We've all seen photos that are mostly reduced to black and white, apart from a usually one detail that remains in color.
This editing style has several different names: color splash (thanks to an eponymous mobile app), selective colorization, selective desaturation...
No matter how you call it, though, you should not do it!
Yes, this is going to be a rant. The tackiest effect in photo editing deserves that. Yeah, you've heard me — selective desaturation is bad. REALLY bad.
I know there are people out there who do not share this opinion. Beginner photographers create the first partially desaturated photos while practicing selections in Photoshop. If you shoot with your phone, selective coloring apps are lurking in every corner of the app store.
Just because you can do something that doesn't mean that you have to. That also applies to this notorious effect.
We live in a visual era so you can say that everything is overdone. Rustic tabletops? Endless white sheets on lifestyle accounts on Instagram? Photos of people pretending to hold the Leaning Tower of Pisa? A6 filter in VSCOCAM? I hear you; you're fed up.
But you know what? Selective desaturation will make your photos look even more uniform than that.
There's only so many ways you can combine greyscale with a random hyper-saturated color. Black and white girl with red lips? Groundbreaking. Black and white grass with yellow flowers? Revolutionary. A red flower in a bouquet of black and white flowers? How creative. You should do it all! THE WORLD NEEDS MORE!
What am I even supposed to look at?
NOTHING CAN HELP A BAD PHOTO... ESPECIALLY NOT THIS
We are all looking for a magic wand or a trick that will make our photos pop and leave everybody in awe. However, there's no such thing!
The tackiest effect in the world will not turn ordinary photos into masterpieces.
Color splash is IN YOUR FACE. You want that, and I get it. You want your photos to be striking — and it's OK, everybody does. Selective desaturation does make photos visually striking, but for all the wrong reasons.
NO, SELECTIVE DESATURATION IS NOT THAT FANCY
In case I haven't stressed that enough: this effect is tacky and cheap.
Not everything has to look like that poster you had on your wall while you were in primary school. Nor like a candy box from the communist-era Eastern Europe.
IF YOU NEED SELECTIVE COLOR TO MAKE SOMETHING STAND OUT, YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG
In other words, if you need to desaturate a significant part of your image to make your subject stand out, your photo is crap. Sorry.
Instead of perfecting the art of mutilating your photographs, do something else. Practice composition. Open your eyes to leading lines. Think about the message you want to convey with the photo. People will find your work interesting even without the (not so) special effects.
By using selective desaturation, you immediately tell people where to look. And you know what they say: if you have to explain it, it doesn't work ->.
Color splash fans seem to desaturate everything but a single color — that also happens to be really, really bright. But that color is usually so bright that it stands out no matter what!
Selective color looks like cheap print
I have seen more than enough of selective coloring in my day. In my home country of Serbia, the nineties brought an unforeseeable surge in the number of small offset printing companies.
Their clients rarely wanted to invest in full-color prints.
So, commercial printing was mainly done in black, combined with a single extra color. The second color was usually the dominant color of the client's logo.
That looked quite decent on letterheads and business cards. On photo calendars, though... well, let's just say it was unfortunate.
DESATURATING IS NOT THE PERFECT WAY TO MAKE A BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO
I hate to break it to you: you are not supposed just to desaturate a photo to make it black and white.
Once upon a time, people realized they could turn their photographs to grayscale by re-saving them with MS Paint.
That was the exact moment when black and white photography started losing its value.
Many beginners will turn their photos greyscale to make them artsier. Discarding the color is also a go-to solution for handling color noise. No color, no noise!
But, here's a big secret: just desaturating a photo makes it look flat. A good conversion to black and white involves tweaking local contrasts and deliberately assigning certain shades of gray to individual colors.
In the days of film, you could achieve this by using colored filters on lenses and fiddling in the darkroom. Today, you just need to open your image in Photoshop and pull up Image -> Adjustments -> Black and white.
How does this relate to color splash?
Well, if you just desaturate a part of your photograph, you've got a flat and dull image. Oh, but then you bring back one color to make a contrast. Because, of course, a burst of color will contrast with something flat and gray.
Doesn't that sound lazy?
There are other ways to tweak the saturation of your images
And you do that by... Tweaking saturation! Lightroom has separate sliders to control hue, saturation, and lightness of each separate color in an image.
So yes, you can slightly desaturate that annoying color in the background. And yes, you can make your subject pop without making your photo horrendous.
Photoshop gives you even more powerful tools. Don't you want to learn how they work?
But can YOU use it sometimes?
In theory, yes. But that's only in theory. Selective desaturation needs something other than the sheer possibility of doing it.
Remember Sin City? Well, that's where nobody complained about partial desaturation.
Have a good excuse, and you're fine.