Here’s something or nothing. Did you realise that we, as photographers, take images in additive (Red, Green, Blue or RGB) and print in subtractive (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black or CMYK, the K stands for Key) colours? Explains, partially, why we have printer profiles I suppose, but as the last session was about editing and the previous was about composition and we have talked about colour space before, which impacts on what we will be talking about here, it seems proper that we talk about colour in a little more depth.
It matters way beyond photography though. In a much quoted survey, “92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.
When asked to approximate the importance of color (sic) when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color (sic) accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products”.
Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004
“92% Believe color (sic) presents an image of impressive quality
90% Feel color (sic) can assist in attracting new customers
90% Believe customers remember presentations and documents better when color (sic) is used
83% Believe color (sic) makes them appear more successful
81% Think color (sic) gives them a competitive edge
76% Believe that the use of color (sic) makes their business appear larger to clients”
Source: Conducted by Xerox Corporation and International Communications Research from February 19, 2003 to March 7, 2003, margin of error of +/- 3.1%.
Colour perceptions and the way that colour works is vastly important, yet most photographers, even the ones who know about the colour wheel and might even know some colour theory, don’t always use it to the maximum advantage probably because we take the environment that we are capturing as outside of our control. Studio work excepted, where control is, can be, total. It will help us to be aware of why colour and shape attract us in the first place and a little understanding of colour theory, including the psychological and emotional effects of colour, can be made to go a long way.
Using colours effectively can have a big impact. we can use it to draw the eye, tell a story or change the mood. HDR often suffers from being what I call beige, that is the colours are muted and squashed together in spectrum which certainly gives them a look, but not necessarily a pleasant one. Shooting in RAW really helps here because if you desaturate to black and white and get a very grey image then it is telling you something. Altering the sliders for individual colours has an effect, even in black and white, and can help balance things more to your taste. Why RAW? Because RAW gives you more. More data to affect the final outcome. JPEG isn’t terminal here it is just limiting.
Whilst we are on the subject of sliders, saturation is more often than not the guilty party. Saturation is the intensity of a colour. Value, which is related is the brightness or darkness of a colour, gives you the same saturation but it effects the visibility of that colour on screen. Between them you can get a range of shades. Highly saturated colours are very shouty. A whole image made up of saturated colours can be overwhelming unless very skilfully applied.
The idea that certain colours complement each other is as old as the ideas of colour and art go and nature cottoned on the signal properties of colour long before humanity came along. What follows is a jaunt around the colour wheel from a solo trip to several in company. The simplest colour harmony is one where a single colour predominates. Monochrome. Best for single subjects and striking effects, How photographic in principle can you get? It can be a wash of sepia or a cyanotype, the striking light of the rising or setting sun, or a single colour like a red, a pink, a green a yellow or any other colour that works. The next circuit is one in the company of near neighbours, analogous harmonies. These are the colours that are adjacent to each other on the wheel, the ones either side of the primary colour we are looking at. It tends to create feelings of comfort in the viewer, no jarring opposites to clash with our senses. Any landscaper or natural photographer will tell you it is most often found in nature.
Things start to get a little bit more complicated with the triadic. Think of a clock with hour, minute and second hands permanently at a 120 degree separation, so pointing, for instance at 12 4 and 8 on the dial or 1,5 and 9, 2,6 and 10 etc. It can be quite difficult to pull off but it is very striking. The one we have all probably heard of is the complementary, opposite sides of the colour wheel through the full 360 degrees (well, logically 180 degrees as you have then covered everything in the full circle but that might be being picky). They really are the two colours that go best with each other but rarely, very rarely, do they work when in equal amounts. There needs to be an imbalance, probably in favour of the less strident of the two colours (green, if red and green, blue if yellow and blue for instance) because the other way round throws the whole scene out of balance because of where the eye is drawn.
So why leave it there, why not complicate it by using split complimentary colours? Well why not. Similar to the basic complimentary, what it does is split the range of one end of the opposites between two analogous colours, it’s an hour earlier than the triadic on our imaginary colour watch, so 12 is complimented by colours at 5 and 7 o’clock (red by blue and green for example) 1 by 6 and 8, 2 by 7 and 9. But, I know, that is not complicated enough for you, well, sir, madam, out the back and for very special customers only, we have the tetrad. Now this comes in two flavours. The rectangle and the square. Basically four corners arranged around the wheel or two sets of complimentary colours. Again the application should be in favour of the weaker colours or you will get a mess. And if that doesn’t produce something close enough to a dog’s dinner then you can try the adjacent tetrad, same principle but the complementaries are immediately next to each other on the wheel. Multi colour schemes are extremely difficult to control but might be found in the built environment. For those you have to trust your eye or make it the story of the image.
