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Thread: Making lemonade

  1. #1

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    Making lemonade

    I've been bowled a googly (look it up) by my genes*, and have been trying to imagine a future which doesn't include large or heavy cameras. Current digiboxes make very nice photographs, but I still hanker for large sheets of film when it comes to subtle colour reproduction. I have always been attracted to LF by tonality rather than resolution, and there has not yet been a digital solution I could ever afford which matched what I see and value in LF film.

    This baffles me slightly, as I somehow assumed that everything film does when it records an image could be expressed as a transfer function. This might be non-linear, or involve spatial effects, but I was pretty confident that wide dynamic range capture would allow subsequent processing to get a suitable reproduction. I'm not there yet.

    This may just reflect my lack of expertise, but I'm arrogant (and experienced) enough that I don't think that's the real problem. Rather, I think the root cause is the tendency of digital colours to migrate to the corners of their colour space upon almost any manipulation. It is just too easy to saturate channels, or to bump up against the edges of the colour space polygon.

    So I'm making lemonade. Trying to find ways of using this effectively. Allowing detail to be lost in areas of saturated colour, in the same way as I routinely allow detail to be lost in areas which I allow to drift out of focus.

    Here are three examples.








    I don't really want another film vs. digital discussion (not now I've had my say :-) but I would be interested in seeing attempts to use the characteristics of the new medium in a photographic way - that is, to turn bugs into features, and embrace image characteristics that others might regard as problems inherent in digital capture. In my case, that means accepting that blobs of undifferentiated colour can be as expressive in photography as they undoubtedly are in painting or graphic prints, and that being subtle can sometimes involve strong, primary colour.


    * I have gout, which sometimes puts me on crutches, but more often has me self-censoring in the hope of avoiding an attack. It's a blow, but my life is pretty good, and there are far worse things to have to work round.

  2. #2

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    Re: Making lemonade

    Hey Struan,

    Sorry about your genes, but you are exactly right in terms of color photography. Color photography need not lay a claim to being realistic photography--it need not be any closer to reality than black and white photography is. Digital has opened up a wealth of possibilities in color work that were impossible or too difficult before.

    It is in many ways a new medium.

    --Darin

  3. #3
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: Making lemonade

    Quote Originally Posted by Darin Boville View Post
    Color photography ... need not be any closer to reality than black and white photography is.
    I know you're talking about day-to-day reality, but worldwide art (literary and visual, recent and ancient) provides overwhelming evidence that color is more representative of transcendent reality than black and white – typically in the symbolic form of flowers and precious stones.

  4. #4
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    Re: Making lemonade

    We can (and always do!) have undifferentiated color within gamut, too, to varying degrees depending on the characteristics of the particular CFA and the demosaic algorithm. To my eye, within fairly broad limits, that's usually easier to accept than the eye-popping, posterish flatness you get when breaking through the edges of the gamut. Nothing wrong with it if it suits your esthetic purposes, of course, but it's not what I'm after for mine. I usually prefer pictures to be quiet, not loud.

    A side note: this...

    >> Rather, I think the root cause is the tendency of digital colours to migrate to the corners of their colour space upon almost any manipulation. It is just too easy to saturate channels, or to bump up against the edges of the colour space polygon. <<

    ...may be too strong. I can get away with a lot in the larger color spaces. The main trouble is the gamut limitations imposed by the output media, especially sRGB for the web but sometimes I have gamut trouble in printing too.

    Finally: orange traffic cones are the work of the gamut-devil!

  5. #5
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Making lemonade

    I agree affordable digital hasn't matched the subtleties of MF/LF color film. Nothing wrong with an old rolleiflex loaded with porta160 if you want subtle results and a lighter camera. Your choice of shooting under tame/gray light helps with the subtleties with digital. My D600 is far from abilities of Portra160, but it does a nice job when it's not too contrasty out. I think a Pentax MF digital camera would do better, but I'm not going to spend the $ to find out!

    Another thing to do is to have a professional digital photographer you respect review your color management setups too, just to make sure you're using the right options for all that. They usually work cheap.

  6. #6
    Richard Johnson
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    Re: Making lemonade

    Ben Franklin suffered gout too, you're in good company ;-p

  7. #7

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    Re: Making lemonade

    My photography has improved more in the last three years - after adding digital to film - than it did in the 22 previous years.

    I don't know much about color, so am trying to learn. But the improvement to my sense of composition is nearly unbelievable, and my "hit rate" has improved dramatically.

    Still love the big negatives, but the digi-stuff is fun, and freeing.
    Bruce Barlow
    author of "Finely Focused" and "Exercises in Photographic Composition"
    www.brucewbarlow.com

  8. #8

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    Re: Making lemonade

    Thanks all, especially for the sympathy. Most people snigger - gout in popular culture is invariably funny. I laugh myself :-)

    Bruce, I think it's good to be perpetually learning. Like learning a foreign language which you rarely get to use in earnest, it teaches you things about yourself and your primary language which are directly applicable. I don't see colour in opposition to black and white, and I think the process I'm now going through is more like a freeing of preconceptions about what a 'good' photograph (or a 'Struan' photograph) should be. I've learned to live with blur, defocus, and – in B+W – graphic tonal scales, so it's interesting to challenge my prejudices when it comes to colour.

    Oren: when you talked about lack of discrimination within gamut, did you mean metamerism, or the granuarity of colour space (or both)? I've seen posterisation in secondary and tertiary colours, but usually only in web-based colour spaces. My comment about colour spaces was a condensation of my experience that it is easier to lose subtlety in the secondary and tertiary colours than in the primaries – the triangular shape of a colour space in CIE coordinates ensures that the boundary is closer to the origin (and further from the spectrally pure colours) for oranges, magentas and cyans. The darker versions of those colours include many of my favourites (umber, turquoise, and various slate blues).

    Traffic cones are hell. As are many plastics used in children's toys. My primary use of digital is photographing my children's sports. Match colours tend to be primaries, but there is a current fad for teals, oranges, and magenta-ish pinks for practice and warm up clothes which would drive any recording medium mad with frustration. Dark halls with ancient fluorescent lighting and green plastic flooring don't help either. The kids end up looking like they're starring in a psychedelic version of De Stael's footballers.

    Anyway, I'd be interested in any other pictorial examples people have of challenging their biases w.r.t. digital, or of aesthetic epiphanies enabled by the use of new tools.

  9. #9

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    Re: Making lemonade

    I've always wanted my very own thread.



    Traffic control centre, Södertälje

  10. #10
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    Re: Making lemonade

    Quote Originally Posted by Struan Gray View Post
    Oren: when you talked about lack of discrimination within gamut, did you mean metamerism, or the granuarity of colour space (or both)?
    Metamerism is what I had in mind.

    So far no digital lemonade here, alas. The technical and perceptual aspects of that, which I'm still unpacking, might make for an interesting discussion over a drink someday, but for here and now I'll leave it at that. I'm weary of the polemic too.

    Down with the uric acid...

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