Urban jungles from New York to Chicago to London are known for their iconic, gray skyscrapers as well as for their colorful buses and taxis. The gritty concrete buildings juxtaposed against the bright yellow or red vehicles make for great photo opportunities. But sometimes that contrast doesn’t show up on camera as strongly as it does in person.
Start by opening your image in Lightroom. This tutorial works best with a cityscape that doesn’t include much sky. We want the focus to be on the man made features of the city.
The first thing we’re going to do is adjust the general exposure. Start by bumping up your shadows. This will bring a lot more detail into the dark parts of the image and will flatten out the picture.
Now, to crank up the contrast, we’re going to bump the Black slider almost all the way down. By bumping up the shadows and bumping down the blacks, we’re making the darkest parts of the image even darker, but keeping the mid to dark tones more visible. You should already notice a big change in your image.
Next we’re going to blow out the highlights. Don’t worry if this erases the details out of the sky in your image. The idea is to increase the contrast as much as possible and bring the focus into the buildings and cars. Remember, you can continue tweaking these settings as you go along.
Then boost the contrast slider to bring down the midtones even more. You’ll notice that when you increase the contrast of the image, the saturation also increases, and at this point the colors should be really strong. For this tutorial, we want a look that’s desaturated almost completely, but with pops of red and yellow. In order to achieve this look, we’re going to go down to the HSL settings to selectively desaturate the picture.
Click on the saturation tab and decrease the Green, Blue, Aqua, Purple and Magenta tabs most of the way down. Then increase the Red, Yellow and Orange tabs. This is going to accentuate the gray, monotone hue of the buildings in the image, while boosting the contrasting colors of the buses, taxis or lights.
At this point, we’ve taken most of the blue hues out of the image so the buildings are probably looking a little yellow. To get the buildings back to a cooler tone, simply go back up to the general Color Balance and bump the temperature towards the blue side. Now you’ll really start to see that gritty urban look, while the warm tones are still vibrant.
Now you can go back into the Basic editing panel and start making small adjustments. Continue boosting the contrast by bringing down the overall exposure and blowing out the highlights . Enhance the gritty look even more by boosting the clarity.
Compare side by side before and after shots by hitting Y. You should see a huge difference in the two images.
If you want to save these settings to use on other images, scroll over the left side panel and click on the small plus sign across from the Presets tab. Keep all of the settings as they are, and rename the Preset to ‘Gritty Urban.’ Then click Create.
Now you can go into your library, select any image, and under the Presets menu you’ll find your newly created Preset. Click the preset and the settings will automatically change to match the first edited image.
The picture probably won’t look perfect because the preset was made to work specifically with the first image. But this is a great jumping off point for creating this same gritty look with any picture. In this example, I just had to pull up the Blacks slightly and bump down the Highlights, and I’ve already got a perfectly edited desaturated urban scene.
Use this technique the next time you’re editing pictures from your last trip to an urban jungle.