So, in your studio, light tent, bokeh creations or in the wild, but MOST particularly in post production, don’t over-do the saturation; use high contrast values to get the viewing eye’s attention; use colour harmonies (there others in addition to the ones we have looked at) to maximise impact.
One very good resource you want to look at if you want to take this forward is the remarkably informative and flexible Adobe colour (OK Color) wheel.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Portrait Evening: Photographing a couple of models with studio lights and backdrops.
Getting things straight for the competition rounds was the subject of our last meeting, covering Resizing (large file) images for Reflex Open Competitions, colour space and getting images printed and framing the results (there is more than one way). The club, being members of the WCPF, follows the template for competitions laid down by the PAGB. This standardises competition rules across member federations across the country.
As we have covered this before I will leave you with the links above, before moving on to an argument that we have touched on, but still bares closer scrutiny as it is fundamental to photography in general and to certain types of photography in particular. It is prompted by two events, one referred to in last week’s blog, that of Reuters announcing a shot-in-jpeg-only policy and an interview in the Guardian of Don McCullin published Friday (27 Nov 2015).
The issue is of the veracity of the photograph, how “true” is it? McCullin talks about the difference between digital and film and his issue is the ease of manipulation the digital allows in comparison to film. He is a man of the black and white, an aesthetic both elegant and brutal in its pairing down to form and shape and shade. His point about being left alone in the dark with his images on film I thought quite poignant, especially given the subject matter he is best known for. This flexibility is the same issue that Reuters have, if expressed from different perspectives, of producer and market broker, but the issue is of trust. Trust is a marketable quality, by which I mean it is a quality that buyers and consumers look for in an organisation. Reuters need to be confident that the photographs they are peddling are truthful representations.
The Art/Science Truth/Fiction debates have been with us since the beginning of the medium and it will go on as long as the medium persists, that is to say there will always be dissenters. That isn’t the thrust of this post, nor McCullin’s point, neither is the truth/fiction argument one that Reuters are trying to conclude – they never will because they cannot because the capacity to manipulate, i.e. post production, will always be there and the photographer’s choice of angles, setting, subject will necessarily be a selective truth concreted in the raw image data.
Trust not truth, then. It isn’t an either or, one does not exclude the other, and Reuters and McCullin, whilst making different points, are talking of the same or similar problem. Truth, in essence, is a statement of fact. Trust is an emotional response that dictates the truth for each of the people involved in an interaction. That means multiple and often conflicting truths. That which is true and that which we believe to be true. Reuters want and need their clients to believe in the integrity of the photographs and in McCullin’s field, photojournalism, that is an absolute. It is one that has been fraught from the off, Roger Fenton‘s photograph of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as it has come to be known after Tennyson’s famous poem on the Charge of the Light Brigade, is thought to have been staged for the emotional feel rather than battlefield veracity. In 1854 any real-time action photograph would have been pretty impossible due to exposure times. Not so 1938 and the fallen Spanish soldier we talked of (Robert Capra) back in September; lack of veracity got Brian Walski fired from the LA Times and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror.
All these were “War” photographs, I use the inverted commas because, whereas they are indeed photographs of war and its collateral damages, war is just the situation they were taken in, moments of humanity glimpsed through the blink of a shutter in a situation stripped of it. What has that to do with club photography? I mean, the club “battles” I have been at haven’t really got beyond the “Canons to the left of them Nikons to the right” level of drama, though all the judges we have had have had stories of metaphorical battle scars from less than impressed entrants and manipulations are deliberate and for effect. Well McCullin also touched on this in the Guardian interview, not camera clubs, you understand, when he talked about the colour reproduction and how it has, in some cases, become garish, certainly unreal. Landscapes, his preferred subject do seem to be going this way. There is one in a current photographic publication, held up as a tour de force to be, I assume, emulated and inspirational. It popped straight back into mind when I read McCullin’s comment: “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box”. That is a matter of taste, though.
All this could be the influence of the Art World, of which there are many and not always complimentary opinions (in both directions), and comes back to the Art/Science and Mere Mechanics debate, at least in part. The fact is that fashion is an important driving force in setting trends. Changes in technology have democratised photography, and has greatly enabled what the average citizen can do. It doesn’t mean that the average citizen is any better a photographer or producer of images, but the potential is there. How much, then, should the producer of an image be able to say they created to make it theirs? The internet has made a vast and perpetually growing well of images available to an web connected individual. Social media makes sharing very easy. Sometimes people’s idea of sharing goes a little too far. What we enter into competitions we assert that the work we enter is our own. Local photographic clubs don’t often make national newspapers but one did over the summer and the whole club was thrown out of the PAGB competition over the claims of one member to the intellectual property rights of his entry. Trust, plays a part even at the micro level we operate within our clubs. Which is where we came in ….
