Achieve the Masashi Wakui look


First post here, hope not to bore you guys. I’m quite a fan od darktable and do my postprocessing with it since a couple of years. Some tricks I know, some not yet; that’s why I am posting today.

I’m a big fan of Masashi Wakui, his pictures of night in Japanese cities are quite pleasing. There is something about the colors that I would love to emulate. So I went out and captured a similar cityscape at night and tried to edit it similarly. I came across How to Achieve the Masashi Wakui Look, which is a Lightroom tutorial on how to emulate his style.

Unfortunately, the tone curve tool in darktable does not work well at raising the blacks (for this I can easily use the exposure tool), and also it doesn’t do RGB. I tried the channel mixer on green and blue but it’s not helping much. My best bet so far was to abuse color correction and move the highlight picker north-north-east and the shadow picker south-south-west, which comes close but it’s still missing something.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to recreate Masashi Wakui’s style using darktable!



I have some ideas about this, but won’t be able to try them until early next week. (I just didn’t want you to think nobody was reading your post!). I’ll come back with some things to try soon.

It seems he has a strong vignette, tints shadows a blue/green and makes sure highlights are warm.
I had a play in GIMP with the RGB recipe given and it seems plausible - my attempt on the gamma and mid-tones was very rough though.
Since DarkTable works in LAB it seems you need to use / abuse : ) their colour correction tools … see Color balance - the curve is pretty much a 30% adjustment to gamma and reduced gain on Greens and Blues isn’t it?
Given the mid-tone colour balance is very sensitive to how these changes mix - you’d need to customise it for your image. Do you have an example?

@patdavid Looking forward to your ideas! I’ve seen your tutorials and have always been very impressed by your postprocessing :slightly_smiling:

Yes, I specifically went out later to capture the scene I was envisioning with less noise.

The original out of the camera JPEG looks like this:

After editing it a bit w/ color correction, vignetting and cropping I got it here, but I feel there is something missing:

Abusing color balance as @jayprich suggested netted me

which I feel is missing the bluish color of the shadows.

I als tried Gimping with the RGB values (why didn’t I think of it myself?)

I might be something wrong, because it doesn’t really look like what I was going for.

I can also supply a RAW file, if there is interest in it.

To me this Masashi “style” looks like a non-style because most of his photos are different, and the only thing in common is the Instagram effect of raised black point and heavy color toning though these also vary. I would imagine for something to be called a style it would need to be consistent.

Easy to reproduce in RawTherapee using the RGB curves and Color Toning.
Another option is for you to reproduce the effect in absolutely any program, e.g. download a demo version of the software Masashi is using to get an identical result, and apply this result to a HaldCLUT image, then you can reproduce the effect in RawTherapee or any HaldCLUT-capable program with a single click. See Film Simulation - RawPedia

I think the most important factor is not reproducing his treatment, which obviously varies from photo to photo, but actually having his subject material - Japanese architecture, dazzling colorful signs, glowing narrow street with paper lamps, etc. Applying the same treatment to a cold Dutch or German city shot with a horrid right-angled “APOTHEKE” sign just doesn’t cut it.

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Looks like a lot of that can be achieved using RGB curves :slightly_smiling:

But there is other things at play too, some kind of ‘bloom’/soften effect on quite a few images:

Vignettes are used quite often too.

A lot of things really. :slightly_smiling:

Those might help you:

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Great - thanks for the example - RGB Levels applied in GIMP . From sRGB 0-255 space I took your “Black” as being 11 8 0 and mapped that to 12 36 22 and your “White” as 150 140 120 to 255 235 185. R adj-gamma 0.7 G 0.65 B 0.8 … I probably need lower to get overall dark moody look - hard bit is to balance mid-tones as I am R/G colour-blind and my monitor is a cheap laptop!

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Hello, not sure what you want to achieve exactly, as I don’t see a clear and consistent style. What sometimes helps is to make a screenshot of the photo you’re after (colors, atmosphere) and then use G’MIC’s Color transfer in GIMP (to be found under Filters - G’MIC - tab Colors).

So open your photo in GIMP, then say File - Open as Layers, choose the screenshot you made, be sure it is the bottom layer, open the G’MIC filter, set Input layers to all and hit OK.

First the screenshot (photo Masashi Wakui), then the result with your photo.

Another attempt using Darktable:


@houz do you know if there is a particular reason that darktable does not have RGB curves?

