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The “Gritty City” Look

You see this look, and variations of it, all over Instagram every day. A combination of flattening the overall tones and adding “grit” to the image, along with a slight color tint, gives it its own “city” look. It takes a few sliders, and a simple Curves move, but it’s really easy. Well, it’s easy if you don’t mind moving a lot of sliders.

Step One:

Start in the Basic panel by clicking the Auto button just to get a reasonable starting place. Now, drag the Whites slider all the way to the left to –100, and then set the Blacks slider to +50. Next, we’re going to crank up the “grit” by adding some Clarity (here, I used +34, but depending on the image, you can go as high as +40 or +45). To get kind of a desaturated-skin look, drag the Vibrance slider to the left quite a bit (I dragged it to –40). Don’t go too far or you’ll wind up with a black-and-white image. You still want some color, but much less vibrant skin tones for the most part (like you see here). You can leave the other sliders where the Auto setting set them (well, for now anyway).

Step Two:

Next, go to the Tone Curve panel and make sure the Point Curve is visible (as seen here. Click on the circle with the white dot at the top of the panel if it’s not). We’re going to use this curve to give our image a “flat” look. So, click on the bottom-left control point and drag straight upward a bit (drag it right along that left side). Then, click in the center of the diagonal curve line and drag downward just a tiny bit to deepen the midtones. Now, click right in between those two control points to add another point, and then drag up a little. In short: make the curve look like the one you see here. If you mess up, just Right-click on a point, choose Delete Control Point, and start again.

Step Three:

Now let’s bring in a dash of color. Go to the Color Grading panel, click on the circle in the center of the Shadows color wheel, and then drag it downward and to the left toward blue. Next, go over to the Highlights color wheel, click in the center of that wheel, and then drag the circle a little way toward yellow. Just a little—don’t drag too far or you’ll get very saturated yellows in your highlights. Now, you see the slider beneath the Shadows color wheel? That controls the brightness (luminance) of the color you added to the shadows. In this case, drag that slider almost all the way to the left. Then, drag the luminance slider beneath the Highlights color wheel almost all the way to the right to brighten the highlights color. Lastly, near the bottom of the panel, drag the Blending slider way over to the right (here, I dragged it to 69). Depending on your photo, you might have to play with these color wheels a bit to get blues in your shadows and yellows in your highlights, so it might take a second to dial those in, but you know what you’re going for—a hint of added color, not a big crushing tint.

Step Four:

The final step in bringing the overall grit factor up (at least on this photo) is to go back to the Basic panel and (1) drag the Contrast slider way over to the right (I dragged it to +54), and then (2) drag the Highlights slider to the right, as well (to around zero), to create even more contrast. That’s a lot of slider moving, but you’re there. Now, save this as a preset (see page 218), so you can apply this gritty city look to other images.

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