Not surprisingly, this has led to an interest in photographers about how to achieve similar effects in their post processing workflow. In fact, more often than not I've noticed on the Flickr Photoshop Support Group questions pertaining to color toning/grading (especially prevalent are questions like "How do I do this?"). There are many ways to approach image color toning, and starting with something simple might help get people started.
In this post I want to talk about muting colors in an image. Below you'll find three different approaches to muting the colors in an image...
I will provide a tutorial for using each of these different methods. The one you use is highly dependent on your subjective interpretations of what you want your final image to look like (and in some cases you may use more than one, and blend the result).
Desaturated Layer MethodThis is the most straightforward and easiest method for desaturating the colors in your images. It basically consists of duplicating your layer, desaturating it (Colors → Desaturate), putting it above your full color layer, and changing the opacity of the desaturated layer to taste.
The step-by-step procedure is:
Create a duplicate layer of the color layer you want to mute.
Run Colors → Desaturate, and choose either Lightness, Luminosity, or Average (it's a personal preference - more detailed info can be found here).
Adjust the opacity of the desaturated layer to taste.
Layer Blend Modes MethodFrom Muted color effect, if you like that kind of stuff thread at the Photoshop Support Group on Flickr the user Tennessee_Gator describes an interesting method of muting colors using solid fill layers with masks applied to them. I had to do a little translation from the Photoshop-centric instructions, but I think I was finally able to replicate the same effect in GIMP.
The basic idea is to use a luminosity copy of the color image, and to set two layers of this luminosity over your color image. One of the layers will be on a Multiply blending mode, and the other will be on Screen.
Create a duplicate of your color layer, and run Colors → Desaturate on it, using Luminosity.
Change the blending mode of this layer to Multiply.
Duplicate this Multiply layer, and change the new layer blending mode to Screen.
Color Curves MethodThis method was mentioned in the discussion page linked to above as another possible approach (and allows for some more flexibility in tweaking the final results directly).
Duplicate your color layer, and set the blending mode of the new layer to Color.
Run Color → Curves...
Tweak an Inverted S-curve on the Value channel to taste.
Duplicate this layer, and set its blending mode to Value.
Run Color → Curves... again on this Value layer.
Modify the curve (slightly!) to a regular S-curve to adjust the contrast to taste.
Easy Cheating Method (via my script)If you've stuck with me this long (and you're a champ for reading all of this!), then I have one last little treat. I recently learned some quick script-fu to describe this to others on the GIMP users forum on Flickr - and it was just easier to go ahead and write a script to do the effect.
The script is called Muted Colors, and you can download it from the GIMP registry here.
You can choose any of the methods I've described above, with the exception of using curves. Hopefully some people find this helpful!