Indeed! I played around tutorial and it was so much fun grading everything in orange/teal :smile: In all seriousness, with some playing around I got surprisingly nice results.

Could you explain how you got those values?

Edit: Here’s the RAW file (16 MB).

Ok, I had a few minutes to take a quick look and thought I’d share my first impressions.

When I look at color tones that I like, I often focus on a couple of specific regions first. I find that it often gets me quite far along the way, particularly with these types of images. So, looking at the same one others have posted:


The first place I’ll usually look is the shadows (and deep shadows). I’m usually looking for areas in the image that I would expect to be black or near–black.
For instance, have a look at the sky in the sample image. I would expect the color to be black(ish) normally.


If I look at the histogram of the image, I can see this:

Which shows me a hard cutoff around 20 on the blackest tones. This is a common technique for those looking to add an “analog film” feel to their images - faded (lifted) blacks.

  • Lifted Blacks - raising the output levels to abruptly cutoff the tones earlier than full black.
  • Crushed Blacks - increasing the black levels and destroying detail in dark areas.

Sometimes, people will use a combination of these two things in an attempt to emulate what they think analog results should look like. To show an example on your test image (done in GIMP):

These black tones have been crushed by pulling the black point darker (and putting an anchor point in the curve to minimize shifts in midtones and above):

These black tones have been lifted to decrease contrast and remove true black from the image:

When done together, the details are killed and the results lifted all at once:

It appears from the histogram of Masashi’s image that he has at least lifted the darkest tones. There are still some details in those tones - so he may not have crushed them first.

Takeaway: lower contrast in darkest tones, lift their values from black to a dark grey.



The color toning isn’t too much trouble to get close to. First let’s see what might be going on. I took a look at the sky in the upper part of the image where I would expect it to mostly be either black or really dark (it’s been lifted, but the I’m more concerned about the color shift away from black):

My sample points in GIMP show some interesting color shifts in what is supposed to be really dark/black tones:

Reds are ~10
Greens are ~35
Blues are ~40

If we assume the sky was likely a neutral dark color, then the differences in the RGB channels give us our dark color toning (blue/green heavy). Greens and blues raised approx 25-30 above red.


Looking around I checked a couple of places that were lighter (to lightest) in the image. They showed a consistent lack of blue in the places I checked (the bright signs, inside the shop, a wall). I assumed these areas should have been white, but could be wrong - so check multiple places if possible.

This time, the blues are significantly suppressed in these tones by 80-100 vs. red and green.

Teal and Orange

Which means we are quite close to a classic Teal and Orange color grading that might be abused in cinema movies. There’s maybe a bit more green-ish hues prominent in the shadows, and the highlights might trend towards slightly yellow-ish, but overall the idea is the same.

Grading in darktable

There’s a couple of different ways to approach this in darktable off the top of my head*.
(*disclaimer: I am no darktable expert - so please heed those who know way more than me).

Split Toning

There’s actually a split toning module that you can use to directly modify the shadow/highlight toning and achieve similar colors:

You’ll basically have separate controls for shadows vs. hightlights, and can adjust hue/sat for each. Balance let’s you shift the middle point between them, and compress controls the amount. You can, of course, further dial it in by using masks.

You’ll still need to lift the blacks in a separate module. The easiest to do is probably the tone curve module, as you can adjust the L channel similar to how you would value in an RGB curve editor (we’re coming back to this shortly). Make sure the scale chroma option on the tone curve module is set to manual, or dt will try to scale the chroma for you automatically.

If you simply want to lift the blacks, you can pull the black point up on the L curve:

If you also wanted to crush the blacks, you can put a small curve near the bottom as an anchor to bring the other tones back to normal-ish (you should see a loss of details in the dark tones):

Color Correction

The color correction module also let’s you adjust these tones very quickly (and intuitively - man I love those dt guys sometimes). In this case, you can specify a light and dark point by clicking and dragging - here I pulled the lights to yellow/orange, and the darks to blue/green/teal:

What’s neat about this module is that the mousewheel will adjust the saturation for you, which is a nice way to slightly desaturate the image at the same time.
You’ll need to lift the blacks using curves again.

Color Balance

There’s also a Lift-Gamma-Gain color balance adjustment (whee!). I like this because it is the same approach a cinema color grader may use. At least the terminology is similar. :slightly_smiling:

In this case, the lift controls the shadow/dark tones, gamma the mid-tones, and gain the bright tones (roughly). Knowing that you can fiddle with the color balance of these regions (along with their factor). Here’s a quick try:

You will still need to lift the blacks with tone curves.


