Developing Your Sensitivity to Gradation

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The engine that drives color dynamics, contrast, is a measure of difference between colors. Contrast can be measured by both the amount and kind of difference between colors.
You can discuss contrast in terms of amount. There can be a lot or a little. You can move between two very different colors (i.e. from black to white) or two similar colors (i.e. from dark gray to light gray).
You can discuss contrast in terms of how transitions between colors are made. There can be many (fine) or few (coarse) steps in between colors. (Having many steps in between contrasting values is an essential criterion for continuous tone imagery.)
You can discuss contrast in terms of how transitions progress. The steps in between can be made in a regular (even) or irregular (uneven) manner.
If contrast brings variety and energy, ask yourself what kind of energy you seek. Just as each color often elicits a set of associations, so too does each type of contrast.
High contrast images are often thought of as dramatic, while low contrast images are often thought of as quiet. Images where transitions are made with many steps are considered smooth, while those with only a few are considered abrupt. When gradations transition evenly they seem calm, graceful, and can be navigated quickly, while when they transition unevenly they seem dynamic, syncopated, and take more time to navigate. There are many subtle distinctions that can be made within these broad generalizations. This is an area that rewards continued exploration.
Sharpen your eye, by developing the ability to identify both the amount and quality of contrast between colors. You’ll find this to be an extremely valuable skill. You’ll increase your sensitivity to color, expand the range of color choices available to you, and add strategies for meeting color challenges. Color will become more intense and pleasurable for you.
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Luminosity intervals of one hue. Hues achieve maximum saturation at specific luminosities.
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Saturation intervals of one hue – luminosity and hue stable. Achievable only for mid level luminosities.
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Hue intervals – maximum saturation, luminosity shifts. Hues achieve maximum saturation at different luminosities.
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Hue intervals – luminosity stable, saturation shifts.
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Hue intervals between two complementary hues passing through the color wheel.
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Hue intervals between two complementary hues passing around the color wheel.
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Try These Exercises.
1            Create a set of equal luminosity intervals of one hue.
Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.
2            As above, create equal intervals of hue.
Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.
Optionally, repeat for all hues at different luminosity levels.
3            As above, create equal intervals of saturation.
Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.
Optionally, repeat for all hues at different luminosity levels.
4            Match the intervals (luminosity, hue, and saturation) between two color progressions.
Download the Exercise File here.
Because it’s difficult to separate other forms of image content from color, color exercises are best performed abstractly. While it’s useful to check numerical values for colors and color relationships, because these exercises are perceptual (often incorporating physiological and psychological responses that are not physically measurable), determine your answers visually. Train and trust your eye.

Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.
Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.
Learn more with my free color resources here.

Creating the Illusion of Transparency & Translucency

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Transparent colors contain a rich clarity that makes them seem charged with light. Incorporating the effect of transparency into your images can produce a luminous impression, even though (typically) the media your images are reproduced on contains no light
While the true effect of transparency cannot be produced without the use of transparent materials, the visual impression of transparency can be produced.
The impression of transparency can be achieved when two sets of color are joined by a third that is perfectly balanced between them. Split the difference between the luminosity, hue, and saturation of the two to arrive at the third.
You can vary the spatial placement of the third color set by making it more similar to one set than another.
Akin to transparency, translucency can also be simulated, by skewing the perfect balance of transparency towards another color (typically a neutral color). Additionally, subtle shifts in luminosity and reductions in contrast
may make the effect even more convincing.
Often called color balancing, standard photographic color correction attempts to remove color casts. With a color cast an image seems veiled by color. Removing a color cast makes an image seem clearer, more saturated, and more three-dimensional.  Achieving the effect of transparency will too.
Many color strategies employ optical illusions to create or intensify a visual impression. Once you identify and understand these illusions and the color theory behind them, you can put them to work for you too. In addition to enhancing existing color relationships, you can create new ones.
Careful handling of color can enhance the impression of transparency or translucency.
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Three colors are selected to create the impression of transparency. The l, h, and s values of the middle color are placed close to the midpoint between the values of the two outside colors
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Changing hue towards one color shifts spatial orientation.
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Changing luminosity shifts spatial orientation and creates effect of translucency.
Try this Exercise.
Choose three colors and orient them so that the middle color appears to be transparent. Ideally, select a middle color that produces an additional optical illusion where each total shape (1+2 and 2+3) can be seen as lying either on top or below.
Download the Exercise File here.
Because it’s difficult to separate other forms of image content from color, color exercises are best performed abstractly. While it’s useful to check numerical values for colors and color relationships, because these exercises are perceptual (often incorporating physiological and psychological responses that are not physically measurable), determine your answers visually. Train and trust your eye.

