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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Illumination XXX

The vast majority of resources you’ll find for creating successful color palettes, whether in print or online, will catalog a great number of compelling color combinations with some rhyme but little reason. When you look at them, not understanding the logic behind their choices, it’s tempting to think that anything goes. (And it might in certain contexts and for the specific reasons. But which ones?) Sometimes they drift into color psychology but quickly become so subjective they lose all sense of objectivity or universality. The best of them identify visual dynamics that you can use to exert some influence over the direction takes in and gives to your images.

What I’m offering you here is different. This is a strategy. Not a rule but a principle.

It can be boiled down to one sentence, “Make one element of color dominant by putting more contrast in it.”

With only three elements of color, this rubric offers you three main palettes that you can draw endless permutations from plus two notable exceptions.

When you reflect on your choice of palette, you’ll gain insights into the themes contained of your images.

Before I detail these five palettes …

It helps to understand some of the dynamics of color. Good things come in threes; there are three types of color, three elements of color, and three kinds of contrast.

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Antarctica_2009-LXV

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3 Types Of Color

There are three types of color – ideal, ambient, and synthetic.


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It's not just for portraits!

"Using the power of Gradient Maps, in this tutorial, we will color multiple lights from different directions. We will also learn how to utilize the "Blend If" feature to make the light more realistic."

Find more of Unmesh Dinda’s content here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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"In this Quick Tip, Julieanne Kost demonstrates the new Color Lookup Adjustment layer and walks you through how to download a template to quickly apply these new “looks” to your images."

Follow up with my article on Color Lookup Tables here.

Read more in my Color Adjustment resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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Julianne Kost shares three methods for changing colors in Photoshop.

For more check out Julieanne’s blog.

Read more in my Color Adjustment resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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09_Alignment_XXXII_Lab

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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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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