Freedom From Accuracy

Alan Thornhill in afternoon sunlight, supplemented by a deep red gelled stage light. It took quite a bit of post-processing to get this to look "natural."

No, the title does not mean that I’m running for office. This week I’ll offer a few posts about my experience photographing the Ojai Storytelling Festival.

Let us begin with an observation from my time as a marketing executive with Kinko’s. When Canon and Xerox introduced color copiers, their approaches reminded me of the competition between Fuji and Kodak years earlier.  It seemed to me that the American companies, Kodak and Xerox, devoted resources to the creation of accurate colors, while the Japanese companies, Fuji and Canon, focused on the delivery of pleasing colors. Fuji and Canon won in the marketplace.

When color photography was expensive, I shot in black and white and did not worry too much about accuracy. I simply tried to capture moments and moods. But with the advent of digital photography, I found myself constantly struggling to produce accurate colors. The situation only got worse when I started shooting under theater lights.

But as I worked on the pictures shown in this post, frustration led to liberation. I thought about Kodak, Xerox, Canon, and Fuji. And then I thought, what if I just seek pleasing colors, and what if the only person I try to please is myself? I think I ended up with some less boring images, and an interesting path to investigate.

I often convert images to black and white when I cannot deal with the stage light gels, but I didn't want to lose all the beautiful greenery behind Alan. So I experimented with decreasing the saturation while increasing the vibrancy. Saturation affects all of the colors, but vibrancy attempts to vary only non-skintone colors. As a result, I recovered some green without turning his face into a beet.

Feeling emboldened, I thought, "why attempt to set a correct white balance for a scene with multiple light sources?" Instead, I chose the white balance to tone the image, and then played around with the saturation and vibrancy sliders in Aperture.

Obviously, should I decide to dive back into Photoshop or deeper into Aperture, I’ll be able to “paint” images however I desire, although I doubt I’ll find the patience for that level of manipulation.  And, of course, many of my assignments require color that appears to be accurate. But playing with color is fun, and if photography is not fun, why should I do it at all?

I think it is fitting that I had this experience while photographing a musician. Allegedly, Miles Davis once counseled a guitar player that if he hit a wrong note, he should hit it again, but LOUDER. I suspect this will be my approach to color for some time to come.


Filed under Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Post Processing

2 responses to “Freedom From Accuracy

  1. Just a thought to help push the discussion forward…or derail it.

    No two monitors are alike and we all know that most aren’t calibrated anyway, so it’s impossible to know if your vision truly makes its way to the end user.

    See, technology IS making our lives easier.

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