Incubation XV

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Any image can support an unimaginable number of color variations. So how do you find them? Systematically make many variations. Will it take a great deal of time? It will take a little time but not a lot (maybe five or ten minutes) – and it will take less time and you’ll more thoroughly explore the possibilities if you do this systematically. You’ll find this exploration will be time very well spent. Illuminating more possibilities than you imagined will help you find more creative and personally fulfilling solutions for your images. You’ll deepen your understanding of and personal relationship with color thus your images and by extension yourself. Those who view your works will feel the difference. I can tell you from many years of personal experience that it has made all the difference in the world to me. It will do the same for you.

Before you begin …

Start With Your Strongest Image(s)

When you’re processing a number of related images it’s likely that you’ll find the solutions you choose for the strongest image in the set will apply to the others, with minor modifications. It’s rare to have images in a series with widely divergent color palettes.

Plan To Make Many Copies

Don’t try and remember all of these possibilities; there will be too many to remember.

Instead make copies that you can make side-by-side comparisons with. (In Lightroom make virtual copies. Alternately, in Photoshop duplicate files.) It will help if you organize these copies into Collections in Lightroom or organize them (possibly with folders) in Bridge/Photoshop.

Find The Big Picture, Sweat The Details Later

Ditch your perfectionist tendencies – for now. Worry more about the moves you’re making in color that the tools you’re using to make them with. Don’t get lost in the details, instead focus on the big picture. Avoid getting distracted by one exciting possibility.  Instead of rushing to finished results and committing to the most obvious solution too quickly, spend a few minutes exploring more possibilities hoping to find better solutions. More often than not, you will.

So what’s the best way to do this?

Proceed In This Order – Saturation, Luminosity, Hue

With only three elements of color, you wouldn’t think there could be so many possibilities, but the very things that generate them also make finding them manageable. You’ll quickly find the major moves that can be made if you make changes in these three elements in this order – saturation, luminosity, and hue.

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Original 

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Tints with less black

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Shades with more black

Either it’s because it’s old school (It’s one of the first tools introduced in Photoshop.) or because it’s subtle (And it’s wonderfully precise.) or because it’s misunderstood (Is this really an issue with CMYK?), Selective Color is one of the most overlooked color adjustment tools in Photoshop. But I consider it an essential tool.

Photoshop’s Selective Color image adjustment feature is great for two things.  First, it’s great for cleaning color casts selectively out of highlights, shadows, neutrals - or for adjusting specific ranges of colors with great precision. Second, it’s great for turning colors into pastels, either lighter or darker, which can soften a palette exquisitely.

Here are six reasons to use Selective Color.


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Instead of RGB, you can use Lab color mode to increase hue contrast in your images in powerful ways that no other color space offers.

How do you do it?

In Lab color mode use Curves to accentuate contrast by creating s or reverse s curves for the a and b but not the L channels without moving the midpoint.

It’s that simple. (Yes, I promise I’ll expand on this.)

However, when you use this technique there are many details that it pays to be aware of.

When To Use It

While this technique can be used on any image, it’s particularly useful when you are processing files that are predominantly one color – forest greens, oceanic blues, sandstone reds, etc. The resulting hue contrast gives these images more life by making subtle variations in hue more pronounced and more three dimensional by accentuating the differences in hue between highlights and shadows.

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Original
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Lab a and b channels adjusted

Comparing It To Similar Techniques

This technique is similar to split-toning or cross-toning images, introducing one color into the highlights and another into the shadows, except that the hues are the captured colors accentuated rather than colors that are arbitrarily added. (For this reason this technique won’t work with black-and-white images.)

This technique is similar to increasing saturation or vibrance, which also makes different hues more pronounced but sometimes intensifies them to the point of making them appear unnatural. By comparison the modest increase in saturation boosting hue contrast in Lab produces is surprisingly naturalistic – and you may choose to keep it or not.

To the untrained eye the differences between this technique and others may seem subtle but once you train your eye you’ll appreciate the color richness it offers; they can approximate but never equal it. It’s like comparing the sound qualities of low and high fidelity audio recordings. Lab offers hi-fi color.

What The Heck Is Lab Anyway ?


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Raw2 copy

What Is Color Temperature ?

Of the three elements of color (luminosity, hue, and saturation), hue is the one most closely associated with temperature.  This is a psychological temperature not a physical temperature. Most people associate red with fire or blood (warm things) and blue with sky, water, and ice (cool things), where physically a blue flame is hotter than a red flame. You can identify which hues are warmer and which are cooler by their proximity to the absolute poles of red (warm) and cyan (cool) on the color wheel. When comparing any two hues you can always ask, “Which one is warmer and which one is cooler?”. Even when comparing two variations of the same hue, very often one will be slightly warmer or cooler. Color temperature is part of what creates color variety, which is one spice of life, a very important one, especially when it comes to visual communication.