I was going to continue talking about using Lab curves as well to do this, but honestly, these methods are already awfully powerful at achieving the same base color toning you’re looking for. I’d start with these first.

In the end, here’s about a 10 minute try by me fiddling with color balance + tone curve (to lift blacks):

We can probably do a bunch more with a proper raw file. It feels like there might be some tonemapping going on in his image, but not 100% sure. There’s also some saturation bumping that’s happening I think (or Japan is just a really color-saturated country?). (I see you posted a raw file while I was writing this… I’ll grab it and give it another go).

Here’s my dtstyle from the above fiddling:
Leonidas-test.dtstyle (909 Bytes)


I had to play with the raw too :slightly_smiling:

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The numbers I chose like patdavid taking a target sample image and looking for clues in the RGB levels … but also looking at your original which seems to have a lot of dynamic in it, so I cut your highlights a lot to give headroom and make the channel gamma adjust more relevant (it moves mid tone keeping black black and white white). Unfortunately I probably left it too bright overall and could have gone further on gamma.

Because no one knowing how to write code needed them I guess. There is also the problem that we have no RGB working space. For colorbalance (that @patdavid used) we use linear sRGB internally but that’s not ideal. There are rough ideas to add a RGB part to the pipe(*) where such modules could live. But nothing was decided yet.

(*) there is already RGB in the last few modules after colorout, but we would like to bring as many of those to Lab as possible – or to the aforementioned proper RGB part of the pipe. The problem with the current design is that those RGB modules work in whatever RGB profile was selected in colorout when exporting images, or in your display profile. Or in softproofing profile. I guess you see the problem …

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Wow, @patdavid, your post is fantastic, thank you so much! :+1: I came here to figure out how to edit a picture but instead got a far better understanding about postprocessing colours. Thank you all! (And looking forward if anyone wants to mess with the RAW). While at it, I have some more questions to deepen my understanding:

I’m wondering, isn’t this also possible with the exposure module with the blacks slider or does that do something else? I believe I could do crushing and lifting by just copying the module and lift and rise the blacks in each. But I can’t really specify an order in which the modules will get applied. I would imagine it only makes sense to crush first and lift afterwards, as the reverse operation wouldn’t do much to the image.

Do I understand correctly that split toning acts like the color curve on your “Basic Color Curves” tutorial, but only acting on the extremes of the curve (dark and light tones) but with the advantage of selecting the destination tone directly without having to construct the desired tone using the colour wheel and RGB mixing? If so, this approach sounds far more convenient at the cost of sacrificing control over midtones.

The color balance module sounds very much like the split toning module with additional control over midtones. What are the usual usecases where I would use one over the other?

@Jonas_Wagner Good idea with bloom! I found it a bit tricky to make it not overpower everything, so I dialled it down to the lowest values and then dialled down the opacity which makes it kinda bearable, but I’m not quite sold on this module :slightly_smiling:

[quote=“Leonidas, post:15, topic:634”]
I’m not quite sold on this module :slightly_smiling:
[/quote]I guess you are talking about the darktable module. I don’t like that one either.
But you can get that effect in other ways too for instance using the equalizer or soften.
This is a preset I use from time to time:

@houz thanks for the answer. :slightly_smiling:

I feel like you should be able to do this, but I normally wouldn’t personally approach it this way. Not when there’s tools tailored/better suited to the job. :slight_smile:

Yes, it does. At least for that particular example (RGB curves still give you way more control in the end). It’s worth playing with to get a feel for how it will react.

Color balance vs. split toning? I’d say that the color balance module gives you more control over not just colors but levels in those regions. Someone coming from davinci resolve or some other video colorist software will probably get up to speed quicker with color balance.

In darktable that wouldn’t work as we try hard to not clip any data. So the 2nd instance would just bring the original data back. Unless you use the blend mode normal bounded in the first module.

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Why is the Lab curve the better solution?

Sorry, I meant the color balance or split-toning modules were better suited tools for the overall effect you’re looking for I think. Though, the LAB curves can certainly be used here as well - they’re just not as intuitive at first pass (and I’m not sure if LAB curves could really be called ‘better’, so I’m sorry if I gave that impression).

On the other hand, LAB curves are really neat to fiddle with… :slight_smile: