Create an urban desaturated look in Photoshop with only two layers! You’ll learn how to selectively desaturate colors and manipulate the tones. This effect looks great in nighttime cityscapes and you can complete it in a few minutes.

Step 1

Open a photo into Photoshop. This effect is ideal for nighttime cityscapes. Here is the image that I’ll be using.

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. You can do this by clicking on the button in the Adjustments panel (Window > Adjustments) or by going to File > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.

Step 3

The Hue/Saturation adjustment lets you shift the hue, saturation, and lightness. We’ll be using this tool to desaturate all colors except for reds and yellows. In the Properties panel (Window > Properties), click on the dropdown menu and select the Greens.
Set the saturation to -100.

Step 4

Repeat the previous step for the cyan, blues, and magentas. Your photo should have a desaturated effect like the image below.

Step 5

Now let’s adjust the lightness. If your photo is like ours with deep blue skies, you can switch to the blue channel and lower the lightness. This will give your photo a more contrasty look.

Step 6

Finally, we’ll tweak the colors of the light trails. Switch to the red or yellow channel and adjust the settings to get your desired effect. For my photo, I adjusted the reds to make them more orange:
  • Hue: +21
  • Saturation: +61
  • Lightness: -18

Step 7

Now let’s adjust the tones. Add a Curves adjustment layer. You can find this in the Adjustments panel (Window > Adjustments) or by going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves.

Step 8

In the Properties panel (Window > Properties), you’ll see a graph. Drag the lower-left point towards the middle. This will do two things:
  1. Lift the shadows to make the blacks gray.
  2. Crush the shadows to reduce details.
This simple adjustment reduces the detail in the dark areas to make the light trails pop.

Step 9

Now we’ll add contrast using the same adjustment.
  1. Click on the middle of the line to add a point.
  2. Add another point between the two and drag it down to create an s-curve.

Final Results

You’re done! Here’s how the photo looks like before and after. This is a quick and easy way to get a unique look. Want to do this in Lightroom? Check out the Urban Desaturated Lightroom tutorial.

2 thoughts on “How to Create an Urban Desaturated Effect in Photoshop”

    1. Denny Tang

      No it’s just a white interface for Photoshop. You can change it by going to Edit > Preferences > Interface.

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