Learn more with my free color resources here.
Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.
Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

Increasing Color Accuracy


Can color accuracy be increased? Yes. In many ways. Targets like gray cards and color checkers can help to a limited degree; they’re useful in idealized lighting situations (5000K) but not others (the gray card isn’t gray in the ‘golden hours’ – it’s golden). Add ambient light readings (amount, temperature, spectral distribution) for more precision. Written observations on site about colors and color relationships can help too, if the language used to describe color is precise. (I recommend LHS.) And, onsite verification and adjustment; compare the image made with the subject at the time of capture.
Find out more in my downloads , DVDs, and workshops.

Precise Language Leads to Better Perception


A precise language for color (LHS)(Luminosity-Hue-Saturation) can increase not only the precision of color communication but also color observations. There are too many flavors of RGB and CMYK. Lab takes too much calculation. But LSH is a great language conceptually (and you see it in the interfaces of Lightroom and Photoshop). Luminosity and Saturation are both specified on a scale of 1-100. On a scale of 1-10 (10 high) how light or saturated is a given color? Now multiply by 10. Simple. Hue is more challenging because it’s plotted as a color wheel or circle with 360 degrees. 0 is cherry red. Add 30 degrees to the next color family (30 is orange, 60 is yellow, 90 is yellow green, 180 is cyan, etc). Learn this one variable and you’ve got a new language for color which is precise and simple enough to use. (Or you can memorize all the numbers in the Pantone swatchbook.) You can quickly learn to specify these numbers within plus or minus 10%. That’s a lot more accurate than linguistic observations. What color is mauve? How green is seafoam? You’ll also find that better language leads to better perception. Learn this language and you’ll begin to see color more precisely.
Want proof? The color above is 50/0/100 in LHS.
Now go mix that color in Photoshop.
Enter the values into the Color Picker in the HSB field.
Find out more in my downloads , DVDs, and workshops.

Color Memory is Fluid


A lot of photographers set an objective to match color the way they remember it. But how reliable is their color memory? Not very.
Try this. Look at this color. Then hide it. Mix it in Photoshop. Then compare your results with the original. Were you too light or dark, warm or cool, saturated or desaturated? Do this with 50 different colors and you’ll start to be able to identify consistent errors, which indicates your color tendencies and preferences.
Find out more in my downloads , DVDs, and workshops.
See the results my workshop students generated this week. Read More

Using Color Wheels to Structure Relationships


Photographers are often not introduced to the same color theory painters are. At best, color theory is a matter of identifying complements to produce neutrality or color balance. But there are few strategies presented for conceptualizing color relationships in a photographic curriculum, while there are many for painters. In part, this is because painters could change color relationships so easily. The photographer couldn’t – until Photoshop. Now, the language and concepts of other disciplines becomes very useful to photographers. This video give you a taste.
But, be careful of one thing. Painters define complementary colors based on mixing pigments, which contain impurities. They use Red/Green, Yellow/Purple, Blue/Orange. True optical complements are found in photography (light without impurities). Use Red/Cyan, Green/Magenta, and Blue/Yellow instead. You can find confirmation of this by studying retinal after images. Stare at a color for 20 seconds. Then look to a neutral ground. The color residue you see will be the optical complement of the color you stared at.
Learn more about color in my DVDs.
Learn more about color in my workshop The Power of Color.

Color Theory


Color theory can help describe what is perceived more precisely. It offers a language that is shared and reasonably precise. Color theory can help make perception more precise. Language encodes thought and a more precise and nuanced language can lead to more sensitive perception. Color theory can help analyze what makes some color relationships particularly successful and what makes others less successful. It illuminates the dynamic interactions between the elements of color, which can be used to guide decisions in selecting and adjusting color relationships.
Color theory is best used to inform color choices rather than to make them. Theory lays a foundation for exploration (guiding inquiry toward areas with greater potential and away from areas with less potential). It is not a substitute for discovery. Jazz musicians Keith Jarrett and Theolonius Monk mastered music theory, but even they were surprised by their most original compositions; their compositions were informed and empowered by theory but not determined by it. Theory is the sum of what we know, but it does not contain what we do not yet know. It can prime conditions for a breakthrough, but it cannot make one. It can be used to empower a unique or authentic sensibility, but it is not a substitute for one.
Find out more in the current issue of Digital Photo Pro.
Find out more in my color theory ebooks.

What Do We Mean By Black and White Images?


There are many types of black and white images. Here are six.
1    Neutral
2    Monochrome (uniformly warm or cool toned)
3    Duochrome (split-toned – i.e. warm highlights cool shadows)
4    Polychrome (tinted – i.e. handcolored)
5    Full Color – neutral subject
6    Full Color – black, gray, and/or white subject
They’re all black and white images, but they’re very different types of black and white images and the differences are important.
This is just a taste of the unique perspective (born of traditional training in both painting and photography) that you’ll find in my work, on my website, on my DVD, and in my workshops.
Get my free download here.
Find out more about black and white in my DVD Black & White Mastery.
Find out more about black and white in my Workshop Black & White Mastery.
Special discounts are available until January.