N E X T M E E T I N G
Skies and how to improve them ….
Colour space and gamut. Sounds like a poor man’s crime fighting duo, but as Rich Price showed us it is a surprisingly powerful way to subtly (or not so) expand the presentation of colour in an image. Concentrating on derivatives of RGB, Red, Green, Blue, from which all other colours can be made and moving towards white, there are a number of different models – the basic physics of how we end up seeing the rendering – all existing to do the same job: Turn 1’s and 0’s into recognisable colours on screen or in print ( the model is the printer’s map, the image the contour lines). CMYK mixes cyan, magenta, yellow and black (the K stands for Key ), on the page and is popular with magazines and similar publications, and works by subtracting light from white as the start point. Then things start to get complicated with other models, such as CIELAB and CIE XYZ that approximate human vision in constructing colours and are used converting RGB images to CMYK. In itself all fascinating but not something that we need particularly concern ourselves with in depth. It gets very technical but is interesting.
So much for the models but we were concentrating on the work spaces. There are a number of them: sRGB – the most common found in display screens and cameras, PhotoRGB, the aforementioned CIELAB and Adobe RGB are a few. Rich concentrated on sRGB, and Adobe with a brief excursion through ProPhoto which Adobe use between LightroomTM and PhotoshopTM. Prophoto has a very large gamut, in fact 15% of it cannot be seen with the human eye. More is not always better, as with everything else, more is only useful when you have a need for it. If your image is looking muddy it is far, far more likely that you are viewing the narrower sRGB profile in an image that was modelled in the more defined Adobe RBG than the straight forward “fault” of the more limited spectrum. Most people cannot tell the difference most of the time. The gamut of any two profiles will have colours in common but when comparing sRGB and Adobe RBG the number of shades that can be represented between two points of saturation. What the smaller gamut will produce is an approximation of the colour defined in the larger one and necessarily, it will be different. The basis is in the degree of colour gradation that can be shown, that is the number of steps (shades) you can produce in the transition between two (complimentary) colours on the colour wheel. Just for the record the “small” sRGB colour space has 16,777,216 (256 for each of the RGB channels) colours in it.
The most likely time you will see the difference is when you print a digital image. Printer manufacturers have their own profiles and these are usually pretty easy to get hold of – unlike the Linux version of Adobe which seems to have disappeared from their website. These can then be loaded into your editor, the internet will show you how for your programme if you don’t know. Paper manufacturers also have different profiles for their papers and the respective manufacturers web sites are the best places to start with this. What this means is that if you are sending off your treasured image to be printed then you get a heads up on what the final thing will look like through your editing programme. It can change quite a bit, for example, an early morning mist shot I took yesterday, an almost golden light, when reviewed via a Fuji printer ICC profile downloaded from the print shop, showed some of the shadows moving from an almost dark chocolate to cyan – the valley opposite had oxidised! It also saves you time and money when printing at home, and quality inkjet ink is not cheap and cheap inkjet ink can quite often look it, especially on a quality photo paper.
Rich, when he started his presentation, stated that there is an important factor to be taken into consideration when we are talking about colour space, which can easily be overlooked and comes to us from the familiar colour wheel. Colour space is three dimensional, whereas the colour wheel as most of us remember it is two dimensional. The three dimensions are hue, saturation and lightness aka HSL aka HSV (v – value) and they form the backbone of all image editing software. What we are doing when we edit is navigating our way around this space, forwards, backwards, side to side and up and down and in a combination of these three. That gives us a clue that there are work flow questions to be answered here. Work flow in itself is a whole separate blog and we will return to that sometime in the future, but essentially it is all the production, administration and physical actions it takes to complete a process. There are many different forms of workflow, probably as many as there are photographers practising, but, when it comes to colour space there are some basics worth heeding – not least the effect your monitor is having on the images you are viewing and the accuracy and compatibility of colours when your image meets other devices. The club has a device for calibrating monitors which is available to borrow to club members. Ask about it at a meeting if you want to know more.
The second half of the meeting was a practical and members were busily engaged in the delights of LightroomTM and PhotoshopTM and there were more than a few “Aha!” moments. So, our thanks to Rich for his time and energy in putting this together. Next meeting is our own Adrian Cooke who will be talking us through a selection of his images.
Next meeting is also the deadline for Deadline for “Dear Reflex…” questions “Dear Reflex…” is a question and answer session where club members can ask any photography-related questions of the club. These will later be presented to members who will have the opportunity to volunteer to answer them, and given time to present their answer.
See you Thursday!