Photography 101: The Role of Color in Photography

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

What is the role of color in photography? It’s certainly open to personal artistic interpretation. I recently came across this YouTube video by a photographer I respect and follow. I think it’s a timely subject given the post-editing solutions we have today: Lightroom, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. I love classic black & white photography but I also love color photography when it’s done well. Unfortunately, many folks go bonkers with the saturation slider in post and destroy what is otherwise a beautiful image.

My goal is to present natural but vibrant colors when possible. I think my images tend to reflect that style for the most part. When color creeps into the unnatural (did you see what I did there?) it becomes garish (ugly) and what I call crunchy. I define crunchy as: too much sharpening, too much contrast and too much color saturation. It just makes the viewer uncomfortable like crunchy clothes (stiff, starchy and irritating). A bit of crunch can be okay, it can lend an image some crisp & punchy wow or pop factor. But too much, like anything else overdone, is just too damn much. Like pornography: you will know it when you see it (eroticism versus pornography).

Helpful Hint: When you process an image using your software of choice think about this formula—move any slider (contrast, saturation, sharpening, clarity, vibrance or any other slider) to the point where the adjustment just reaches the unnatural point and then back it off by 2/3s. As an example, using the color saturation slider, move it to where the colors first become obviously unnatural (lets say +30) and then back it off by 2/3s (-20). That leaves you with a final adjustment of +10. It’s amazing how well this works for almost any processing adjustment (at least it gets you into the ballpark and you can tweak it from there). Also, step away from the image for a while and then revisit it—you can easily become desensitized to adjustments in post—like any addiction, you find yourself continually increasing the dose for the same high.

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3 responses to “Photography 101: The Role of Color in Photography

  1. These are wonderful examples Dennestedt but my favorite is still The Door. I have either given as framed gifts or used as along with gifts, the cards of this shot that I purchased from your site. I’d like to say here that aside from being an image I adore, those cards were very well made. ~~dru~~

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