Muted Colors: the perfect desaturation technique for Adobe Camera Raw

Muted Colors: the perfect desaturation technique for Adobe Camera Raw

Find out how to make ‘on trend’ portraits with muted colors. In our latest photo editing tutorial we show you how to use Adobe Camera Raw to get creative with desaturation to make portraits with a touch of class.

Muted Colors: the perfect desaturation technique for Adobe Camera Raw

Anyone who travelled to far-flung places over the summer will have come home with lots of colorful travel photos. Now the evenings are drawing in, it’s the perfect time to get creative.

Photoshop makes it very easy to increase colors and make your images ‘pop’, but it’s a look that has become passé through overuse. So why not go the other way instead and see what muted colors can add?

A muted color palette with carefully enhanced tones can lend your images a contemporary look that feels both fresh and retro.

Our original shot

Our original shot

Increasingly photographers are choosing to make the majority of their tonal edits using Adobe Camera Raw. In fact, to get the look we’re after here we’ll work exclusively in Adobe Camera Raw, without even opening the file in the main Photoshop interface.

Adobe’s powerful raw plug-in is the easiest and most intuitive place to begin editing your raw format files. It has several tools for making selective adjustments to different areas of your image, and every change you make is reversible.

It’s this control over every part of the process that makes Adobe Camera Raw (and the near-identical Develop Module in Photoshop Lightroom) such a useful image editor. The more you use it the more you’ll realise that opening files into the main Photoshop interface is often unnecessary.

Here, we’ll show you how to use Adobe Camera Raw to get creative with color saturation, selectively altering tones for understated beauty in your portrait photography.

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw, steps 1-9

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 1

01 Open in Adobe Camera Raw
Open Adobe Bridge and click on your start image. Right-click the file and go to Open in Camera Raw to open the file into the Adobe Camera Raw interface. You don’t need to have Photoshop open. This works with JPEGs and TIFFs, as well as raw files.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 2

02 Camera calibration
Click on the Camera Profile panel, then go to the Camera Profile drop-down and choose Camera Neutral. Move on to the colour sliders: set Shadows to -12, Red Primary Hue to +21, Saturation to -15, Green Primary Hue to +60 and Blue Primary Hue to -20.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 3

03 Back to Basics
Click the Basic panel icon, then use the sliders to adjust the tones. Set Temperature to 4950, Exposure to +0.45, Highlights to -30 and Shadows to +15. Hold down Alt while dragging Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites or Blacks to check for clipped pixels.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 4

04 Tweak colour saturation
Move to the Vibrance and Saturation sliders at the bottom of the Basic panel. First drag Saturation back to about -17 to dull down the overall colour saturation. Next drag Vibrance up to about +35 to make some of the muted colours slightly more intense.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 5

05 Boost the contrast
Click the Tone Curve Panel icon, then select the Point tab. Make a subtle ‘S’ shape to increase the contrast: click halfway up the line, drag up to lighten the midtones and highlights, then click and drag a second point in the lower left to darken the shadow tones.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 6

06 Lower red saturation
Grab the Targeted Adjustment tool from the toolbar at the top of the interface, then right-click within the image and choose Saturation. Click and drag down on the red sign to target and lower the saturation of the reds. Stop when the Reds slider gets to about -22.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 7

07 Drop the blues
Use the Targeted Adjustment tool to reduce the Blues and Aquas. Click and drag down over the shirt to lower the blues to about -61 and Aquas to about -17. Click on the Hue tab in the HSL Greyscale panel and set Greens to +43 and Aquas to +43.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 8

08 Paint over the skin
Grab the Adjustment Brush, then click on the girl’s skin to set a pin. In the settings on the right, check Show Mask, then paint over the rest of the skin. You can set a conspicuous mask colour such as the green here by clicking the colour box next to Show Mask.

 

How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw: step 9

09 Lighten the skin
When you’re happy with your painted mask, uncheck Show Mask, then use the sliders to change the tones in the painted area. Set Shadows to +16, Clarity to -10 and Saturation to -15, then double-click all the other sliders to reset them to their defaults.

PAGE 1: How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw, steps 1-9
PAGE 2: How to achieve creative, muted colors in Adobe Camera Raw, steps 10-18

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