this look solely through curves and saturation, although a few more tweaks may be necessary depending on the photo you're working with.

Start by doing a strong up-curve in the highlights, then fine-tune the midtones and shadows, maybe increasing the midtones a bit, and then lowering the shadows a bit for some snap. (For specifics, I replicated look in a photo of my own by doing a curves layer with input 179 output 229 on the highlights, input 42 output 128 on the midtones, and input 43 output 47 on the shadows. (The specifics will of course vary depending on the photo you're working with.) Then add a hue/saturation adjustment layer, adding something between 10 and 20 depending on the lighting (go a little more for flat lighting). A little bit of color adjustment may be necessary as well-- I suspect most of the examples you provided were tweaked as far as blue and yellow go (probably not via selective color, but through temperature or in curves-- blue and yellow are opposites, so if you make a photo more yellow, you're making it less blue.)

Ymmv. Good luck.
posted by TayBridge at 10:51 PM on June 5, 2010

Hint: all photos have a diffused lighting source. If your subject lighting is similar, then half your battle is over.
posted by JJ86 at 10:35 AM on June 6, 2010

There's a Bibble plug-in called Andrea that does film simulation. I don't know of anything similar for Photoshop.
posted by thatdawnperson at 4:12 PM on June 6, 2010

How is this for a reasonable simulation? Ann 3

Contrast with this Ann 2, that has different processing.

Some of the photos in this thread are instant faves, I normally don't go for this look, but it's something worth (ahem) shooting for.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2010

Here's another attempt at a simulation of a "film look" - great subject matter for it too. Arcade.

Here's the image I was using as a reference for the recreation.
high contrast in the midtones but muted contrast at the extremes, along with desaturated neutral colors but saturated vivid colors.
The "desaturated but vivid" look (a-la the movie 300) is easily accomplished by making a black & white layer, and then putting a color layer on top of it and using the "overlay" or "soft light" combination method. To make it look more like a classic film, rather than straight black & white, make it a sepia and then put the overlay on top. You can actually achieve a wide range of effects by how you handle the black & white (or sepia) step.

I also added in a bit of an "s" curve in curves (pretty self explanatory, I think - you want two spots, one that pulls up around 2/3 of the way to the right, and one that pulls down about 2/3 of the way to the left. It makes for a contrasty middle and blown out extremes.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:44 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

All of the original examples appear to be taken under soft light/overcast type situations. Using that as a starting point, I was able to go from this shot to this by adjusting the curves, saturation and by applying a single GIMP script. Starting with the original, I created an upward "bulge" in the curves which slightly washed out the mids, followed by a reasonable amount of desaturation. Finally using the GIMP Technicolor 3 Color Script to bring out some of the color. All of this done with free GIMP software and plugins, and my crap 3 year old Canon point and shoot ;)
posted by Mr Mister at 10:36 PM on June 6, 2010

Here's another version of the first, same technique. I was heavy-handed with the faux film grain. Also this time, everything is stock photoshop, no plugins.
posted by MesoFilter at 6:09 PM on June 7, 2010

Also I wouldn't be surprised if something like Hipstamatic was involved.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:08 AM on June 9, 2010

I think its film also, film has a higher dynamic range than digital.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2010

Those are not high dynamic range photos.

Those are photos that are "blow out" in the high range with the blacks pushed in the low range.

There are also a TON of "make it look like film" plugins for photoshop - there's even one for the iphone.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:20 PM on June 18, 2010

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