The Things You Can You Do With Temperature

Many photographers think of color temperature as something to "get right" during exposure but you can also use color temperature creatively in post-processing. You can produce many compelling color effects with color temperature. You can make distant close layers feel closer by warming them and distant layers more distant by cooling them. You can make object feel more three dimensional by warming highlights and cooling shadows. You can add a warm glow that simulates early morning or late evening light. You can  You can even make day look like night, by dramatically cooling it. And every one of these moves will change the emotional tone of an image. Temperature is a critical element for communicating with color.

Lightroom & Photoshop

There are many color adjustment tools in Lightroom and Photoshop that adjust hue. Having used them all since the day they were released (or before) I regularly use four and consider them go to tools worth mastering.


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Constellation_XIX_425

Achieving neutrality in your images is so important. Few things are as important. Why?

Here are 4 reasons.

1 - The color in your images will appear more believable.

Casts make colors seem false. This is true for memory colors like fire engine red, sky blue, and grass green, particularly true for flesh tones (Are you feeling a little bit green today?), but nowhere more true than with neutrals. There can be some debate about which blue is sky blue. On which day? At what time? But there’s very little debate about what gray is truly neutral. Sure those neutral grays can vary in brightness but not hue or saturation. Make the neutrals in your images truly neutral and you’ll make the other colors in your images more believable.

2 – The colors in your images will look more saturated.

When you remove color casts you can see the colors beneath them more clearly. The color beneath appears purer. This effect won’t be as strong as if you had increased their saturation. It will be subtler but more convincing. Oversaturated colors often appear false and you’ll have to work the saturation of your colors twice as hard if they contain color casts. Clean color is a great foundation to add saturation to. You can get the best of both worlds.

3 - Your images will appear more three-dimensional.

Without casts, the colors in your images will have more contrast.

They’ll have more luminosity contrast. When they’re not unified by a color cast, luminosity or brightness values will become more distinct.

They’ll have more hue contrast. Often shadows will appear cooler while highlights appear warmer, making them appear even more different than they already are.

They’ll have more saturation contrast. When neutrals are neutral you’ll get maximum contrast between them and the more saturated colors in your image.

Add these three kinds of color contrast together and you’ll see a dramatic difference in your images. The illusions of three-dimensional depth and volume in our two-dimensional images will be significantly amplified.

Once again, these effects will be powerfully felt but not obvious. Clean colors won’t call attention to themselves because they seem natural, unlike imbalanced images that you’ll need to over-process to get similar effects.

4 – You’ll have the best color foundations to make black and white conversions from.

It sounds strange when you first hear it but color matters even when you’re going to remove it. The maximum hue and saturation separation created by achieving neutrality gives you more control about how dark or light to make hues during conversions to black and white.

5 – You’ll know color management is working.

Neutrals are one of the first things to look for when you’re checking your color management for printing, whether it’s evaluating a viewing light, examining a profile, a rendering intent, or a media setting. You not only look for neutral midtones but also neutrals throughout the entire tonal scale (gray balance). If you’ve achieved both your color management is working correctly. If not, check your system.

I’m sure you’ll find a few more reasons why neutrality in your images is so important.

Achieving neutrality in your images isn’t something you do for all of your images. There are many exceptions. Nevertheless, being able to achieve neutrality in your images a critically important skill. When you know how and why to achieve neutrality all of your color choices become more sensitive, deliberate, and meaningful.

Read more on Color Adjustment here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

 


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Antarctica XLII

There are many ways to achieve neutrality in your images. The results they offer are not same. You need to know the differences so you can make better choices and get solutions that are right for you and your images. Explore them and you’ll be more likely to make better choices for your images in the future. Keep exploring them and you’ll open up a world of possibilities within your images.

WB

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Lightroom & Camera Raw White Balance Dropper and Sliders

The simplest way to achieve neutrality is to correctly set white balance during Raw conversion, with Lightroom or Camera Raw. Click on the eyedropper tool and click on a target area within the image. It’s that simple.

What’s not so simple is identifying a good target. This will be easy if you photographed a color checker within the image or in a separate exposure at the same time, but few do. If you’re like most photographers you’ll have to identify a good target visually, introducing a margin of error equal to your discernment. Usually the best choices are midtones. This tool also works well with highlights; but they’re more likely to carry color casts that you won’t see at first glance.

After you click on a target, the results can be refined further with the Temperature (blue to yellow) and Tint (green to magenta) sliders.

Remember, you can use Camera Raw as a filter in Photoshop too.

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Normal blend mode

Color blend mode

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Match Color

Match Color is Photoshop’s often unfound and overlooked feature that offers such sophisticated results when neutralizing colors that it’s often surprising. Not all colors will be affected equally – and that can be a good thing. Using Match Color is even easier than using Lightroom / Camera Raw’s white balance eye-dropper because you don’t need to click on a target. Simply check the box Neutralize – and leave all the other sliders and drop down menus alone.


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