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Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Saturated Digital Image

Color Saturation In Digital Images • Pro Time • Long Lens Protection • Digital Projection

Color Saturation In Digital Images
As a professional photographer who’s making the switch from film to digital, I wonder how other pros are dealing with color saturation. On many photographers’ Websites, the photos and portfolios look to me to be oversaturated, which makes me wonder about claims that Velvia is unrealistic because it’s so saturated. What’s a "fair" level of saturation in the digital world, and is there any standard in the publishing industry?
M. Matson
Via the Internet

Two things make an image look "digital" in the negative sense: oversaturation and oversharpening! I agree that many photographers are cranking up the color on their digital prints and on the Web. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you always should.

It’s up to the photographer to have a better understanding of true quality and to use the power of digital-imaging software to achieve that end. Resist the urge to compete with stronger color; you’ll be judged on your own images, not on those of others. At the same time, photography is a marketplace with discernable trends, and there has been recent movement toward more saturation in images, just as there was after Velvia hit the film scene. But keep it to reasonable levels. Experienced outdoor photographers and editors/publishers know what’s real, and excessive color manipulation will make your image look phony to all but the most naive viewers.

Finally, some photo illustrators use high levels of sharpening and saturation to create an artistic effect. In the end, you’re the photographer and need to make the choices that best express your own photographic vision. The attached image of a hibiscus is a good example of a type of image that’s often oversaturated. The image’s extreme depth of field is caused by the use of software called Helicon Focus (www.heliconfocus.com). Using the program, I took nine images at ƒ/11 with overlapping focus and combined them for extreme depth of field.

Pro Time
I’ve been attached to photography since my 14th birthday, when I received a Canon Rebel. It’s been my dream to become a professional nature photographer, but when is the right time? Should I change my major to photography or get a biology degree? When do you know that it’s time to sell your photographs?
R. Bruette
Via the Internet

The right time to become a professional is when you’ve achieved a sizeable body of work that’s competitive with the work of others who are selling images and who are readily defined as professionals. Critically assess your own work in comparison to the images you see published in magazines like Outdoor Photographer, Audubon, National Wildlife and National Geographic.

While some professionals have achieved a reputation based on adept self-promotion, most achieve the rank by consistently publishing in reputable venues. The best images are more than a simple "portrait" of the scene or wildlife. The sellable image shows the subject in ways it has never been seen before and conveys more information in terms of behavior or environment than a mere portrait would provide.

The ability to write accompanying text adds marketability to excellent images. To accomplish this level of photography, you may need more education in photography, biology, botany or environmental sciences.The greater the exposure you have to professional-level photography and photographers, the more you’ll learn about what it takes to capture, present and market professional-level images. One of the best venues for support of that kind is the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) at www.nanpa.org, which links students, advanced amateurs and professionals, and offers national and regional meetings and even a scholarship program for students.

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